Formed in 1983 as Legacy in Berkeley, California, and quickly renamed Testament, Eric Peterson’s thrash metal powerhouse has not shared the financial success of their contemporaries Metallica or Anthrax, but the band has certainly earned the respect of fans and other musicians as an uncompromising force that has soldiered on for 32 years — all on its own terms.
With ten studio albums under its belt, numerous tours logged, and a devoted, worldwide following, Testament has truly become a testament to the power of endurance when a band does things right. Now on the road for the Dark Roots of Thrash II Tour with friends Exodus and Shattered Sun, Testament guitarist Eric Peterson took some time to talk to New Times about thrash, personnel changes, and Europe.
New Times: Let’s talk about Bay Area thrash metal and how there seem to be an unusually high number of bands that emerged from that scene that either lasted a long time or have continued to this day.
Eric Peterson: Well, I can tell you about us and we’ve been going since ’87, well, before ’87. We defuncted, but never defuncted officially. There have definitely been some rough patches but we’ve always, as far as the audience knew, have been rock steady.
Now we're on the Dark Roots of Thrash II tour. I guess it’s called that because our record’s called Dark Roots of Earth and we had a live record that we put out a couple of years ago called Dark Roots of Thrash, and it had a good ring to it since we have Exodus touring with us.
That’s the one you recorded at the Paramount in New York?
Yeah. That’s Dark Roots of Thrash and we’re going through the states now with Exodus which is very old school and we’re two bands from the beginning of a genre but very up-to-date still, I think. I would say that we are just as modern and just as current as any band doing this kind of music.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve had your rough patches, how has it been since Chuck’s cancer?
Of course, that’s a rough time and more so for Chuck. I mean, that's... you know, I can’t even touch that. That’s totally personal and he got through it and it was tough for the band but tougher for Chuck and it went by in a flash. It’s so weird when it gets brought up. It was such a dark time. I can’t remember much of it.
Since you’ve been with the band since the beginning and are its sole constant, how do you feel the personnel changes over the years have affected the band and the songwriting process?
The first time we had some member changes it was horrifying [laughs]. It felt like it came from left-field but at the same time it was pretty recognizable. We had been lucky. Straight out of high school, getting a record deal, doing the record and having a lot of luck like touring with some really good bands like Anthrax for instance.
It just kept going and going like that: Do a record, do a tour, just keep going. And finally in ’92 all of us were beat up. When Louie left, getting a new drummer really changed a lot for me as a songwriter. There was so much that we did that we thought we couldn’t take any farther.
The sky was the limit, and we went backwards a bit, back into the death metal church instead of trying to be commercial — you know, getting a song on the radio or whatever. I think the biggest record as far as having new members was The Gathering and at that point it was just me and Chuck left and we got Steve DiGiorgio, Dave Lombardo and James Murphy. And all of them had their own names so it was kinda like a gathering of musicians. It could’ve been called anything else, but I came up with the title because it made a lot of sense.
Jamming with all those different drummers was like being in a candy store. I could change my identity a little bit and go a little more nuts.
For this tour, are you guys are playing the majority of the material from the first three albums, The Legacy, The New Order, and Practice What you Preach?
Mostly the first two.
Can people expect any new stuff?
The newer stuff is still being written so this is more nostalgic. We're doing the two records in their entirety almost. Some Practice What You Preach stuff, that’s just something you’re not going to see a lot. I can’t say we’ll never do it again. I think it’s cool for a band that has been around as long as we have to do historic stuff like that. Even though it’s been done, I still think it’s cool. We’re having a lot of fun playing songs that make us say, ‘why didn’t we ever play that one?’
Like “A Day of Reckoning.” It just slams live and I think it is pretty cool.
That’s cool and you guys will be going to Europe starting next month, right? Starting with a long stretch there in Spain if I remember correctly.
Yeah, it’s a pretty long one and we’ll be flying everyday, but it will be pretty cool.
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Well, you have a pretty large following in Europe so I imagine that it must be crazy to perform live.
Oh yeah, metal’s a bit more at the forefront there. Europe is metal. Here there is a bit more variety. Well, there’s variety over there too but it’s more everyday life there in a way. Of course, there’s way more festivals and countries so it’s definitely more fun there for sure.
Well, we look forward to you playing in Fort Lauderdale.
That’ll be cool. It’s been a while since we’ve been in Florida.
Florida’s pretty metal.
I know, my guitar company is there, Dean Guitars!
Dark Roots of Thrash II featuring Testament, Exodus, and Shattered Sun. 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $33.15 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074 or visit cultureroom.net.