Speaking from his home in California, Chuck happily spoke with Overdrive about the Amon Amarth tour which kicks off next week, as well as a vast amount of subjects from the new album, to the band’s current plans for a documentary and book of the bands historical journey from the backstreet clubs of the Bay Area to becoming one of the worlds most important metal bands.
OD – You have used Eliran Kantor a few times now for artwork, can you tell me how you go about working with him and is the actual artwork digitally created or does he use canvases etc.
CHUCK – He digitally created that cover. As far as the artwork and the concept for the cover, that whole idea was mostly orchestrated by Eric (Peterson, guitars) and Eliran. The title was obviously a huge part of the overall concept being Brotherhood of the Snake and the dominating image of the three-headed snake on the cover with the secret societies. Part of the overall designing process also comes from the concerns of how we want things to look when we are on stage. The overall image of the stage backdrop is important to us and we have always had album covers or artwork with a very prominent centrepiece. Just look at the cover of Dark Roots of Earth with the old man very much being the centre of the overall image.
That’s one of the reasons we like working with Eliran because he just knows that we love a really strong visual that works for us in a live capacity also. He’s (Eliran) has totally got it down and has done something like four or five albums for us, as well as a bunch of backdrops and t-shirts.
OD – Looking back over the previous album’s there seems to be a more guttural approach to your vocals then that of the earlier stuff. Was this just a gradual thing for you or did you make a conscious effort to change the dynamic of the vocals?
CHUCK – Well on this record there was definitely a conscious effort to adjust the vocals to the pattern of Eric’s guitar riffs. I typically follow the bouncing ball so to speak and to me, I’ve learned that when I do that, it kind of get’s boring for me as a vocalist. So this time around, I really didn’t want to do that, so I approached this album with the idea of really getting the voice into the music like on Practice What You Preach (1989) and Souls of Black (1990) but the difference was that we were tuned way higher back in those days. We are tuned down to a much lower key in the stuff we are presently writing, so for me taking the concept of an old-school vocal approach with a lower tuning was a little more comfortable with me and gave me room to work with a better lower register growl and tone in tandem with the lower tone of the guitars. We really started to look at the approach of the vocals when we were doing Dark Roots of Earth and it was just a more dryer style of mix that really worked for us all and so we decided to stick with it. I think it works really well and I’m very happy with the outcome on this album.
OD – Brotherhood… is a crushing album, there’s no mistaking that. There is a balance that you have managed to capture an old-school sound and also something that’s contemporary in the same vein. It must be difficult to keep a balance like that when writing, as I’m sure it’s easy to drop back into a classic sound rather than pushing the boundaries; which is what you guys do with each album?
CHUCK – Fortunately for Testament, Eric doesn’t really stray away from listening to really heavy stuff. He tends to really stick to what he likes which is a lot of black metal stuff and if there’s any element of what he brings to Testament it’s a little of that black metal blast beat vibe which has been slowly creeping into our sound. Fortunately, Eric doesn’t try to follow anybody and really just does his own thing which is why all of the Testament records carry their own identity. We don’t write extra songs for an album purely because we don’t want to backtrack with our sound and be like: “here’s a bunch of riffs from years ago that we didn’t use. Let’s work them into the new material”. We collectively write for the moment and write or the album that we happen to be doing at the time or recording.
OD – You did that US tour with Slayer and Carcass and now you’re getting ready to go out with Amon Amarth just next week did you play any new material from the album. What can we expect to hear from the new album with regards to the setlist?
CHUCK – Yeah we are planning to play three tracks off the new album which is gonna be cool. We are actually getting together next week for pre-tour rehearsals and we’re gonna jam out the whole setlist. Basically, we will have a ten song set and with a third of the show being stuff off Brotherhood of the Snake it’s gonna be heavy (laughs). I think it’s the right thing to do, as this album feels like these songs have great live potential and since it’s just about to be released, I think the material will be fresh in peoples mind and will be able to connect with it.
OD – Will this be the first time that Testament will be playing these new tracks in a live situation?
CHUCK – Yeah, this will be the first time we are going to be playing these songs live. We actually have the official listening party today (Saturday, October 22nd) and it will be a chance for the fans to hear the whole record and then we’re off to Europe for the Amon Amarth tour, so it’s kind of a hectic time right now. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there, especially with the new album ready to launch.
OD – I want to take you back to the San Francisco Thrash of the Titans show in the Maritime Hall back in 2001. I flew from Ireland to San Francisco for that show which was an incredibly special event. I was convinced that it was going to come out on DVD or released in some format or other. Do you know what that never made it out?
CHUCK – That was such an amazing event that I’m sure will never happen again. We had planned to release that show as a DVD and CD but the people that we had hired to video the show, ended up running off with all the footage. This guy has all the footage from that show and I don’t know if we will ever see it officially released. I think all the audio was recorded and I’m pretty sure that there’s audio that possible to get your hands on but as for the video footage, I really don’t know where it is right now.
It’s such a shame that people won’t get to see all the footage because some of those bands that played that day hadn’t played together for such a long time and to see them get up on stage and just destroy was something that was truly special. That whole show was such a magical night for everybody involved and especially for all the lucky fans that got to witness that historical show.
OD – Are there plans for a possible European headline tour for Brotherhood…next year?
CHUCK – Yes absolutely! It’s actually planned for just after the summer in 2017. We have some festival bookings for 2017 and when we’re done with those, we’ll be back for our very own headlining tour across Europe.
OD – I was just looking through the Murder In The Front Row book recently, when you first saw that, it must have been a blast from the past to see some of those photos. Were you approached by Harald (Oimoen, DRI bassist) or Brian (Lew, photographer) for any old photos to contribute?
CHUCK – They compiled all of the images for the book. Those guys didn’t really miss much of the shows from way back and were clever enough to document it all which has been a fantastic thing for not only all the bands but also the fans.
OD – When you think back to Ruthie’s Inn and all the bands that played there, do you think that we will ever see an explosion in the metal scene to the same degree of when the whole thrash metal movement began?
CHUCK – I’m sure that there are plenty of small local clubs all over the world that have their own thing going on but I doubt that we will ever see a scene like the early rising of Bay Area thrash. It was thriving at the time because there was a lot of venues for the bands to play and a huge following for all the bands which was just so important in keeping us going. It was just a whole different time back then and the music was just so new and fresh, making it a unique time in our lives. I’m just so happy to have been part of something that has proven to be a truly historical cultural movement not only of metal but in music culture.
OD – With over three decades under your belt have you ever thought about doing something to document the band’s history kind of like First Strike Still Deadly mini documentary you did back in 2001?
CHUCK – No, we’re actually working on a documentary right now. We are working with the guy who did the Death Angel – A Thrashumentary and we took him out on the road with us for about a year and he documented a bunch of footage and stuff and we are not done, in fact, we really haven’t got started in putting everything together or finished filming. Also, we are currently talking to a publisher right now about possibly putting out a book that documents the band’s history. It’s kind of like a coffee table style layout that looks back on everything that Testament have done.
It’s got a bunch of old classic photos and the history of the band from the very beginning even before I came into the band, so that’s something we’re trying to plan right now. Also, The Legacy is coming up on 30 years next year, so I’m sure we’ll be doing something special for that also.
OD – So your’ finally coming back to Ireland. It was 2009 since you last played here with Judas Priest. I wanted to ask if you have any memories of doing shows in Ireland, or does it kind of become hard to differentiate between all the different shows?
CHUCK – It all depends on what time of year we get over to some countries. If it’s really cold we tend to not wander around sightseeing, but I actually do have some memories of being in Ireland. Dublin is a very cool place and the name always resonates with me because I’m actually from Dublin, California. I remember being there and the weather was actually nice. I have a few photos of me standing in front of a few pubs (laughing). It’s been far too long since we made it back there, so we have to make up for that when we play the show on November 2nd! I’m really excited about getting back over there in front of an Irish audience as well as the rest of the tour.
OD – It would seem that the innovators of thrash metal are going stronger than ever, with a slew of magnificent albums from Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Death Angel, Exodus, you guys and now the new Metallica which is sounding promising. It must be a good feeling to see the bands that started out when you did, still releasing quality material?
CHUCK – Yeah, I totally agree. For me, it says something about the artists. It’s been the same since day one for all of us. Regardless of fame, we just wanted to play the best music that we could and keep a certain quality. I think the fans appreciate that and understand that aspect and have been very loyal to us all, which in turn, keeps us going.
It’s been a great ride, that’s for sure! It’s hard to say: “I don’t want to do this anymore” because we’re just so involved with it and feel the connection with the fans and the other bands that we started out with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard in a lot of ways also, but ultimately it’s been one hell of a fantastic ride.
OD – Finally, can you tell me one of the most poignant and personally important albums in your life that have been a source of inspiration?
CHUCK – Well, there are two or three albums that really are very important to me. KISS Alive 1 and UFO Strangers in the Night Live. Those two albums have played a big part in my life. I just love the energy of the live show and just to see it then was pretty amazing. I was always a guitar player so Michael Schenker was always a huge source of inspiration for me and kind of my guitar hero. Also not forgetting Thin Lizzy with Live and Dangerous and in saying that Thin Lizzy is my all time favourite band.
OD – Any final words before we see you out on the road with Amon Amarth and Grand Magus?
CHUCK – The response to this tour has been fantastic with sell out venues nearly everywhere, so we are planning to bring our A-game and do some serious damage. I can’t wait to get on stage and play. See you all in the pit!
Brotherhood of the Snake is released worldwide via Nuclear Blast on October 28th. Order you copy here with an option for limited vinyl pressings.
Testament play Ireland’s Vicar Street venue on Wednesday, November 2nd with Amon Amarth and Grand Magus as part of a European tour. See all the dates below. For more information on the Irish date, please check out DME Promotions for more details.
© OVERDRIVE 2016