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TESTAMENT – The Will To Survive
Bernard Doe
Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

Testament (l-r): Eric Peterson, Greg Christian, Louie Clemente, Alex Skolnick
and Chuck Billy

The name Testament may be unfamiliar, but this five-piece speed metal outfit from the Bay Area of San Francisco have already caused a stir on the metal underground under their old moniker of Legacy. The four-track Legacy demo was of course voted number one demo of ’86 in the Metal Forces annual readers’ poll, as well as helping the band gain fifth position in the “Most Promising Band” category.

1986 was an eventful year for the band formed by guitarist Eric Peterson in the summer of ’83. First, drummer Mike Ronchette was sacked due to musical differences and replaced by the band’s original skinbeater Louie Clemente. This was shortly followed by the shock departure of vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza who quit to seek fame and fortune with fellow ’Frisco thrashers Exodus.

For a time, little was heard of Legacy and it seemed that the band were in danger of being left behind in the metal rat race as thrash became the “in thing” with just about every half-decent speed band being snapped up for record deals across the States. But then all of a sudden Legacy employed the services of ex-Guilt singer Chuck Billy and bounced back to secure a record deal with Megaforce Worldwide – one of the New Jersey-based label’s first signings following their affiliation with Atlantic Records.

The band then flew to New York to record their debut album The Legacy with producer Alex Perialas at the Pyramid Sound Studios in Ithaca. The album was released in the US on the 13th April, but not before the band had changed their name to Testament. Why? Well this was obviously one of the questions I put to the band when I spoke recently to guitarist Alex Skolnick and new vocalist Chuck Billy. But I began by asking about the departure of Steve ‘Zetro’ Sousa. Did it come as a shock to the rest of the band when Zetro left? Alex: “It was a big shock, because when I first joined the band I had never seen anyone put so much dedication into a group as Zetro did, and I thought that if anyone left the group then he would be the last to leave. But right when we were about to start recording, he told us he was joining Exodus and it was probably the biggest shock we’ve had.”

What was Zetro’s reasons for joining Exodus? Alex: “He told us he was getting a major record deal and a big tour, and said he would be much better off with Exodus. He thought Exodus would go a lot farther as they already had an album out. He didn’t wanna wait for Legacy to be successful, he wanted to join Exodus because he thought he would get success instantly and be able to quit his daytime job.”

Don’t you think then that it’s ironic that, in theory, you’ve now got a better record deal than Exodus? Alex: “Yeah, it is, we’re on a major label, they’re not and Zetro’s still got his daytime job!”

Alex, how did you get hold of Chuck? Did you know him when he was in Guilt? “Yeah, Guilt was just one of the many local Bay Area bands, so we knew him fairly well. He came to audition and things went really great so we took it from there.”

What has happened to Guilt now? Chuck: “They’ve split up. The guitar player and drummer moved down to LA and formed a glam band called Diamond. Guilt was much more of a commercial band than the speed metal Testament are doing.”

So were you into speed metal before you joined Testament? Chuck: “Oh yeah, I was in a band before Guilt called Rampage who played speed metal.”

The band obviously built up a large underground following on the strength of the Legacy demo. How much response did that demo get you from record companies? Alex: “Quite a lot – a lot more than we thought we would get. We had a whole bunch of offers from small companies, and that helped a lot because it meant we could use them offers to get ourselves the best deal, as everybody wanted to offer us more than the other labels.”

There were a lot of rumours going around, for almost a year, that you were going to sign for this label and that label; what made you eventually choose Megaforce? Alex: “Well basically, as you know, they got a distribution deal with Atlantic Records, and being a part of a major label was something that we couldn’t resist. Plus, they also had the most to offer.”

Chuck: “Both Jonny and Marsha (Zazula) are real nice people and everyone gets along great – it’s like a family effort.”

So how did the name change from Legacy to Testament come about? Was it something that Megaforce suggested? Alex: “We didn’t want to change our name, in fact that was almost as bad a shock as when Zetro left the band. First we had heard there was another Legacy, but we still figured we would be able to keep our name. But then we heard about two more Legacy’s and they started showing up in the soul music charts! Basically, they (Megaforce) gave us a choice. They said we could keep our name, but if we got sued then they would take it out of our pay cheques, so eventually it became a choice between our name or our careers.”

So who thought of the name Testament? Chuck: “Billy Milano from S.O.D. (and now M.O.D.) thought of it.” Alex: “Yeah, it was kinda hard to get used to at first. But this band has lost guitar players, we’ve lost drummers, we’ve lost singers and if we’ve been able to deal with all those problems then I’m sure we can deal with losing our name too. Anyway, people are slowly but surely getting used to the name Testament now.”

Alex Skolnick (centre) and Chuck Billy (far right) in the studio with producer
Alex Perialas

You’ve now got your original drummer, Louie Clemente, back in the band to replace Mike Ronchette, who played on the demo. How did this come about? Alex: “Well, we had a lot of problems with Mike. He was coming to practice drunk a lot of the time and when we were writing songs he would always disagree with us as to what drum beat he should use. He wanted everything to be 300mph, nothing but fast all of the time, so we would end up sounding just like every other band, while we wanted to expand and get our own style. Eventually, we just couldn’t work with him anymore. Anyway, about the same time as we were having our fights with Mike, we got in touch with Louie again. Louie had originally left because he had some personal problems, but he had now got his life together and we heard him play his drums again and we knew we had to have him back in the band.”

Are you happy with your debut album The Legacy? Alex: “Yeah we’re happy with it, we made the most with the small budget we had, but with the next album we’ll have a lot more time.”

Do you plan on putting the track ‘Reign Of Terror’, from your demo, onto vinyl in the future? Chuck: “Well, we did in fact record that song when we were doing the album, but there wasn’t enough room to include it, but maybe we will put it on an EP or something?” Alex: “We’re gonna be paying more attention to the newer material in the future, but hopefully we can still get ‘Reign Of Terror’ out on vinyl.”

What’s the gig situation with Testament? Have you any tours lined up to promote the album? Chuck: “Well there’s some talk of us going over to Europe with Anthrax and maybe Overkill. If that doesn’t happen then we’ll probably tour the States. At the moment though everything is really up in the air because we don’t have a manager right now, but once we take care of that I’m sure things will start rolling for us.”Alex: “We’ll almost take any tour we can get, we just wanna get out there and play.”

So what’s the metal scene like at the moment in the Bay Area? Chuck: “The metal scene is really happening here now, whereas down in LA it’s just all glam.” Alex: “A few years ago, when the commercial scene was popular, there wasn’t many people going to thrash metal shows, but now the commercial scene has kinda died out and everybody’s really getting into metal.”

And there can be little doubt that the serious thrashers in the metal scene will soon be getting into Testament in a big way too. The band recently played two successful shows at L’amour in New York supporting Slayer, and are likely to play a number of guest shows on the Megadeth / Overkill tour on the West Coast beginning in June. Then they will be supporting Overkill on their headline dates throughout the East Coast and Texas.

Touring plans for Europe will obviously depend on how well the album sells over here. But, with a promotional video for ‘Over The Wall’ currently being shot, I’m sure it will easily surpass all sales expectations. After all, speed metal is presently on a high, and Testament have unleashed a debut album worthy of the best in its field that also proves they have that extra class to elevate themselves beyond the restricted boundaries of thrash.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 23 (1987)

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