METAL’S BIGGEST PETERS: ERIC F*CKING PETERSON OF TESTAMENT
Metal fans, let’s take a collective moment to consider ourselves blessed with some big Peters. Peters who will take you firmly from both sides of the mixing board with confidence and expertise. Sweaty, bulging-veined Peters whose live shows leave willing multitudes spent, sated, slack – and more than a bit bruised. These Peters, thanks to generous endowments of talent, stand fully erect as superstars in real metal. Each of metal’s hugest Peters share a rock hard work ethic, hardly pausing for rest between releases captured on tape and performances in the flesh, after which they simply move on to violate again in another city.
For the second installment of MetalSucks’ Metal’s Biggest Peters, I phoned Testament’s Eric Peterson, for whom I had no fewer than ten-thousand questions. But Peterson is busy building the next classic Testament record and preparing for the Slayer/Megadeth-headlined American Carnage tour – or, simply, the Slaygadethstament Tour – so I’d have to wait for another day to press him about producers Tony Platt and GGGarth Richardson; nor would we discuss Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo’s career performance on The Gathering, the record that re-launched Testament as a metal juggernaut; neither was there an opportunity to probe Peterson’s feelings on the infiltration of Testament by an unapologetic jazz devotee in godly guitarist Alex Skolnick; and I’d have to refrain from following-up on his passing mentions of good new music and jerkface Dave Mustaine. Still, the genial and passionate Peterson opened up about the diplomacy required to lead a metal band, Testament’s surprising new setlist, the potential for blastbeats on the follow-up to 2008’s triumphant The Formation of Damnation, and his surefire plan to improve the disaster movie 2012.
Not too long ago Testament did a tour with Heaven and Hell, Motorhead, and Judas Priest. Now you’re getting ready to go out with Slayer and Megadeth. Sounds like fun.
With all the hard work that we did getting our second wind – it’s like, Wow. There’s a lot going on up there and a lot of bands. We feel blessed; we don’t take it for granted. We thought we’d be working on a new record, which we are. But it’s good ’cause we’ve got some great ideas on the new record. There’s a lot of good music coming out to listen to and get influenced by. We know what we want to do anyway.
Megadeth and Slayer both have new records out; I haven’t heard the new Slayer yet except for one song I heard in Turkey from some interviewer guy’s iPod. I thought it was amazing. I felt really proud for them. The last record was cool, but this one made me say ‘Yeah. I like this. I want to listen to this one. [laughs] Not that I didn’t want to listen to the other one, but with some records you just know ‘This one is gonna work for me.’ The new Megadeth is like tha,t too. I really like the new one. It’s killer, riffy, and matching their first record with better production.
Is it a point of pride for Testament to be part of this tour? This isn’t some old-timers’ nostalgia circuit, rather three vital bands all coming off monster albums.
Oh, totally! This isn’t some reunion thing. This is old school music but fucking totally up-to-par. I don’t know any newer bands that kick ass that could put together a package as vital as this. [You don’t think] ‘Oh okay. They have their greatest hits and their old shit is cool.’ No, every band on this bill – from us to Megadeth to Slayer – not only is our old shit classic and not only did we all shape and form the blueprints to thrash metal in some way or form – Megadeth and Slayer being more at the forefront than us, though we definitely have our chops – it’s like … right on the head. Boom.
This tour can almost be looked at as an act of charity. So many people weren’t old enough or maybe not in the right city to experience the thrash metal explosion.
Yeah. I think each band is better in a weird way. Even though we’ve all always been heavy, it just seems like everybody’s really heavy now. We’ve gone full circle and all sound like our first three records.
What do you attribute that heaviness to? Are there fewer record business pressures on you guys now, allowing you to be way heavy?
Well, I think we’ve proven what works for us. And the state of the world, y’know … is heavy! This kind of music represents that.
I agree with that. You mentioned that the band has plans to record. Is it accurate to say that this tour has delayed it?
Oh, of course. Touring has pushed it back a little bit. But it’s gonna make it stronger, cuz now we’re rehearsed the set we’ve got and – I’m not gonna go into that – it’s a fucking brutal set. We just did some big tours: Metal Masters, Priest Feast last year – or actually that was this year. But it’ll be ‘last year’ next year. [laughs]
[For the American Carnage Tour,] we’ve decided to do a set that isn’t just “Over The Wall,” “The New Order,” “Practice What You Preach,” and “Electric Crown” — not just the songs we’re expected to play. We might surprise some people with the set we got.
That’s so exciting. I think that surprise element is the reason people see a band over and over.
One song I’ll give away that we haven’t played in a long time is “Dog-Faced Gods’.
We wrote and recorded that song, but we didn’t ‘own’ it yet. [pauses] It was put on tape and, what, 12 or 15 years later, we’ve played it here and there at practice and it’s just never seemed to surface live. But we’ve always jammed on it. And it’s just brutal as hell now. I think it’s better now. With most bands, as time goes by a lot of stuff on the records … you don’t own it yet. You gotta get out there and make it your own. Even though it is yours. You know what I mean?
[laughs] It’s like a good groove. You gotta break ‘em in.
Is it because at the time of recording “Dog-Faced Gods” and Low, Testament wasn’t yet the extreme machine it is now?
We were but we were like kids in a candy store. A bull in a china shop. We were flexing our muscles [to see] what we could do. Alex and Lou had left – and those were big parts of the band – but were replaced with parts that better fit with what we wanted to do at the time. It was a sigh of relief, I think, for everybody. I’m talking about 1993: Alex got to get a lot of stuff off his chest and do what he wanted; Lou got to do what he wanted to do. Me and Chuck always were leaning towards the heavier side. We didn’t have to compromise anymore. We didn’t have to sit there and think ‘How are we gonna play? How are we gonna write “Over The Wall” again without compromising with everybody?’ Really it was like ‘Fuck, I can do whatever I want now! I can be as heavy as I want!’
First thing I did was tune down three half-steps. And then we just wrote some brutal shit!
Right. I remember for my friends, when we all first heard The Gathering, the impact was like a car crash. That shit is next-level heavy.
Yeah, it was cool. At that point, we were talking to Lou and Alex again. They were coming to our shows and seeing us play the first two records and our new shit. They could see how that all fit together and that whoa, the new shit is heavy. That’s what got everything going again. And now we’ve put those two elements together and come out with The Formation, which is like our old stuff but really heavy like the new stuff.
It even dabbles with Practice and The Ritual as well. The Formation of Damnation has the best of all our ideas melted into one. The newer one’s gonna be a lot heavier, though. So far, the board tapes and all the stuff that I’m coming up with is just leaning more towards “The Fall of Sipledome” –
— or something wicked like that off of The Gathering. That’s really, really brutal stuff. I’m pretty stoked.
That song pretty much represents the most extreme side of Testament.
Yeah, and now Paul’s telling me he wants to do blast beats. I’m like [slyly] ‘Rrreallyyyyyy!’ [laughs] I was like ‘Well, I’ll tell you what! I’ve got some riffs that’ll fit that!’
[shudders] Oh god, yes.
Y’know, the next record’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’ll have things that you wouldn’t expect, but at the same time wouldn’t be surprised at how brutal it’s going to sound. Also … since Low, we haven’t done a ballad. I don’t like to use that word, cuz it’s a huge cliché. But it’s ballad in terms that it’s a slower song that’s really melodic with clean guitars that gets heavy. It’s more epic. So let’s just say an ‘epic slow song.’ So we’re working on ideas that I have. We haven’t really jammed on it yet; I’m trying to think of how, psychologically, I can get that past Chuck. [laughs]
[laughs] I love Chuck’s clean vocals!
They’re amazing! But right now, I need to write heavy shit. And once everybody feels good about what we’re doing, then I’ll [bring out the epic slow song].
Ha. Like once everyone’s sure of Testament’s manhood, then you can work on the slow song.
Yeah. [laughs] Everyone’s interests are different.
Even on songs like “Eyes of Wrath,” Chuck’s vocals and the quiet, clean guitars are a great counterpoint. It’s awesome.
Yeah. And that’s a song I wish we could bust out. But if I bring that up, Chuck will say [in burly Chuck voice] ‘Shit, then we should play this one!’ And then we’re back to square one. [laughs] Okay, let’s play ‘The New Order’ and ‘D.N.R.’– which is great. I love playing that song. But, ahhh! 40 minutes! It’s so hard to put a good set together.
It must be hard to give time to gems like “One Man’s Fate” or “Blessed In Contempt.”
Yeah, those would never happen on a tour like this. But “Seven Days In May” or “Eyes of Wrath” or something like that might happen on our next tour. You never know.
On a recent tour, Testament presented fans with a vote on one of three setlists. Is the next step to allow fans to vote by song to create an entirely original set?
We did that cuz we did some special sets in Europe – one at Dynamo in Holland and then in England – where we played our first two records start to finish beginning with “Over The Wall” and ending with … uh … What’s the last song?
Yeah. I think it’s “Day of Reckoning.”
Um, yeah. After the Aerosmith cover. [The album closes with instrumental “Musical Death (A Dirge)” – ADF]
Yeah. It really made us see how they all fit together. It’s like a puzzle.
Fans have their opinions but from the band’s point of view, is it easy to judge The Legacy and The New Order as Testament’s classic albums that should be played start-to-finish?
Well, they [came out] when no other bands were doing that, besides the four bands. There definitely was heavy metal, but [because] there were so many bands jumping on the bandwagon, we started changing a little bit – getting better, more melodic, more song-structured. But the first two are very close to us and really tied to the influences that we started out with – not, like, opening our minds and listening to all kinds of different stuff. It was metal. I don’t know if that makes sense, but…
It makes sense. I guess I’m interested in the band’s feelings compared to the audience’s perception of what albums represent definitive Testament.
I think the fans like all our stuff. When you take away everything from the setlist besides [the songs from] The Legacy and The New Order, you go ‘Whoa. We’re playing a lot of stuff from those albums.’ You have to play ‘Into the Pit’ and ‘Disciples’; ya have to play ‘The Preacher’ and ‘Trial By Fire.’
Yeah, I think I heard ‘Burnt Offerings’ two tours ago. It’d be hard not to play those songs.
Now it’s hard to not play all our new shit. We could go out and do The Formation and The Gathering back to back and be satisfied.
Wonderful idea. I’m still surprised to hear you say that you were talking to Louis and Alex at the time of The Gathering . Can you explain what took so long between then and the recording of The Formation of Damnation ?
That’s a question that’s been asked a lot. Basically there were a lot of member changes and touring; Chuck got cancer; there was the reunion but then I broke my leg. There were all those things that set us back.
You’re right. That’s well-documented.
That’s cool. I just don’t know if you want to put that in your article.
[laughs] I mean to ask if Alex and Louis were willing to go from the start, before Chuck’s illness put things on hold?
We’re like brothers. I think we were just so young and didn’t know how to express ourselves. We were just a hard-working machine. Now Alex can call up and tell us that he’s gonna do [a different project]. We can base our other stuff around that. Back then, it was like ‘What? No you’re not.’ [laughs] Everything was just about Testament. A lot of bands are still like that; I don’t know how they communicate. It’s pretty hard.
Scheduling must play a part in that. Record companies want a record on time.
Exactly. That’s the big thing. We all have a perspective on what we’ll be doing so we can plan our other projects or plan whatever other things personally that we’re gonna do. There’s more to life than going out and playing metal. I feel blessed to be able to do it. But, y’know, there are other things.
And serious fans are just so happy to see all the new excitement around Testament.
Yeah, there was a time where it seemed to fall apart, like we fell off the planet even though we were still there. We had to work our hardest to get it back up to par. But people are watching and listening again. Now we know what to do. Back then, it was like we were listening to too many different people’s advice.
There was no doubt that you’re a kick-ass guitarist and writer, but did it ever seem like that wouldn’t be enough and Testament was just not going to work anymore?
I think with anything in life, there’s always that feeling like ‘What I’m doing now … will I be able to keep doing it later? Is the world going to end in 2012?’ [laughs] I mean, that’s one of Testament’s songs, right? Shit! Now it’s a movie. [mock horror] Oh no!
Yeah, wait a second. Aren’t you pissed off that “Three Days of Darkness” wasn’t placed in the movie 2012? It’s a perfect match.
Our publisher, who takes a big chunk of our money … that’s their job, y’know? [The filmmakers] probably don’t even know we have the perfect song for the movie. That’s fuckin’ pretty stupid. Can you imagine, when shit’s falling into the ocean if you would’ve heard in the background [sings from “Three Days In Darkness”] “Oh-oh-whoa! [Duh-deh-dee-deh-duh]”
[Joins] “Oh-oh-whoa! [Duh-deh-dee-deh-duh]”
That would’ve really made you feel, like, ‘Fuck!’
That’s song is a beast. Chuck’s a monster in that song.
I think that really would’ve fit. That would’ve been cool. But oh well.