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Its old style stands Testament

Citizen Staff Writer
Music

POLLY HIGGINS

phiggins@tucsoncitizen.com

Metal is one genre where the artists address the Big Issues – war, the environment, the nature of man – and generally don’t sound preachy, one-dimensional, trite. That could be because a band like Testament, which plays the Rialto on Friday, has its priorities straight.

“We knew we wanted the drums to be a bigger drum sound. And a real drum sound,” singer Chuck Billy says of his band’s newest album, “The Formation of Damnation” (Nuclear Blast). “We wanted the guitars to be bigger than they had in the past.”

Enough layers of guitars, pounding drums and Billy’s commanding growl and anything can sound serious. Demure recordings, aren’t exactly something associated with this San Francisco band with roots to the early 1980s, but the fivepiece had a little extra fire this time around. The lineup is as close to original as Testament’s had in years, with drummer Paul Bostaph (Forbidden, Slayer) the only relative newbie, and his Testament history dates to the early 1990s.

The songwriting core remained Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson, the frontman says from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., hours before Testament’s opening set on the Metal Masters tour with Judas Priest, Motörhead and Heaven & Hell.

“We knew we had Alex (Skolnick) and Greg (Christian) on the record and we wanted to do it right,” Billy says. “We went back to our old style (of writing), when those guys were in the band. It has the old feeling and sense of the other albums” with Skolnick and Christian.

“The Formation of Damnation” could certainly stand alongside early Metallica, to which Testament has often been compared, and it’s a sound the group sees no need to move beyond. Testament isn’t looking for the huge radio hit or a catchy chorus; on “Damnation,” the five do what they do, punishing metal with no inherent mission of crossing over to metal-lite fans a la an “Enter Sandman.” A reader of Nostradamus’ prophecies, Billy and Co. investigate familiar tropes of metal – “false leader crowned, a world of mass destruction,” Billy sings on the title track – with plenty of room for contemporary interpretations.

“(M)etal music is the only kind of music that challenges those subjects like good versus evil,” Billy says, then he tears through the tracks. “The Evil Has Landed” was inspired by 9/11, “Henchmen Ride” by a California motorcyle gang.

“There aren’t any happy songs,” Billy says, laughing. “We don’t write too many of those cliché heavy-metal songs that we did in the early days. . . . They don’t mean as much because they’re not real. They don’t affect you.”

IF YOU GO

What: Testament in concert with Sacred Reich

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.

Price: $23

Info: 740-1000, rialtotheatre.com

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