Though I’d sell my soul to hear Kill Em All for the first time again, James Hetfield and that failed Danish tennis prodigy he calls a drummer get more credit than they deserve for the whole Bay Area Thrash boon of the 80s. I’ll attribute the overstatements and hubris to narrative-padding or well-meaning revisionism. Considering how arena-sized Metallica’s pock-marked grilles would go on to become (peep this video for stats, egos, etc.), it’s tough to believe they didn’t invent THE GUITAR ITSELF, RIGHT?????
But back when Exodus, Death Angel, and the rest of the longhairs were rubbing elbows and shot-gunning beers with Cliff Burton (R.I.P., thanks for “Anesthesia,” dude), the Bay seemed filled with bands contributing equally to the creation of this new, frantic brand of metal. Granted, I wasn’t there, or even born yet. But all the member-swapping, shared bills, and production hook ups (ex: Kirk Hammet founded Exodus, and recorded Death Angel’s first record), suggests more of a communal sitch than the Metallica-Lords-Over-The-Bay plotline VH1 Behind The Music likes to spew.
Though they came along a bit later than the rest, not releasing their debut until ‘87, Testament was (and still is) one of the finest thrash bands in the Bay. Gems like The Legacy, and The Ritual established Chuck Billy as a vocal force, and guitarist Alex Skolnick as one of the most technically impressive string-slingers of any era. But after The Ritual’s 1992 release, the original line-up would splinter. Skolnick took his solos elsewhere (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Greg Christian bowed out too. It made for a few admittedly-lackluster records, and when Billy was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, it looked like the band had chugged its final riff.
But Testament fans knew better. Billy recouperated, the scene coalesced around him with benefits, and Testament re-emerged as good as new, with a few old friends. Indeed, Skolnick returned to the fold, so would Christian, and Testament would follow up 1999’s The Gathering with last month’s The Formation of Damnation. Rightly heralded as a return to roots, the album is brash, loud, and devilishly good. How good? Well, the reinvigorated line-up was asked to tour all summer with Judas Priest, Heaven and Hell, and Motorhead. How good? Well, the band is being featured all week long on MTV(!), as part of the 52/52 series. It took a while, but Testament is finally getting the respect they deserve — in theaters and arenas all over American, and after ever single episode of Tila Tequila. Not bad for a band that didn’t make the Big Four final cut, eh?
Go here for more of MTV’s 52/52 Testament segments.