Titans of Creation, Testament’s 13th studio record released on April 3, 2020. We spoke with frontman Chuck Billy about the new record…
An appropriate song to talk about now would be “The Healers” especially with your own experience over the past couple of weeks. Is this about your own experience dealing with natural medicine men? Can you tell us a little bit about that song?
Yeah, when I was sick with cancer in 2001, I went to visit three Indian medicine men and learned a few things from them. I wanted to pay homage to them, because a few years ago, Charlie (one of them) died. And Lupon (another)… He’s in a VA hospital in New York. I went and visited him, and he has Alzheimer’s, and didn’t remember me, and the third one, Turtle, moved off the mountain, where were together. I kinda lost my connection with everybody and I just wanted to pay tribute to them in the song. That one has a unique vocal pattern at the beginning and I thought it felt appropriate for that healer song that I was gonna use. So that was definitely more personal.
With your diagnosis of COVID-19 were you utilizing this type of natural medicine in addition to what doctors prescribed?
Well, the doctors didn’t prescribe anything. It was almost like when we got home, we weren’t ill. When we were in Europe, we didn’t start feeling sick. But we wanted to be proactive, and I said call a doctor, find out if we get tested somewhere because we’ve been all over Europe. And at first they said that we couldn’t test anywhere until we had symptoms, so a few days later, once we started feeling bad we called back and they sent us in to go test. It was kind of tough to get in there at first.
Was natural medicine something that you came into as an adult or was this something that you were exposed to as a young person growing up, this type of natural medicine?
Well, I chose to do that when I had cancer. Of course, I did chemo and stuff, but I chose to take that route. I don’t know if it was a spiritual journey. Just something mentally, spiritually I needed, I thought. And I was born Catholic and went to catechism and did the whole thing and was taught all the stories of the Bible, but as I’ve gotten older and just seeing a little more of history, I was kind of fascinated and opened my mind up to possibilities of this universe being bigger than just us. And there’s something more out there and it really made me want to seek that spiritual side of my native culture, instead of looking to go to church to pray to be healed. I would say I’m probably not a religious man, but I’m more of a spiritual person now than I would say a religious person.
I want to talk about another one of my favorite songs on the record, “Curse of Osiris.” I’ve never heard some of those sounds in Testament song. It’s got a pretty wicked black metal vibe to it, which I really love.
Yeah, that’s Eric singing. Eric is singing that part in there, the real fast black metal blasty parts. We had Eric singing on that just as a different depth vocally for Testament. We were trying something new, trying things, different things, and it evolved into being something very cool for Eric. He started playing “Night of the Witch” on this last tour in Europe, and he nailed it – that vocal part on the whole tour.
So have you as a band been listening to more black metal lately or is it just something that Eric’s been into?
That’s just Eric’s deal, he’s written… I mean he’ll either listen to black metal or he’s listening to Justin Bieber or something. I mean, he’s got younger kids.
He’s kinda stuck in that world. [laughter]
Yeah. My kids are listening to Taylor Swift in the next room right now, so hopefully you won’t hear…
Yeah, he has a son and a daughter and they got him in this world of playing this weird shit and I’ll be like, “What the hell are you listening to?” And he’s like “Oh, my daughter listens to it.” He’s out there, but I think he still enjoys his black metal, but I think when he’s writing Testament stuff, it’s fun to put those elements in there a little bit now and then, especially if you got a guy like Gene Hoglan playing drums. Take advantage of that.
As soon as I heard “Children Of The Next Level,” I was just like, “This is crazy.” And then I listened to the lyrics and I’m like “This is really crazy.” This is about Heaven’s Gate, right?
Heaven’s Gate, yeah. Yeah, it was down in San Diego, down were Gene lives, and actually that was one of the first songs we wrote for this record, lyrically and musically. It really could have been right off Brotherhood Of The Snake because that’s where that record was, like a little futuristic about aliens creating mankind, futuristic subjects, which this could have been right along off that record. So that’s kind of set the pace for the record. When we wrote it, we were like “Alright, we got a good start, good start… Good something solid under our belt.” And then all of the songs kind of evolved and took on their own identities as Eric started giving them to me because there’s a lot of different flavors on the record. There’s a lot of different unnatural metal chord choices that Eric’s playing that’s not my comfort to sing over. But I found my way through it and it made it a little more challenging for me and made me stretch out my abilities I guess, for this record. So there’s some things on… I mean vocally, I’m trying new for the first time. Especially songs like “City of Angels.”
“City of Angels”… That song, I approached the vocals… After this many records, I found a different texture of my voice and I tried some three-part harmonies which I never do. I don’t do harmonies. And it just made this whole song evolve into something different. And it’s funny because I didn’t want that song on the record. I thought it was too slow and too long and I didn’t hear the vocals. I just didn’t get it. But once we wrote the song and recorded it, that’s when it came on and took on its own life and identity, and it really turned out to be one of the outstanding songs on the record.
One of the things that also jumped out at me on this record was that it sounds well recorded and well mixed. I understand you work with Andy Sneap a bit?
Well, we’ve been working with Andy for a while now, and in the past, me and Eric used to have to be there during the mixes and would probably drive Andy crazy with all the effects and our comments. Over the years, we’ve gotten more comfortable and trusted him, and he knows what we’re looking for. He was on tour with Judas Priest for a few years, so I could see him when he got home. He’d been out of the studio for quite some time so by coming back doing our record, maybe he had some fresh air, just a fresh attitude making our record. And it really shows when I started hearing the mixes, it’s just like everything… I could really hear everything on this record pretty clear.
Are we going be able to see you in North America in 2020?
Well we have a tour in 2020 that we’ve been trying to book, since last year that’s been in the works. So this tour that we’re doing, well we were supposed to do here in April, it’s postponed, but we’re going to re-book the tour in September and it’s going to be probably a different line up, but it’s going to be a good line up. People are really going to be excited for it. And we’ll see, but you know, things could change. They could turn and shut down everything for the next year, we just don’t know. So right now, we’re shooting hoping for September and that’s kind of our goal right now is to hopefully be able to do America in September.
Would you ever think of doing some type of live performance without a crowd? I know Enslaved just did that, or worst case, scenario something that we can watch on YouTube?
Yeah, I would love to do that. I mean, if it comes down to not being able to go out there, I think we would do something like that, or do something fun where you play different records or different tracks, or have the fans online pick the set for that night, or something creative and make it fun and make it where people are involved and a part of what songs you play. I think something like that might be fun to do and put together. Also, we have our video for “Children Of The Next Level” coming out. We had so much touring lined up that we didn’t have time to actually go shoot the video so we decided to do an animated video for the song and I thought that that song would make a good visual animated song, for the story of Heaven’s Gate. The guy did a great job on it. It looks really fun and I think people are going to have fun with it when they see it
Titans of Creation can be ordered here now.