Interview: Testament guitarist Eric Peterson on Dragonlord project

Posted by on August 30, 2018

Legendary Testament guitarist Eric Peterson just finished touring in support of the second leg of Slayer’s Farewell North American tour. During the run, the guitarist announced the return of his symphonic black/death metal project Dragonlord with the upcoming album Dominion. It is a follow-up to 2005’s Black Wings of Destiny and will be released on September 21st via Spinefarm Records (pre-order here). We were lucky to speak to Peterson about Dragonlord, his comic book, Testament plans, and more.

I enjoy seeing an image along with the lyrics for each track

The whole booklet is like that. It’s kind of like a graphic novel. Each song has a picture, trying to describe the song.

I liked that. You give everything a visual interpretation and I do have a question about that. First let’s get started with what inspired you to create a new Dragonlord album?

Not that it ended, the last show we did was Japan in ‘06, and after that, the band at the time it went from Steve Smyth on guitar who was the original guy with me on it to Gian Pyres who was previously in Cradle of Filth and my cousin Derrick Ramirez on bass and then Lyle (Livingston – Keyboards), Jon (Allen – drums) and myself. It just got, I think between Derrick and Gian, Derrick expecting a little bit more. It was going to be a side project, the band got kind of weird. A little awkward, I just didn’t want drama to be in something I thought was going to be fun. I kind of just walked away, and was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I got my other band to worry about, I don’t need to start up anything.

Right around 2009, 2010, I’ve always stayed in contact with Lyle.  Lyle and I are more of the creators for the music. We got together, we had some unfinished riffs from the previous record. I think he called me, said, Eric I found this tape will you go re-record this stuff. I think we we hung out and listened to it, where I was just like “wow that’s better.” the lost and forgotten tapes, that’s good stuff right there. We were at his house, he had the keyboards out, I had a guitar there, we just started jamming and I think we came up with two songs really quick. And he said, we should do another record. I was like, I’m down for that, but I don’t want to call those guys up, lets just do it like the first record, more like a project, I play the guitars, me and Jon will handle it from there. I got a hold of Jon and it kept getting setback because he was going through some personal stuff. But yeah, basically around 2009/2010 that’s when we decided to get together and start forming some music and got a record deal from that.

How would you compare Dominion compared to the previous Dragonlord Efforts?

For me I think this one as far as what I wanted to get out of Dragonlord from the beginning, I think I nailed it pretty good. I’m always going to get compared I guess to, I heard, Dimmu Borgir and some people said Cradle of Filth, that’s just like people comparing Testament to Metallica.

It fits the theme but completely different.

Yeah, it is. If you’re into that kind of music, I think we are more compared to Anorexia Nervosa or just more, there’s too many other bands that aren’t’ around anymore that have that kind of sound and we get our influences from other sources as well. To be compared to Dimmu, I guess is cool, it’s up there, they are one of my favorite bands. I don’t really look to them for inspiration other than being a fan of their old stuff.

I think we got it right, especially sound wise and vocals. I’ve learned a lot. When I did the first record, I had no demos or anything, I just went there. I knew that I had this certain kind of voice. And I did backup vocals in the studio with Testament. I’ve always coached Chuck. I’m the one that he gets mad at, I’m the one that cares. I’m like, you should try it like this. Just put that in mind, when I show up to the studio, they are like, we got the demos of your music, what does your vocals sound like?

I’m like, let’s do it. They said, do you have a demo or something. I said no. I got there and just did it. I knew in my head what I wanted it to sound like, I did backups before. I always get called the wicked witch, with that kind of screamy voice. That was a fun learning curve, the first record because I discovered what I could and couldn’t do. I discovered I had this clean voice that I have and I could do because I didn’t really think of myself as a singer. What I learned to do, because I’m not a natural singer, was to get into the lyrics, and it’s almost like acting. To be like an actor and really portray what you are saying and then all of a sudden you are singing, you’re not thinking about hitting a perfect note, you are lost in character.

Exactly. Lost in the moment.

I’ve learned to get into those moments especially on this last record, I was able to nail it quicker. Some stuff, he’d be like I don’t know about that voice, or that song I sent you, that was going to be a black metal screaming like, “rarrrr ra ra ra!” So maybe some low voices, we messed around with that. I think I was just humming, because I have the melody, but I was kind of humming it out there, he had a lot of reverb, I was even at the mic, and he was like what were you just doing? I said, idk what was I just doing? I think he was recording me. He was like, ‘wow,’ so we tried it like that. Once I got a good foundation of the first verse, I realized that, there’s a whole nother thing that’s going to be cool. And being coached by Leah, who’s a natural singer. She could just start singer, right in the room and you go, that’s a singer. The main difference is just getting everything right. At the rendition of what Dragonlord should sound like with the choirs, orchestra, different instruments; the whole enchilada.

It’s very visual and cinematic in a way. There are a lot of dark themes I noticed. How would you make this project turn into a film? Part of it reminded me of the film Lost Boys for some reason.

When I had, voice had the melody, I just went along with the riff real easy. I had kind of a storyboard, and I was telling Leah about it and she’s like play that for me again, the end. Because it was an acoustic outro. She went into the studio, she didn’t write anything down or anything and was ad libbing singing stuff. It’s almost like a story of what I wanted to do a take off of Dante’s Inferno when Beatrice was kidnapped by the prince of darkness. And she’s like he’ll preserve until Dante confesses his sins. But she falls in love and accepts her fate in the other world. And that’s like wow what a cool twist to the story. Her ending gave me the whole beginning of the idea. She walks the beauty of the night, on the dragon’s breath she’ll roam tonight. And it just takes off from there of a story of being entranced by the prince of darkness, falling in love in more of an abstract way. Some people can hear it, and if you really don’t know the words you can almost make your own story with it.

I get what you’re saying as far as cinematic, that was the big thing that we wanted. Things to be visual. I remember sampling a couple of songs to my daughter, she’s fourteen, what does this sound like to you? She said, it sounds like you’re entering the gates of hell. I’m like, wow!

Your daughter has it correct. And that’s great that you can do that with music, present a visual setting for any listener, it could be the gates of heaven to someone else. Who knows.

I mean it was for, the reason why it took so long is, well there’s a few things. 1. There was a lot of hiccups in the beginning with the original drummer (Jon Allen), waiting around and then finally going ok, going on tour with Testament and then coming back and starting it and then meeting Alex Bent, the drummer that’s on this record. In the beginning was a problem, so Jon, getting a better of a return, better for Dragonlord. Alex’s style really worked with what I had. So every hurdle that I have or every little, tardiness or whatever, there was never a problem. We had to figure out what it was. Waiting that extra year till the end of 13 and figuring out, and getting Leah to redo all of the choirs, the keyboards. If you heard what we had before, it would almost sound like a demo. Now you have a real person doing all of the “ahhs,” it still sounds what Dragonlord is, if you compare it to our older records, that’s the difference, the quality in a real voice, that’s really cool.

Would you be able to share more about your comic book, what was the process creating the character, The Burner?

It was associated with the song “Northlanders,” which is about the Viking raids. I wrote that when the first history channel, when they first put Vikings out and that was a while ago, that was when I started working on that idea. So that art was created around that idea and then it becoming a mascot for us in a way. Instead of doing a Dragonlord comic book, I was like The Burner was the big name of this guy and when I wrote the song “Northlanders”, just the whole storyboard started spinning and I said, it would be cool to have a comic, Dragonlord comic. And then we decided it shouldn’t be a Dragonlord comic, it should be a character. So The Burner was born I guess and inside the Burner’s adventures, Dragonlord is featured in there.

He is a time traveler goes through different periods of time. Kind of like, a spawn of darkness and light. He is dark himself I guess a black metal superhero, it is kind of fun I guess. But not goofy fun not like punning black metal. It is more serious. To me, it is more like if you were to do an animation movie for Braveheart verses Little Nicky. It’s not goofy, if I ever did anything with that, it would be for adults.

I can definitely see the character. It would be more interesting than another Spiderman movie, I suppose. It would be interesting to bring something new.

Yeah. There is a lit lot of interest in it and I think there’s a couple of big magazines that are talking about publishing it and taking it farther. I would love to turn it into a short series, an animation. Like Dethklok or something again not goofy, more of the real deal. The sex, the violence, the gore all of that stuff that happened in time.

There is an anime called Death Note. I see that character looking like him (Ryuk).

Yeah Death Note was a good one. The one I would follow after it. It is called Berserk. Back in the 90s, but they re-did it, it was called Arc 1, Arc 2, Arc 3, and it’s just, out of control. Super cool. It is almost like, Ghibli films, they did some really cool ones like Princess Mononoke, that’s a really cool one. It’s got beheadings and all of the real stuff. Berserk, I highly recommend to people it is really cool.

How do you balance your time between all of your projects – Testament and Dragonlord. I know Testament have been touring a lot.

Well instead of taking a year to make a Dragonlord record, it took six years.

That is a good point.

I do what I gotta do. Dragonlord is the project so it has to wait. There was a point around ’14 or ’15, the anxiety was kicking in. I remember waking up and feeling something is wrong like you are in trouble or something. I had this feeling that it was never going to get done. It was so close and I was like, oh my god. This is crazy. I just finished, there were two songs that needed to be written. The hardest one was “The Discord of Melkor” the music was so fast and crazy but it still had a good melody. I just needed to find the right story that made sense. Of the music especially with the whole middle part having the orchestration.

I was reading the book, The Silmarillion by Tolkien which is about the Genesis, the first stage of the Lord of the Rings. Just the creation of everything. Melkor was Lucifer, the bad angel. which they created middle earth. What Tolkien did how he took Genesis in the Bible and made it his own thing, that was very interesting. Yeah that book is amazing and to me it is way heavier than what we know about as The Lord of the Rings and what happens before all of that is super interesting. So that one took a while but when I finally got it right, it just all I think I was reading the book and thinking about it but when I actually took the pen to the paper, I think I wrote it in like a day. And that was pretty cool that it just flowed out. But I think I got it. It was too abstract, it just rolled off the tongue really well too.

The album is out next month, do you have any shows or touring plans for Dragonlord?

Not at the moment. Again, Testament, we’re going to be working on the new record. I am looking into, October maybe November, maybe do two showcasings. I would like to go out there and do something small, something special, maybe a boat thing or a winter festival or something.

Oh! Dragonlord on 70000tons of Metal, now that would be awesome.

Yeah, that would be pretty cool.

I heard from other interviews that Testament will have a new album out in 2019?

Yeah, that’s going to happen. It’s gotta happen!

It’s been since 2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake, so…

Well the end of ’16, that was a big thing too, we had it but we put it out a month before ’17, because of the Amon Amarth tour. And I’m like, man, it just sucks that a month later it’s going to be ’17 but people are going to call it a record from ’16. It was a month off. But anyway, yeah, it’s been a couple of years and it’s time to do a new record.

Here’s an interesting question, since you’ve been touring, supporting Slayer, how do you feel about their retirement and overall band’s retiring in general?

Now that I’m watching their show, this is where they need to be. It took them saying goodbye for people to come out, and for them to play arenas and the production, the fire, the song selection, it’s like, No! Don’t go. You’re doing something right now. I mean, they’ve always done something right but it’s just perfect right now. To me when I watch, it’s just the best Slayer ever.

A really good setlist.

That’s what I’m saying, a good setlist, they are killing it. I think it’s before their time but they are going out with a bang, that’s for sure, that’s what’s really going to happen.

What’s good about this particular tour, it gives people a better idea to have a touring thrash festival. Seeing Testament, Anthrax, and Slayer together, sparked ideas in my head. Lamb of God and Napalm Death are of course, amazing as well, I was just thinking in terms of thrash.

What would Lamb of God fall under? Like groove-thrash?

I don’t compare them with thrash but I see them as being trained to be the next Slayer, the next generation’s biggest band. Not sure if you heard about that.

Yeah, it’s up for grabbings right now so we’ll see what happens with everyone’s new record!

This tour feels in a way that everyone has a chance to watch a bit of metal history over the last 37 years through different angles of metal. Lamb of God and Napalm death of course added to this history. Watching history within 6 hours take place, it must have been an amazing tour and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Oh yeah, we’ve been having fun. Does it look like we’re having fun?

Yes, definitely! Looked like you guys were having an amazing time. Is there anything else that you would like to add/say to your fans?

Dominion comes out on September 21st, if you’re into heavy music in general, I wouldn’t hang a jacket on Dragonlord just because it’s under the banner of black metal because there’s so much more to this record and I think people that wouldn’t normally buy something like this, you should check it out.



Categorised in: Metal on Metal