GULF OF MEXICO — It’s a good thing the guys in Testament get along and enjoy bringing their brand of thrash metal to the masses. Otherwise, singer Chuck Billy might have had to pull a solo act on his first-ever cruise.
Testament, which played Stubb’s in Austin last March 26, as well as San Antonio’s Scout Bar on June 3, 2009, and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Aug. 24, 2008, was one of the 42 bands that rocked the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, on Jan. 24-28. But as Billy revealed below, he was so excited about the prospects of playing on a ship, Testament’s inclusion very easily could have been nixed.
Testament took to the stage on the first night at 12:30 a.m. aboard the main deck and played 1987 debut album The Legacy in its entirety. They concluded with songs More Than Meets The Eye and the title track from 2008’s The Formation of Damnation.
But considering they played The Legacy at Stubb’s as part of their North American tour with Megadeth and fellow shipmates Exodus in 2010, it was the second show that proved to be more special, as Testament played 1988 album The New Order. Technically, however, the band changed the order of A Day of Reckoning and The Preacher, and flat-out skipped the cover of Aerosmith’s Nobody’s Fault (bummer) and the instrumental Musical Death: A Dirge (no big deal). Still, it was a treat to hear songs such as Eerie Inhabitants and Trial By Fire that don’t normally find their way into the set. And although Billy teased the SAMME into thinking he’d have an extra special birthday treat (read below), it’s always fun to see Testament live.
After The New Order album, Billy, guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, bassist Greg Christian and drummer Paul Bostaph added two songs from 1999’s The Gathering: D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) and 3 Days in Darkness. Unfortunately, Testament did not include any songs from 1989’s Practice What You Preach over the course of both shows.
Oh well, maybe next cruise, right fellas?
Here’s my conversation with Billy:
Q: Can you tell me how you guys got contacted for this and how it all came together?
A: It was about a year ago. They said they’re doing a cruise, would we be interested. I right away said, “A cruise? A little vacation cruise? Yeah, why not? Let’s do it. Sounds good to me, and I can just play, and it’s easy. OK.” I signed off on it about a year ago before even telling the guys in the band. And I forgot to tell them, too. They read about it that we were playing and were like, “Hey, what’s going on? We’re playing some cruise? What’s that about?” So, I forgot. Fortunately, they all agreed that they would do it as well because we’re in the middle of working on our new record. They really didn’t want to take a break and interrupt the writing process. But we’re working hard on it, so everybody’s just like, “Well, let’s take a break. Let’s go perform some of the older stuff, The Legacy and The New Order, which we can play sleepin.’ So, here we are. And I think so far, my expectations were exactly what I had hoped and expected. A lot of good music, good people. It’s a lot of fun. I trip on the scope of it. Just, everything. We’re out in the middle of the ocean and this music and these stages, people are jammin’ and diggin’ it. It’s wild.
Q: What’s the latest on the new album?
A: No titles, but as soon as we get home from this, we’ll get finished writing and hopefully record in March. That’s the plan. Just jump right into it. We have about six songs done right now.
Q: Is it picking up where The Formation of Damnation left off?
A: Yeah, it’s a little different. The writing process is again different because Alex is participating more in this one. We have more cooks in the kitchen, so it’s taking time.
Q: Between The Gathering and Formation, you guys had nine years of separation. With this new record, it seems like you don’t want to wait another nine years, you’re jumping right back into it, right?
A: There’s no way. The nine years was just circumstance. I got sick and stuff, and band changes, and everybody coming back together. Everything was a little loose back then, and now we’re focused, and the plan is to get it done.
Q: You and I did a phone interview in the summer of 2009, where you talked in-depth about your germ cell seminoma. Of course, cancer has hit the metal community hard in the last 10 months with Ronnie James Dio, and Y&T bassist Phil Kennemore (Jan. 7). A week before, on New Year’s Eve, you played Phil’s benefit show in California. How was that experience?
A: It was great. They had a lot of people come up through Santa Clara. Don Dokken, guys from Ratt, Keel — a lot of early ’80s bands that they toured with came up and performed. Everybody was there and supporting, and it was awesome. We got a call from (Y&T manager) Jill Meniketti if we were interested in playing. “Of course.” Me and Paul put something together with Greg, and one of Paul’s friends played guitar. We played Electric Crown, and we did Ace of Spades, the Motorhead tune. Just had fun with it. It was sad, because Phil couldn’t make it that night. He came down with pneumonia that weekend, so he didn’t come to the show. They were walking around with a video camera filming messages for him, so it was real touchy. It was hard.
Q: I’m going to bend the rules a bit and ask a question I wouldn’t normally ask. But being on this ship is one of the most informal karaoke sessions around. Everyone’s having a great time, you guys are playing two shows with two albums in their entirety. I own every Testament studio and live record, and the night you play The New Order happens to be my 40th birthday. Can I please join you guys on stage to sing Trial By Fire?
I know I’m putting you in a tough spot here, and you have to ask the rest of the guys.
A: They don’t care. If you want, come on up.
A: Sure, just meet us by the stage.
The next morning, while I grabbed a quick workout, Billy walked into the fitness room. Testament’s performance of The New Order was scheduled for that night, and I asked Billy again as a reminder. He gave the same answer: “Just meet by the side of the stage.” Alas, I did just that after shooting the first two songs in the photo pit, but Billy never looked my way, never broke stride with the flow of the show.
Can’t win ’em all. Perhaps Billy forgot to tell the guys and didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
About a half-hour after the concert, while a couple friends and the SAMME hung out by the stage with Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares and his wife, and security members, Billy came over and said to yours truly, “Sorry you missed that.” I told him no sweat, that I was having too good a time, to which he responded, “It’s the thought that counts.”
Considering my third cruise overall — and first metal cruise — presented an incredible experience, allowing the SAMME to make friends from all over the world and enjoy many of metal’s finest, joining Testament on stage would’ve been gravy to what already was the best vacation of my life.
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