Most of us are trained to think of thrash metal as pure, self-indulgent destruction in sonic form. Whether we're absorbing deafening, indecipherable screams, relentless guitar shredding, or the savagery of Tommy-gun drum fills, the objective is an all-out assault on your ears. So it's clear a band such as Testament, who've dedicated 30-plus years to this dark art, could never write an entire record about something as altruistic as improving society and taking care of the environment, right? Guess again. We recently sat down with vocalist Chuck Billy, who schooled us on the eco-friendly stance behind his band's latest album, Dark Roots of Earth. Turns out behind all those black-hearted guitar riffs, there's a little bit of warm humanitarianism that inspires their songs.
OC Weekly: Do you feel your new album relates to today's metal?
Chuck Billy: I think it definitely does, in our own way. I think the music we write, especially the past three records, doesn't sound like it's coming from a dated band or a nostalgia band. I think someone who hasn't seen or heard Testament would probably hear our record and it would probably catch their ear. For me, there are a lot of new bands who are doing the same stuff, the same vocals and the same music. It almost sounds [as though they're all] the same band. At least we are doing our own thing and what we believe in.
And Dark Roots of Earth did something unexpected: It hit No. 1 on iTunes, Amazon and Brave, then you guys had a music video that was in the Top 10 at the American Indian Film Festival.
Yeah, and the album debuted at No. 12 on Billboard. To us, that was like, "Wow, holy smokes." It is a good record, but I definitely give props to [our label] Nuclear Blast; it did a great campaign for the record. It offered different versions of [the album] when it came out, and that was pretty awesome.
The inspiration for past records came from things such as 1984, which was the inspiration for your second album, The New Order. Was there anything political like that that was used for this record?
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I think we have always been a planet-conscious band. When we didn't really know where we were going with it, [guitarist Eric Peterson] came up with the "Dark Roots of Earth" idea and the artwork. When we first saw it, I was digging it; the cover [design] is of a tree god. And right away, [the songs took me aback], the same way New Order did when we were doing it. We didn't plan it, but a lot of the songs were just about humanity and mankind and what we are doing to ourselves, to the human race and the planet, all in one. It's not really a happy record by any means with any of the lyrics. When you sit back and listen to it, this is really a dark record. But it is a record about being pissed-off, about where we are [going wrong] as the human race and what we are doing to ourselves on this planet.
Is it important for bands, more specifically metal bands, to call for revolution and demand changes in society when it comes to the environment?
Yes, and what scares me is wondering: "Is it too late? Can humanity change it? What's going on? What's happening?" I notice that, as young kids, we had [a definitive] summer, winter, fall and spring--none of that is the same anymore. The weather is so out of whack, and the planet is so out of whack. Is it ever going to go back to [how it was]? You see people at concerts talk about it, and you can talk about it and shout as loud as you can, but if people don't take a step in the direction of doing something about it, then it's all a waste of time.