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Cancer has been getting a lot of press lately. And, unfortunately, it's not the defunct death metal act that's gracing the pages of metal rags worldwide. Instead, it's the elusive disease the band was named for. Like an evil game of hide and seek, the cancer has been reaching out from the bowels of hell to tag metal legends, seemingly at random. In recent months, we've seen the passing of both Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied) and Randy Castillo (Ozzy, Motley Crue) as the result of this uncontrolled cell division. Meanwhile, Chuck Billy (Testament) and James Murphy (Disincarnate, Death, Testament) have been going to the mat with the dreaded beast, and landing on top. The outpouring of support from the metal community has been tremendous, reminding us that there is more to this scene than music. And it goes both ways. Despite Chuck Billy's health issues, the Testament machine still churns demonstrating that a metal heart truly is hard to tear apart. Having recently released a re-recording of tracks from the first two albums called 'First Strike Still Deadly', Chuck took the time to speak to the Metal Update to give us a report on his progress, as well as a peek into his metal world.

METAL UPDATE: How ya feelin'?

CHUCK BILLY: Pretty good, actually.

MU: Good. You don't mind if I ask questions concerning your condition?

CB: Not at all.

MU: The kind of cancer you have is called germ cell seminoma, is that correct?

CB: Uh-huh.

MU: What kind of cancer is that?

CB: Basically it's a form of testicular cancer, but it's rare in my case. I didn't get it into my testicles, but in my chest and my heart, and it's basically testicular cancer. This cancer, Lance Armstrong has it, the Tour de France guy.

MU: Have you been satisfied with all the treatment you've received so far?

CB: Yeah, I mean, I was actually. . . The first couple biopsies, they couldn't pinpoint which type of cancer it was for about six weeks after my second biopsy. When he came back, he told me with the germ cell seminoma, the percentage rate was really good - you know, like eighty-seven percent chance of recovery, which is good. Sounded great to me. I did twelve weeks of chemo, and it actually really did a job on it. It shrunk it at a pretty fast pace. It was the size of like a squash from my neck down to the top of my abdomen. The chemo actually shrunk it down to the size of, you know, smaller than a baseball. At that point, there was no cancer cells remaining in the tissue that was left. I had open-heart surgery eight weeks ago, and they cut the rest of it out. Now I'm just kinda healing up from it all, and just kinda being monitored, you know? They'll test me to make sure it doesn't grow - what's left of the tissue remaining there - that it stays non-cancerous.

MU: Are you scheduled for any more surgeries?

CB: Well, they're kind of monitoring it, 'cause actually the tumor grew around one of my valves, and it collapsed it. When they cut the tumor out, they shaved it down as close as they could to the valve without having to replace it. During the operation, I was open for seven hours, and at that point they just wanted to close me up, and they said hopefully my body absorbs the rest of the tissue on the valve, and that hopefully the valve might just start functioning on its own. If it does, it's all good, and if it doesn't, then maybe a year from now or somethin', they might have to open me back up and replace the valve. So, I'm just kinda waiting to see what happens. For the meantime, the doctor, says everything looks good now - "Go ahead, start rehabilitating yourself and go ahead and start singin' and stuff."

MU: Have they got you on any sort of medication? Do you have continuing treatment?

CB: No. I'm on no medication. I've been on pain pills for about three weeks now, goin' on four weeks - still real tender inside, you know? But as far as where the incision is, I've never had a problem with that.

MU: How is James Murphy doing?

CB: James is doing really good. I haven't talked to him actually for a few weeks, but he's doing really well. He was pretty fortunate catching it in time, makin' it out to Florida and being with his parents. He's doing really good.


MU: If everything works out fine, will James rejoin Testament at some point?

CB: I don't think so. I think Steve's pretty much the guy for the band right now. We knew that when we first brought Steve in. It was kind of replacin' James, and actually Steve has worked into a guy we'd want to keep around now. He was in the band Vicious Rumors, and they had some problems and he was going to be leavin' the band. So, he didn't have any other obligation to go back to his band, so we kinda tell him to stick around with Testament.

MU: Who organized the Thrash of the Titans benefit?

CB: Walter Morgan, he's the guy that lives with me. He's been a roommate for about - I don't know - seven, eight years or so. He decided one day to do a benefit, contacted Legacy and, I think, Skinlab. We're talkin' one night and he asked me, you know, what would be the ultimate show? So, I started naming off all these bands: Anthrax, SOD, Violence, Forbidden, all the old-school bands. And then as time went on, every couple days, he'd come up and go, "I talked to Violence. They're gonna play." You know? "Talked to Death Angel. They're gonna play." Next you had this incredible line-up.

MU: Were you impressed by the turnout?

CB: Oh, the turnout. . . just the bands and performances were. . . every band was great. I just had a smile on my face all day. I was just so happy to see. . . 'cause I haven't seen a lot of. . . people just came out of the woodwork that I haven't seen in like ten years. People came from across the country and from Europe. It was like a big reunion and, like I said, all the bands' performances were just great. I had a really good time. A lot of those bands that played aren't bands anymore because they've had some sorta personal problems between the band and all that. It was great to see them come perform and just put all that behind them and actually enjoy it and have a good time. It was just an awesome day, an awesome feeling for me.

MU: Do you live in San Francisco, are you based there?

CB: I live in Antioch, now. It's about an hour east of San Francisco.

MU: You know, talking about the old-school, classic "Bay Area Thrash" scene, are there any bands that still play that style? Is there any sort of a thrash scene in the Bay Area still?

CB: Not really new bands, I would say, but because of that concert, Violence is playin' next weekend, and Death Angel's gonna be doin' some shows, and Exodus is maybe doin' some shows, possibly another record. It kinda sparked some of the older bands to 'cause they got - everybody - they got such a good response. They're seeing that how there's still a following in the Bay Area for that kind of music.

MU: The 'First Strike Still Deadly' album that just came out, you re-recorded the tracks for that, right?

CB: Yeah.

MU: From what I've read, you released it to see how the old stuff would sound with new technology. When you went in to record that, did you follow the same M.O. as you do with your Nineties releases?

CB: Yeah, basically we did the same exact tracking, mixing and everything - same technique, miking - everything that we did with 'The Gathering' record. We're pretty pleased with the sound, power of 'The Gathering' record. Originally, we contacted Atlantic and wanted to remix 'The Legacy' and 'The New Order' records. We also had like two or three videos for each album. We wanted to put those on the end of the CD for, like an enhanced CD, to put in the computer and watch the videos. At that time Atlantic was bought out by AOL Time Warner, and if you weren't distributed by them, then you couldn't get the rights to the records. So, at that point, we couldn't remix 'em. To do that, we'd have had to go re-record them. It was better to re-record 'em, 'cause it would've been harder to try to mix those recordings from '87 to try to sound like what we came up with now. The guitar tones are different, the miking technique, the mikes we use and everything. So, I'm glad we went ahead and redid them this way, and it was a lot more fun, you know? When I mentioned it to Eric, "What do you think if I asked Alex to play guitar on it?" He said, "Go for it." I asked Alex and said just, "Don't gimme an answer now, I just want to ask you somethin', and think about it. I'll call you back in a couple months." When I did call him back, he agreed that he. . . and Louie was gonna play the drums on it as well. I think he rehearsed it for like a week and said that he just hasn't played for so long that he wasn't gonna be able to do the record. So, we got Johnny Tempesta to do it. We had a small window to record the record, finish the record, turn it in, 'cause Alex had other obligations and Johnny had to go on tour with Rob Zombie, and I wasn't sure about doing those things - I hadn't sang for months. I started right after the Thrash of the Titans show that weekend. That Monday is when I started doing the vocal tracks, and I just started doing a little bit here and there to see if I could do it. I definitely wasn't doin' my. . . You usually go into the studio and you put in about eight hours of singing. You know, this was just maybe doin' an hour a day, and the thing about it was that we knew this record inside out. A lot of it was just kinda one take, so it worked out that the re-recording was a lot more special now. We actually touched base with Alex and Louie and Greggy and everybody again, instead of just remixing the old records.


MU: Are there any songs that you prefer the newer versions to the older ones on the 'First Strike' release?

CB: I think "Trial By Fire" is one of my favorites that stands out. Well, every song, I think, just because Johnny, as far as the drums, adds a little more edge to the original tracks than Louie. You know, Louie played a lotta straightforward stuff, and Johnny has a lot more double-bass stuff. "Trial By Fire" by far stands out. It's a song that we've always wanted to play live on tour, but every time when we rehearsed it, it just never sounded right. So, when we gave it a shot for the record, it actually turned to be one of my favorite songs that came out.

MU: Is "Trial By Fire" one of the harder songs for you guys to play?

CB: It just didn't have that vibe. It just didn't have the power, for some reason. We were kinda nervous about it on the record, but once we started to record, it all came together.

MU: So, Testament has a new record planned for next year, right?

CB: Yeah, eventually. We're startin' to work on it right now.

MU: Can you give me hints as to what it's going to sound like? Is it going to be like 'The Gathering' or are you doing anything different?

CB: I would hope it to be like 'The Gathering'. I just want it to have a lotta energy and power. For 'The Gathering' I got to use all my voices, my death voice, kinda singing voice, my hard rock voice, you know? There's a whole variety for me as far as the vocals on 'The Gathering' and I really enjoy it So, I wanna basically stay in that vein. I don't think we could bend far musically, 'cause I think Eric always has the unique sound that gives Testament our sound.

MU: Speaking of Eric, you've heard his new band Dragonlord?

CB: Yeah.

MU: What do you think about that?

CB: I'm not into the black metal kind of stuff. You know, Eric, all of last year on tour, he's playin' me all black metal stuff. I just. . . I enjoy the music. I think Eric did a great job for that style of music, but, it's just not really what I'm into. I'm into more like The Haunted or Soilwork, stuff which reminds me of 80's thrash with a little more melody in the vocals. Eric did a great job on this record, though.

MU: He's pretty up on new music, as well, and leans more towards black metal. Does he try to write stuff like that for Testament? When it comes to writing Testament material, is there still a meeting of the minds? Are you guys all on the same page?

CB: Yeah, yeah. When I hear Eric play a lead, I know it's a Testament song - whenever I hear him play a new riff for me. He came over two weeks ago and he played me a new riff and, you know, "definitely, Eric." We're flexible to do anything. I mean, he can play his black metal style, but I won't sing it that way, you know? We work good like that where, you know, he knows what my limitations are and what I like, and how he's gonna structure it. I guess we've been doin' it so long, we kinda just know what to expect from each other.

MU: With Testament throughout the 90's, you had guys coming and going out of the band quite a bit. Do you feel the current lineup is pretty solid?

CB: Yeah, yeah. This is gonna be the lineup set now, hopefully for good. I moved out to Antioch where Steve and John live, and Steve Smyth comin' into the band - I think we've formed a tight family now. Before it was hiring musicians and going on tour, doin' records, whatever. I think we're all pretty comfortable with each other. Everybody gets along, families get along, you know? It's more fun now. Before people didn't really - family-wise - didn't really know each other too well, and it makes it a little weird. I think that was our problem always with band members coming and going. I think finally we've found the guys that are pretty cool, and we can all get along really well. Maybe even if we weren't playing music, we could all just go hang out and have a good time.

MU: Do you ever want to do side projects?

CB: Before I got diagnosed, me, Steve DiGiorgio and Darren, who plays guitar and sings in Sadus, started a side project. We've been writing a record, and kinda put it on the back burners when I got sick. We're just now kind of gettin' back together, finishing writing. We got probably almost a record finished right now, but it's been about six months since we've been really been working on it.

MU: Does your label, Spitfire, know about that project? Are they interested in releasing that?

CB: Haven't really talked to them about it. We're gonna, I guess over the next couple of months, finish up recording, give 'em a good demo tape and see what interest could be out there.

MU: When you listen to the newer Testament records and you relate it to the older material, do you like the newer stuff more than the old?

CB: Well, the older material, stuff like we did on the 'First Strike' record, definitely is the Testament style. I think a lot of that has to do with just Eric's style of playing and writing. I don't think there's too many songs - riffs that Eric has written - that I said, "I just hate that." He's always got something good. His newer stuff has resembled a lot of the older stuff.

MU: I think 'The Ritual' is really a great record. That record was kind of considered the black sheep of the Testament catalogue. It had more of a rock vibe and wasn't quite as heavy as the other stuff, or maybe as it should have been. Do you like that record?

CB: I listen to it, but at the time, and what was goin' on in music, it wasn't the right record. At that point is when we had people from Atlantic records - their A&R guys - coming down and saying, "You need a rock record and more ballads. You need stuff for radio songs." At that time, me and Eric wanted to definitely stay true and heavy, and Alex and Louie kinda wanted to experiment in a different direction. Greg, he can go either way, you know? He didn't care. We, as a band, had to compromise with each other 'cause we actually had written that record when Alex was out on the road with Stu Hamm. It had a lot more harder edge to it. Alex came back and he didn't want to play a lot of the thrash pieces. We really had to compromise with each other on that record, and when it came down to that, vocally, it kinda lost the energy. I mean, I can listen to the record, but it just wasn't Testament to me when I heard it. It didn't have that edge to it, I guess. It had some good songs on it, but I was in the more of the high energy, hyper kinda stuff - you know, me and Eric. That record lost something when we had to compromise.


MU: With heavy metal, in general, in the 90's, with some of the labels like Spitfire and Nuclear Blast and Century Media, there's still some pretty good support for metal. It's been kept fairly strong in certain circles. Are you kind of surprised that metal has stayed as viable as it has throughout the last decade?

CB: Oh, of course. I mean, there's always gonna be fans out there that enjoy a certain type of music. In the early 90's, the industry tried to kinda shut out metal. It was almost like a bad word. Right around the time when we did 'The Ritual' record, there were about a hundred or two hundred some-odd stations around the country, that were mainstream radio, that were playing Testament, Anthrax, Slayer kind of stuff on the radio. The next year we came out with the 'Low' record and it was down to like twenty some-odd stations that would play it. Everybody else started changing their format. . . you know, grunge music. . . kinda crazy. It's like they were trying to just say, "Oh, metal's gone. Metal's dead." But there's fans out there that still wanna hear it, buy it, you know? It's like one person starts this and every other station follows them - starts changing their format. But then it came down to those kinds of fans just buying records again which is good for metal bands.

MU: Where do you see Testament in five to ten years? Are you ready to ride it out to the end?

CB: Well, yeah. I mean, we got fourteen, fifteen years now into the band. As long as we keep playing it and enjoying writing the songs and enjoy the company then, you know, we'll keep playing. It's not like we have anything to prove, other than we gotta be a band, and we still tour. Like I said, all of us have families and other lives and work. All of us kinda get out of the house and go hang out down in the studio, get away from everyday life and work and stuff. It makes our writing more enjoyable, playing music. In the past, you're concerned about record sales and goin' on tour - to get this tour and that tour. That's not the biggest concern, anymore.

MU: If you weren't doing music, what would you be doing? Do you have any other interests? Was there a point in your life when you thought about doing something else?

CB: Well, I always wanted to go to a recording institute - really study up on recording techniques and stuff - engineering school.

MU: Back to when the new record comes out next year - do you guys plan to do a full tour for it?

CB: I do, definitely, yeah. I mean, when I got sick, we had to cancel all the European festivals that we were supposed to play. The funnest part is goin' to Europe and hittin' all the festivals, you know? I think that's our goal we're gonna shoot for, try to get a record out so we can go play over there by, I think, June.

MU: Are there any bands you'd like to tour with that you've never toured with before?

CB: Well, every time I see James Hetfield, I keep asking him when is Testament gonna open up for them? (laughs) He never really gives me an answer. (laughs) That'd probably be the one tour I keep trying to get.


review of Testament 'First Strike Still Deadly'

review of Testament 'The Gathering'

Thrash Of The Titans photo essay

Testament interview with Eric Peterson








*BUY* Testament 'First Strike Still Deadly'



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