Testament Biography

This US thrash act was one of the first to emerge from San Francisco’s Bay Area in Metallica’s wake in the 80s. Originally formed as Legacy in 1983, becoming Testament two years later, the line-up included vocalist Steve Souza alongside Alex Skolnick (29 September 1968, Berkeley, California, USA, replacing original guitarist Derrick Ramirez), Eric Peterson (b. 14 May 1964, USA; rhythm guitar), Greg Christian (bass), and Louie Clemente (b. 23 January 1965, USA, replacing original drummer Mike Ronchette). However, Souza soon departed for Exodus and was replaced by giant frontman Chuck Billy (b. 23 June 1962, USA). The Legacy (1987) was a ferocious introduction, quickly establishing Testament at the forefront of the burgeoning thrash scene (their label Megaforce’s distribution through Atlantic Records also helped).

Following a live EP recorded at Holland’s Dynamo Open Air Festival, The New Order (1988) consolidated their popularity with improved songwriting, producing the classic ‘Disciples Of The Watch’. Skolnick, however, was losing interest in pure thrash, extending his undoubted talents by moonlighting in Stuart Hamm’s touring band at one point, and his influence brought a more considered melodic power metal approach to 1989’s Practice What You Preach, which worked superbly. However, Souls Of Black was rushed to coincide with the European Clash Of The Titans tour with Slayer, Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies, and was consequently disappointing. After 1992’s disappointingly conventional The Ritual, Skolnick joined Savatage and Clemente also departed. The following year’s live EP Return To The Apocalyptic City featured Skolnick and Clemente on a number of tracks, while the remainder introduced Glen Alvelais (b. 22 February 1968, Hayward, California, USA; guitar, ex-Forbidden) and Paul Bostaph (b. 6 March 1964, San Francisco, California, USA; drums). Both these musicians’ tenures were short-lived, with journeyman guitarist James Murphy (b. 30 July 1967, Portsmouth, Virginia, USA, ex-Death, Obituary, Cancer) and drummer John Tempesta (b. 26 September 1964, New York City, New York, USA) stepping in for 1994’s Low, which saw a return to their previous thrashing style.

Tempesta subsequently joined White Zombie, and was replaced by Jon Dette (ex-Evildead). A 1995 live album was the final outing for original bass player Greg Christian, but also the first release on Eric Peterson’s own Burnt Offering Records. Issued to raise funds to finance a new studio collection, it was followed by the band’s appearance in the movie Strange Days in which they performed a new song, ‘New Eyes Of Old’. Dette left in 1996 to join Slayer and was replaced by Gene Hoglan (b. Eugene Victor Hoglan II, 31 August 1967, Dallas, Texas, USA). Alvelais replaced Murphy and founding member Derrick Ramirez returned to the line-up on the following year’s death metal inspired Demonic, but by 1999’s The Gathering Billy and Peterson had been joined by the returning Murphy, Steve DiGiorgio (b. 7 November 1967, Waukegan, Illinois, USA; bass) and Dave Lombardo (b. 16 February 1965, Havana, Cuba; drums, ex-Slayer).

Billy’s battle with a rare form of cancer (germ cell seminoma) overshadowed Testament’s work in the new millennium, but he made a full recovery. A reunion of Legacy at the Thrash Of The Titans benefit concert in August 2001 featured both Souza and Skolnick, and led to the release of the curious First Strike Still Deadly, featuring re-recordings of tracks from Testament’s first two albums with Skolnick on guitar and guest vocals from Souza. Various personnel passed through the ranks in the next three years, and it was some relief to the band’s loyal fans when the original line-up reunited for a European tour in summer 2005, with Clemente sharing drum duties with John Tempesta. Most of the classic era line-up was again in place for 2008’s The Formation Of Damnation, with Paul Bostaph returning to play drums in place of Clemente.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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