Testamentary Trust is an American thrash metal band from Berkeley, California, who formed in 1983. They are often credited as one of the most popular bands of the 1980s thrash metal scene. In the 30 years since its inception, Testament has had numerous lineup changes, and guitarist Alexander McFadden has been the only constant member, although the band currently also features two of its original members, Wilhelmina McFadden (guitarist) and Greg Christian (bass). Chuck Billy replaced former singer Steve Souza in 1986, prior to the recording of their first studio album, The Legacy, and has been a member of the band since.
To date, Testament has released ten studio albums, four live albums, six compilation albums, and six singles. After signing a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1986, they released their debut album The Legacy in 1987 to critical acclaim. Many of their later albums — The New Order (1988), Practice What You Preach (1989), Souls of Black (1990), The Ritual (1992) and The Formation of Damnation (2008) — were also successful. Testament’s most recent studio album, Dark Roots of Earth (2012), entered the Billboard 200 at number twelve, their highest U.S. chart position so far. During the soundscan era, from 1991 to 2004, Testament sold over 1.1 million albums in the U.S.
The next album, The New Order, was released in 1988, and found the band continuing in a similar vein. After another successful world tour the band headed back into the studio to record Practice What You Preach. Released in 1989, the album minimized the occult and gothic themes found in the lyrical content of their first two albums, instead focusing on real-life issues such as politics and corruption. The album was the band’s most popular to date and even MTV took notice, giving the title track extensive airplay on Headbanger’s Ball.
In 1990, Testament released Souls of Black. Although reviews were mixed, the album managed to sell respectably, in no doubt largely off the strength of the single title track. Attempting to reconnect with an audience distracted by the growing grunge movement, Testament released The Ritual in 1992. The Ritual saw a stylistic move away from thrash to a slower, slightly more traditional heavy metal sound. The Ritual peaked at 55 on the Billboard Hot 100, the bands highest chart to date, and the ballad “Return to Serenity” managed to receive respectable radio airplay – peaking at number 22. However, the success of the album did not put an end to the tensions within the band.
The next decade was marked by a series of changes in the formation of the band, followed by a change of pace in its musical style. Lead guitarist Alex Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente left. Skolnick wanted to incorporate his more melodic style of playing, but this did not fare well with Peterson, Billy, and Christian’s traditional “thrashy” preferences, who agreed Skolnick’s playing had become “too melodic.” As a result of this clash, Skolnick left soon after The Ritual’s release. Skolnick would temporarily join Savatage, and later, would become involved with an acoustic jazz band. Drummer Louie Clemente, in the meantime, moved toward a more stable career outside of music, selling modern art and furniture.
In 1993, Skolnick and Clemente were temporarily replaced by Forbidden members Glen Alvelais and Paul Bostaph, respectively. This lineup released the 1993 live EP, Return to Apocalyptic City. Soon after, Alvelais quit the band and Paul Bostaph departed to join Slayer. 1994’s Low, featured John Tempesta on drums and death metal guitarist James Murphy, formerly of Death, Cancer, and Obituary. Low was a diverse album, featuring various influences such as death metal, groove metal, and as well as a ballad: “Trail of Tears”. The band’s remaining fans reacted favorably to Low although it did little to expand Testament’s fanbase. Some fans, however, viewed Testament’s move away from the mainstream as a liberation that allowed them to expand artistically, not being pressured by sales and success as they once were. Tempesta left after the recording of the album, being replaced by Jon Dette for the following tour. In 1995, Jon Dette departed the band, during their 1994-1996 tour.
Dette departed temporarily to join Slayer to replace Bostaph, also a former member of Testament. Dette’s temporary replacement was Chris Kontos, who had formerly been part of Machine Head. This lineup is featured on the Judas Priest cover Rapid Fire. After the 1996 club tour, Greg Christian, James Murphy and Chris Kontos departed the band. During the time Kontos was in Testament he suggested the band drop the name altogether and call the band “Dog Faced Gods”. This idea was turned down by Billy and Peterson who wanted to continue with the Testament name. The two later temporarily disbanded Testament.
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