Under normal circumstances, a band would be thrilled to be getting so much publicity at about the same time as the release of a new album. In the case of Testament, it’s more complicated than that. The thrash metal veterans unleashed their 13th studio album, Titans Of Creation, on April 3 via Nuclear Blast Records, but that’s only a small part of why they’ve been in the headlines.
For most of February and into March, Testament were traveling across Europe headlining “The Bay Strikes Back 2020” tour with fellow Bay Area thrashers Exodus and Death Angel. By most measures, the tour was an unmitigated success. There were enthusiastic audiences and energized performances at every stop. At the same time, the deadly COVID-19 virus was rapidly spreading across the continent.
“It was great every night,” Testament singer Chuck Billy recalls. “Just being on tour with all the other bands. We had all been friends for so long. It was like a big family. We all watched out for each other. No egos, no arguments, it went smooth. A lot of sellouts and a lot of near sellouts. It was a great fucking tour.”
Only the last date of the tour was cancelled. When those involved beat the impending travel ban and got back into the U.S. without incident, they thought the worst was behind them. A couple of days later, it became clear that several members of the bands and crew had been infected, including Billy himself.
“My wife started feeling what we thought was basically jetlag,” he says. “We had just done five weeks of touring. We’re all stressed out and burned out. We thought we were just achy and tired. The next morning, I woke up, and I was wiped out. We thought we’d be proactive, so we called the doctor, but they wouldn’t test us because we didn’t have symptoms at that point.”
“Eventually, we really felt like shit, and they got us in the drive-through with the swab in the mouth and nose,” he continues. “It took about eight days to get our results back, so we didn’t get any medication or anything. We just went home and quarantined ourselves and waited for results. As time went by, we started getting better and better.”
“It was like bad flu, but usually with the flu, after three or four days, you start feeling normal,” he says. “Something starts healing. This just wouldn’t let go. It was deceiving because you’d have headaches, body aches, achy bones. You lost your taste, your smell. You’d be tired and wiped out, sleeping. Next thing you know, you’d wake up and be energetic, and be feeling better and moving, and then get wiped out again. You just couldn’t shake it.”
Fortunately, all the infected musicians have recovered. Before the current madness stole the spotlight, Testament put out another album worthy of their significant legacy. It contains new thrash epics like “Children of the Next Level” and “Night of the Witch.”
There is the undeniably melodic centerpiece, “City of Angels.” “Dream Deceiver” adds a playful, musical twist and takes Testament all the way back to their ’70s, hard rock roots. Meanwhile, lyrics about serial killers and death cults will appease even the most militant metalhead.
With no immediate ability to continue touring, it’s an exceptionally difficult time for a band to be promoting a new album. Billy acknowledges as much.
“We’re talking to everybody we can about the record,” he says. “We’re going to start thinking of things online to do just to stay in touch with the fans. Maybe we’ll do something more visual with this record. Think of things to offer, things to create.”
Like so many others during troubled times, Billy finds comfort and inspiration in music.
“I like pulling out stuff that takes me back to when I had no worries, you know? Life was easy. We were just chasing girls and trying to find the next party,” he says. “That’s Judas Priest, U.F.O. That’s old Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, Pat Traverse. Those old records take me back to the time when mom and dad were taking care of us.”
Titans of Creation is an album that deserves better than to be lost in the current chaos. Testament are more than 35 years into their career, and they haven’t lost a step. Their latest offering will be a “comfort food” record for thrash fans, just when they need it most.