By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Still rightfully revered by many as one of thrash metal’s touchstone bands, Testament has carried the torch for Bay Area headbangers for over three decades.
Founded in the East Bay town of Alameda by guitarist Eric Peterson using the moniker Legacy in 1983, the band crafted a sound that touched on newer British metal bands like Venom, Motorhead and Iron Maiden while also following the lead of new Bay Area residents Metallica (Peterson had a cassette of the band’s first No Life Til Leather demo). After a some initial turnover in members, the group settled into its quintet line-up with drummer Luis Clemente, second guitarist Alex Skolnick and singer Steve “Zetro” Souza.
The band was soon opening for such thrash notables as Slayer and Laaz Rockit and recorded a demo that garnered them even more notoriety. But just as things began to happen, Souza suddently departed to take a job fronting the more established Bay Area thrash band Exodus (he would sing on that band’s most commercially successful efforts Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster in the late ’80s).
However, Souza suggested friend Chuck Billy as a replacement, pushing the band towards what would become the seminal line-up of Testament. After signing with Megaforce label head John Zazula and changing their name, the band released their 1987 debut The Legacy and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the international metal scene. Their follow-up efforts The New Order in 1988 and the next year’s Practice What You Preach would further refine their sophisticated high-octane sound and progressively more political lyrics.
The band faced challenges as grunge rose to become the dominant form of heavy music in the early ’90s as Testament soldiered through line-up shifts and a hiatus late in the decade. The historic 2001 Thrash of the Titans benefit for Billy and Death founder Chuck Schuldiner (both men were undergoing cancer treatment at the time) brought together a who’s who of thrash metal greats from the Bay Area and elsewhere for a full day of music served as a catalyst, spurring the reunion of the potent early line-up of Testament.
Though it took a number of years for the group to release new material, the band’s 2008 album The Formation of Damnation would be hailed as one of their best ever, topping numerous year-end lists and reaffirming Testament’s position in the world of metal. Since then, the group has maintained a steady touring and recording regimen, issuing The Dark Roots of Earth in 2012 followed by last year’s acclaimed Brotherhood of the Snake. Praised as another enervating dose of the band’s trademark thrash, songs like “The Pale King” and the title track are propelled by a monstrous performance behind the drum kit by Gene Hoglan.
For this hometown show at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, Testament is joined by a pair of well-established contemporaries. Though founding members Max and Igor Cavalera departed the band acrimoniously in 1996 and 2006 respectively, Brazilian thrashers Sepultura remain one of the most popular and powerful metal bands to ever emerge from South America. For over two decades, the group has soldiered on anchored by early members Andres Kisser (guitar) and Paul Jr. (bass) with American singer Derrick Green fronting the quartet. Their latest effort, Machine Messiah, has been hailed as one of the best albums of the band’s career. NYC-based metal veterans Prong, still led by founding guitarist and singer Tommy Victor who started the group in 1986, opens the show.
Friday, May 19, 6 p.m. $32.50-$35