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Testament was the biggest thrash metal band never to reach the platinum plateau. Indeed, during their meteoric rise, the San Francisco quintet seemed on the verge of challenging Metallica (their most obvious influence) in the power metal sweepstakes, but their run toward the top was derailed by bad decisions as well as the thrash metal genre's dwindling appeal. Unable to change with the times like Metallica or even Megadeth, the band eventually faded from sight -- if not into actual retirement. Influenced by the then-emerging Bay Area thrash metal scene, vocalist Steve Souza, guitarists Eric Peterson and Derrick Ramirez, bassist Greg Christian, and drummer Louie Clemente came together as Legacy in late 1983. But it wasn't until the arrival of lead guitarist Alex Skolnick and a name change to Testament two years later that the band's Metallica-inspired power metal began distinguishing them from less-refined peers such as Forbidden and Vio-Lence. By 1986 the group had gained enough momentum to begin attracting record company attention but were handed a severe blow when Souza abruptly quit to join original Bay Area scene legends Exodus. Ironically his departure would prove a godsend as the band drafted a significantly more versatile (and downright intimidating) replacement in Chuck Billy whose greater melodic talents and inimitable bowl-shaking growl would better compliment the band's increasing mastery of melodic crunch. Signed by thrash metal mecca Megaforce Records in 1986, the group lent their original name to the following year's remarkable debut, The Legacy. Hailed as an instant classic within thrash metal circles, the album's coupling of furious riffs and melodic sensibility was second only to Metallica in controlled power, technical delivery, and sheer confidence. It also benefited from Megaforce's recently obtained distribution deal with giant Atlantic Records, and the band lived up to their promise while touring America and Europe in support of Anthrax -- then experiencing their peak with the Among the Living album. Recorded on that tour, the Live in Eindhoven EP cemented Testament's standing as champions of thrash's second wave all across Europe, if not America. It also bridged the gap to 1988's The New Order, which managed to maintain their momentum despite lacking the consistency of their debut and led to another world tour which introduced the band to faraway lands and culminated in South America. Motivated and focused, Testament took painstaking care in constructing their follow-up, 1989's Practice What You Preach -- a massive achievement which saw them expanding their melodic reach while losing none of their power and aggression. A year-long tour followed, including a long stint headlining over Savatage and Wrathchild America across the U.S.A. With even MTV giving them respectable exposure, the band was finally poised on the verge of greatness when things started to unravel. Offered the chance to support Judas Priest on their career-revitalizing Painkiller tour (also featuring the ever-more popular Megadeth), the band rushed straight from the back of their tour bus and into the studio to record 1990's Souls of Black. A hodgepodge collection of rehashed demos and unfinished ideas, the album stalled on record store shelves and sowed the seeds of frustration and discontent which would start tearing the band apart from the inside. Not even a slot on the high-profile European leg of the Clash of the Titans tour with Slayer, Megadeth, and Suicidal Tendencies could turn their fortunes around. By the time the group returned with 1992's much improved The Ritual, musical tastes had changed drastically with the arrival of grunge and Testament was only one of countless casualties who saw their once highly anticipated albums fall on deaf ears. Ace guitarist Skolnick, who had long complained of the creative limitations imposed by the band's style was the first casualty, leaving to join Savatage. He was replaced by Glen Avelais (ex-Forbidden) for the subsequent tour, which also saw the firing of drummer Clemente midway through, replaced by another Forbidden alum, Paul Bostaph. Following the rather pointless Return to the Apocalyptic City EP, 1994's brutal and dark Low was their last with Atlantic and featured journeyman James Murphy (Death, Obituary, Cancer, etc.) on guitar and Exodus' John Tempesta on drums. The latter soon quit to join White Zombie and new drummer Jon Dette (ex-Evil Dead) would join the band for touring purposes before also leaving to join Slayer. Amazingly, the band managed to hang together long enough for the recording of 1995's Live at the Fillmore, released on their own Burnt Offerings label to raise funds for another studio effort. 1997's Demonic continued in their violent, back-to-basics direction and featured drummer Gene Hoglan (ex-Dark Angel, Death) and returning founding member Derrick Ramirez, now replacing departed bassist Christian. Another independent release, The Gathering, followed in 1999 with usual suspects Billy and Peterson supported by bassist Steve DiGiorgio, returning guitarist James Murphy, and the awesome talents of original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. 2001 saw the release of a pair of albums, none of which included any new material, however: a set of newly re-recorded versions of their thrash standards titled First Strike Still Deadly, as well as the compilation The Very Best Of. While not much has been heard from Testament's former members, Skolnick has reinvented himself as a jazzman, playing out live on the East Coast as a member of several outfits (Skol Patrol, Skol Trio, Attention Deficit, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra). ~ Ed Rivadavia & Greg Prato, All Music Guide

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