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TESTAMENT SLOWS DOWN, LOOSENS UP - AND HAS FUN

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Even after completing a European tour with the likes of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, the five members of Testament, the metal band hailing from Oakland, Calif., insist they are regular guys out to have a good time.

"There was a time when we got too serious," drummer Louie Clemente said during a telephone interview. "We wanted to bring the fun back."Clemente, lead singer Chuck Billy, bassist Greg Christian and guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick will bring their grinding style of metal to Salt Lake City's Club Starrz, 740 S. 300 West, on Friday, Nov. 6., in support of the band's fifth release, "The Ritual."

The album, Clemente said, illustrates the ongoing evolution the band has been engaged in since its debut album, "The Legacy," was released five years ago.

" `The Ritual' is slower and geared toward the old style of metal while `The Legacy' was pure thrash," he said. "In fact, every release has been different. We've progressed naturally."

Clemente said that by natural progression he means the band has followed a steady course that has polished its sound and perfected its style.

"We took the longest time to produce `The Ritual,' " he said. With six to seven months devoted to writing, followed by six weeks of recording, the band took painstaking care in creating deeper lyrics and heavier, complex arrangements. It was a much-needed change.

"It got to a time when we were pumping out a record every year," Clemente remembered. "We needed to slow down."

That was evident when the band's previous record, "Souls of Black," was released, he said. "We felt rushed and we needed to chill."

Along with the band's evolution, a new producer, Tony Platt of AC/DC fame, was brought in to complete the circle.

"We went with Tony to get more of a vibe," Clemente said. "We needed a fresh set of ears to listen to the mix."

And the fresh ears have made the album what it is today. Every song on the album has a place within the Testament evolution. Here are some samples:

The title cut explains everyday life is nothing but a ritual.

"It is basically about the band writing, recording and touring," Clemente said. "But we wanted to show how everything can be a ritual."

"Agony" is about the POW controversy that troubles the world today. "The Sermon" tells of the hypocrisy and self-righteousness some in the media and among religious leaders throw around.

The single, "Return to Serenity," is about the return to sanity, Clemente said, and was released during a time when authorities have been trying to link teen suicides with heavy metal.

"Our songs are not all doom and gloom," Clemente said. "We've had eight or nine letters since our debut where kids would write and tell us how one of our songs stopped them from suicide, drug abuse or crime. It's really touching."

Clemente said "Return to Serenity" tries to explain life is not so bad, and the best thing to do is live it out.

That's the kind of attitude Testament is all about - even in times of trial.

"Sure we have our disagreements," Clemente said. "But the band has formed a bond of brotherhood. It's a source of strength and support."

Clemente said it was that strength and support that led the band to yet another step in its evolution - being true to itself and to the fans.

"We've always tried to give the fans what they see," he said. "The audience likes to see us having a good time. There was a time when we would stress out and try to make every performance flawless. It just didn't work."

Now, Clemente said, the band isn't afraid to goof up. That makes performing all the more enjoyable.

"We're all just ordinary guys who want to have a good time," he said. "Our music reflects our return to the way we used to be. We're more spastic and more fun, like before. Even if we do make mistakes."