A conversation with Eric Peterson is colored with references to Lucifer, Dante’s “Inferno” and other delightfully demonic imagery. It serves him well when it comes time to craft material for Dragonlord, the symphonic black metal band he leads during his downtime from thrash metal titans Testament, which he co-founded 35 years ago.
Last week, Dragonlord released “Dominion,” it’s third album, following the unholy path forged by 2001 debut “Rapture” and 2005’s “Black Wings of Destiny.”
“Testament, we had definitely gotten a lot heavier, low and demonic and were ready to do ‘The Gathering,'” Peterson says, referring to Testament’s 1999 album. “I just wanted to be super evil and fast and ended up demo’ing ‘Legions of the Dead.'” He played the demo of the song, which would end up on “The Gathering” with lead vocals by Testament frontman Chuck Billy, for drummer Dave Lombardo, at the time a member of Testament but known primarily for his years with Slayer. “He said, ‘That’s you singing?’ He said, ‘Dude, you should do a project.’
“I was like, yeah, nah, I don’t know,” recalls Peterson, one-half of Testament’s guitar tandem with Alex Skolnick. “But right after we did that record, I had discovered Emperor and really got into Entombed and started going back to my roots of Angel Witch and all that stuff.”
That’s when Testament bassist Steve Di Giorgio introduced him to Lyle Livingston, a keyboard player, and the Dragonlord sound began to take root with Peterson, Di Girogio, Livingston and drummer Jon Allen. Following a few lineup shifts, the core of Peterson and Livingston are now joined by new drummer Alex Bent and Canadian fantasy metal vocalist Leah.
Bent, a younger musician whose father crossed paths with Peterson decades ago, and Leah have both played major roles in updating the Dragonlord sound. Bent is more adept at blast beats and is able to sustain them for the duration of a song, Peterson says. Meanwhile, Leah, who recently released a new Celtic fantasy metal album, adds a powerful feminine presence, like her siren wails in “Lamia.”
Along with Norse mythology and tales from the Bible, Peterson, “a huge Tolkien guy,” was inspired by the Lord of the Rings author’s “The Silmarillion” to write “The Discord of Melkor.”
“The lyrics are pretty cool,” he says. “It’s an abstract, but it still gets the point across. I got all the keywords I wanted to get in there and even got some of the folklore of how Tolkien would have the hobbits singing. There are pipes, lutes and choirs. And it’s fast, so it works.”
Such epic storytelling has Dragonlord donning costumes and makeup for its concerts (no live shows for this album cycle have been announced yet).
“You go into character,” Peterson says. “You become something different, and it’s more mesmerizing to me, and it’s like I’m playing a role in a movie or something.”
The presentation of a Dragonlord show “in my head, is the best show on Earth, especially with the cinematic music that Lyle and I have created,” he says, adding that it would probably be too expensive to pull it off entirely.
Dragonlord’s genre has stretched its leathery wings since the band’s debut — even since its most recent album 13 years ago.
“They’ve definitely taken it in different directions,” Peterson says. “It’s not just corpse paint, now there are a lot more elusive, hooded kind of characters. They’re influenced by the beginnings and taking it and making it their own.
“I wouldn’t say my stuff goes back to the birth of it, but Dragonlord is kind of a cultish band and definitely remained underground, but it’s been around for a long time. So there’s no bandwagon jumping for me. I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s just taken me longer since I’m in Testament to deliver it how I want it to sound.”