Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Native American Impact in Metal | “Trial by Fire” by Testament


In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I believe it is important to highlight the achievements of Native Americans in music. Testament is a band that has over the years become one of the most influential thrash metal bands of all time. Unknown to many though, their lead singer, Chuck Billy, is Native American himself. Billy was born in California to a Native American father and a Mexican mother and has easily been one of the most underappreciated voices in metal. Billy is a part of the Pomo, a group of Native Americans that originated in Northern California. Being Native American is something that Billy has publicly spoken about and has taken pride in, and in many songs, he pays tribute to his heritage. Although much of Testament isn’t Native American the main voice behind the band is. Through their music, they have been able to spread awareness and powerful messages together. 

Before the band released songs about being native, Testament was making waves from their unique thrash metal sound. The song “Trial By Fire,” from their 1988 album The New Order, is everything a metal fan could want from a thrash song. Opening the track, there is soft plucking of a guitar. Soon following, a distorted electric guitar begins to shred a solo as the drums join in, playing a simple beat. Testament then kicks the track into overdrive, going full thrash, and Billy’s raspy vocals begin:

Accuse you of a crime /

Sentenced to endless time /

The price you have to pay /

Won’t get away!”

The song continues with this impressive energy throughout, building up to a guitar solo that is nearly a minute long — beginning at 2:33 and ending at 3:21. Chugging guitars, a groovy bassline and shouting vocals all join together at a rapid pace to create an enthralling experience. “Trial By Fire” is a track that many can appreciate just for the musicianship alone — so technically complex, while still having a sound that appeals to the masses. 

All in all, Testament’s music rivals all other pioneers of the genre of thrash metal. Their unique style sets them apart with some parts of their music being more akin to punk or surf rock as heard in “Trial By Fire” but still blending it all together with thrash metal. Fans of the “Big Four” of thrash will be delighted to listen to Testament as much of their music is right up that alley. As for the many who are not metal fans, I encourage all to listen to see the diversity of music that Native Americans are a part of, and a band like Testament is just as easy of a listen as Metallica or any other popular metal band.

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