Testament’s Skolnick Tells What’s the Secret to Shredding With Soul: “It’s About Balance”

Testament’s legend guitarist Alex Skolnick talked with Classic Rock about shredding with soul. He is sharing a few factors he believes make a classy shred solo with soul. He thinks all about balance. 

He says:

I’m not gonna name any names. But some solos, especially at this point in time, in hard-rock and metal, sound interchangeable. Like, you could just grab a few bars and paste them into other tracks, and it’s not gonna be that different. There’s just a certain type of lick that happens very often. And, y’know, it’s technical and it’s challenging, but it isn’t memorable and it doesn’t do anything for me, really.

What’s the secret to shredding with soul? Well, you should have some parts that are singable. Obviously, if you could sing the whole thing easily, then it wouldn’t be a shred solo. But y’know, if you think of the end of Mr Crowley, you can sing it in your head. It’s recognisable. It’s a piece of music.

You can also play melodies, and then in-between, you throw in the shred. You can connect notes by shredding. It’s about getting away from this idea that it’s just this free-for-all shred-fest. Instead, you want to be creating melodies, and then maybe for a section here and there, you can really burn and go for it.

On the song True American Hate, the music is so fast – y’know, I’m playing to Gene Hoglan blastbeats, so I’m sorry, but you kinda need to go fast – but I was able to find some long notes that have a melody and I think a good feel.

A shred solo shouldn’t be totally raw – unless that’s what you’re going for. But usually it’s best when you’ve spent some time with it, it’s developed, it’s tweaked, but it’s not worked-on to the point where it loses its spark and sounds too perfect. That doesn’t interest me, either.

So it’s really about the balance of having something that’s worked-out, but also sounds just raw enough to be a little dangerous. For me, that’s what I love about the classic Van Halen solos, because it sounded like at any moment he could just fall apart. It was all on the edge, but it always came back. The Randy Rhoads stuff, too. Y’know, the great playing of that time period, when you didn’t have Pro Tools and Logic, and you couldn’t record a hundred different solos and cut-and-paste something out of it.