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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Heathen

The Evolution of Chaos

Review by Mike Korn

Heathen are certainly no Johnny-come-latelies to the metal scene. They were active in the great Bay Area thrash boom of the 1980's and unleashed some pretty heavy duty albums like Breaking the Silence and Opiate of the Masses. But never did they make the crucial breakthrough to a larger audience that bands like Metallica, Slayer and Testament did. And then things got awfully quiet in the last 15 years or so.

Talk about “Breaking the Silence", that's just what Heathen have done with this monster of an album. The Evolution of Chaos is a nuclear-powered scorcher right from the beginning and far surpasses even the stellar works the band has done in the past. How a band can be more fired up and aggressive than they were 20 years ago is a mystery to me, but one I'm glad to experience. This is a blazing neck-wrecker that still manages to ooze class and melody....fans of Testament and Megadeth will be amazed. And those metal fans who are put off by growly or snarly vocals will find much to admire in the clean, clear but angry tones of David White.

Not only is this my top record of 2010 so far, I'd go so far as to put it in my list of top 10 thrashers of all time. It's that good. Anybody who likes aggressive metal (and who the heck likes laidback metal anyway?) should dive into this classic right away!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Intro

The only thing lame about this is the title. It's a haunting and well conceived bit of Middle Eastern/Indian influenced music featuring sitar, synth and chimes that sets the table well for the blitzkrieg to follow.

Dying Season
“Brilliant” is the first word that comes to mind for this racing blast of thrash metal with a cool Middle Eastern flavor...”ripping” is the second. The pounding chorus, featuring David White's stellar vocals, is unforgettable and burns itself in your brain. There's also some incredible guitar work from Lee Altus (also in Exodus) and Kragen Lum. Your neck is going to get sore with this track...and this is just the first shot!
Control By Chaos
"Dying Season" was no fluke. This speedy beast follows up with more catchy Bay Area thrash riffs and screaming axe attacks all over the place. Word must be made of Darren Minter's outstanding drum work, the equal of any other thrash luminary you could mention. This song is an example of what made the whole thrash genre so appealing.
No Stone Unturned
Heathen was always known for long, epic songs and here's another great one. This is almost like two tracks in one. The first part is thunderous, crunchy mid-paced stomp to the max, reminding me of classic Metallica like "Frayed Ends of Sanity" or "Sad But True". There's some great, fat bass from Jon Torres and again White's vocals are exceptional. The slower pace allows the melodies to stand out more but the tune is still real heavy. After an abrupt fade, a mellow acoustic refrain begins the second part of the tune in a way that is again reminiscent of classic Metallica ballads like "One" and "Sanitarium". Then things get heavier and heavier as the song starts to build up steam, leading to a killer explosion of powerful thrash and dynamic soloing! Man, this song is off the chain completely!
Arrows of Agony
If the band played nothing but boy band pop or gangsta rap after the first three cuts, this album would still be great, but there's no let up in the awesome mayhem. This cut has a very huge, epic feel in spots and is based around more mega-crunchy Bay Area riffs. You can almost see a medieval battle in your head when you hear this one. The guitar solo is a thing of beauty, it just about makes me cry. It makes me wish I had real long hair so I could whip it around in a frenzy! 
Fade Away
Heathen guitarist Lee Altus is a member of Exodus and this song starts with a thrashing fury very reminiscent of recent Exodus material, particularly "Riot Act". This song is even better, though! This is not overly complicated; it just puts the pedal to the metal and doesn't look back. David White's vocals give it a special flavor it just wouldn't get with the hate-filled snarling of Exodus and there's an odd but appealing section with a kind of droning, poppy feel.
A Hero's Welcome
If the album has a track that is merely "good" instead of "great", this is it. It is definitely a ballad again in Metallica tradition and this time a little bit too close for comfort.  The song is by no means poor...in fact, it's quite good...but in comparison with the rest, it doesn't stand out. There is some patriotic narration (from the guy who does the voice for Optimus Prime in "Transformers") that is heartfelt but kind of clunky. It also goes on a bit longer than it should.
Undone
It's back to full bore metal here. Following a huge opening build-up, this morphs into another assault of classic Frisco-style thrashing. The guitar work is so intricate and filled with interesting fills and twin harmony hooks...not many bands can play this sort of sophisticated but brutal music.
Bloodkult
This is the heaviest, most bloodthirsty song Heathen have ever done...appropriately! It's just no messing thrash brutality that hits you like a tsunami and drags you out to sea! This is what we called a "pit-maker" back in the day. The gang shouted vocals add to the frenzy: "Bloodkult! / Senseless, blood will spill / Kill first / The code is kill or be killed!"
Red Tears of Disgrace
Starting in somber balladic fashion, this is another song that builds in heaviness. The production is so thick and clear, the guitars hit you like a thousand hammers. Due to the deliberately paced build-up, the increase to thrash tempo is just that much more effective. Even through the heaviness, the song retains a melancholy feel.
Silent Nothingness

The best thrash album in many years concludes with this crushing ode that sums up Heathen's commitment to both melody and mayhem pretty well. I'm just blown away by the amazing dueling guitar work from Altus and Lum. The main thrashing riff is just heads down neck snapping all the way...fast and furious, the way it must be! This brings to a close almost 70 minutes of pure classy thrash.

 
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