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Formed in 1984, Heathen was part of the first wave of Bay Area thrash bands that helped establish a genre of heavy metal that remains popular to this day. The band gained initial success with their first album Breaking the Silence, released on Combat Records in 1987. Driven by the riffs and harmonic structure provided by guitarist Lee Altus and the memorable vocals of David White, the album showcased Heathen’s signature sound, mixing aggression and melody. Just prior to the Breaking the Silence tour, drummer Darren Minter joined Heathen’s line-up, bringing a more powerful backbone to the band.
Heathen recorded their follow-up album, Victims of Deception for Roadrunner Records in 1991. The album further established Heathen’s unique identity in the thrash scene with more complex arrangements and improved production, and continued to grow the band’s fan base, allowing them to tour Europe for the first time with contemporaries like Sepultura and Sacred Reich.
An unexpected hiatus followed as founding member Lee Altus was invited to join the German industrial metal band Die Krupps and later, thrash pioneers Exodus. Heathen never disbanded however, and recorded a number of cover songs that were eventually released as the Recovered album in 2004.
Dark, definitive, classic, and so on. – 97%
1991, the year that some may recognize as the final gasp of traditional thrash metal, and that some others often dismiss as the tail end of a recession in original ideas that sealed the styles doom. One thing is definitely clear when looking at the body of heavily ambitious albums that came out this year or the previous one, particularly Horrorscope, Rust In Peace, Persistence Of Time and Time Does Not Heal; the end didnt come for any lack of initiative on the part of the prime movers, save perhaps Metallica. The template had shifted a bit towards something a bit slower, in part due to South Of Heaven, and epically longwinded due to the obvious influences of And Justice For All, but the spirit of the style was largely the same as the mid 80s explosion of both the New York and Bay Area scenes.
In the context of these develops stands Heathen, one of the more conventional and clean cut acts to come from the west coast, combining the traditionally melodic heavy metal vocal sound associated with Anthrax and the technically fantastic riffing character of Vio-Lence. Clawing through the vast array of riff driven, monstrously virtuosic albums shelled out by their competitors with a sophomore effort that is often hailed as thrash metals final swansong before the emergence of grunge. Victims Of Deception is an album that is packed with enough technical prowess to hold some appeal for Voivod fans, yet traditionally oriented enough to rope in all the mainline Big 4 fans who were either intentionally or unintentionally obeying the commands of the mainstream music media to play it safe, with Slayer being a token flirtation with a darker underworld.
The frequent comparisons to Metallicas famed 1988 commercial breakthrough album are not without some merit, though the commonalities tend to be overblown. Heathen is playing off the same concept of largely longer songs with gradually developing ideas and a similar lyrical foray of socio-political and theological cynicism dominates the mix. But this is an album that actually highlights all of the strong points of Metallicas 4th album while systematically avoiding every mistake made in the creation of said album. The production is chunky and formidable rather than thin and all but completely bottomless, repetition is minimal while variation is frequent, and the ballad work and instrumental venture are mercifully shorter and more to the point. One could maybe argue that this album should have been written a couple years ago, but even if something of a throwback in a time of change, the quality cannot be denied.
Kicking off with a studio effects saturated preaching session by a fire and brimstone pastor, what ensues is a dark and sinister world of word manipulation and deceit that is Hypnotized. At 8 ½ minutes long and eclipsed in length by only one other song, this is one of those grandiose ventures into riff driven aggression that is tempered by a gradual progression from a trudging beast into a raging storm of galloping riff work. At times this thing cooks with the same intensity as Blackened; although David Whites vocal attack is less gravely and higher in pitch, providing a unique counterpoint to the heaviness going on beneath. Opiate Of The Masses is a bit slower and not quite as fancy, while Heathens Song starts with a haunting, Crimson Glory inspired acoustic intro before switching on the heavy riff work, but the same balance of hard thrashing and woeful tunefulness endures.
Perhaps the greatest charm of this album, and also one of its more unique aspects amidst a number of similarly long and technical thrashers, is that it is still very firmly rooted in the early 80s speed metal origins that typified albums like Fistful Of Metal and Show No Mercy. The most obvious example of musical hindsight to this period occurs in the orthodox but heavier reworking of Rainbows Kill The King, which isn’t really all that far removed from other renditions done by Stratovarius and Primal Fear. But traces of this can be found even amongst songs that are more typical to 1991, even an overt neck-wrecker like Morbid Curiosity which is intense enough to rival some of the material on Beneath The Remains. All of it results in a healthy variety that makes the extremely long length a lot of these songs all but a non-issue for those used to 4 minute kill sessions courtesy of Sodom’s Persecution Mania.
The only thing that is a little bitter-sweet about this album is that it all but blatantly marks the end of a glorious era for a genre that’s original form has only just recently come back into prominence. It might hold true that there may have been nowhere else for the style to go except for the modern, watered down mess that it became through the importation of newer hardcore and industrial influences courtesy of Pantera and Fear Factory. But even if this were the case (which I personally do not believe), that does little to change the overt superiority that the late 80s through 1991 had to the next 10 years of output by a whole generation of pseudo-thrash bands, let alone the subpar to downright horrid output of the original mainstays who adapted in order to stay on MTVs regular rotation. For some this album is a classic, but for me its almost like a priceless keepsake of a better time. But regardless of ones individual take on it, the word essential accurately describes its nature to thrash and heavy metal enthusiasts across the globe.
Victims of Deception – 90%
Back in the early 1990s, thrash was on its last legs for the most part, save aside a few bands that released some solid albums, and Heathen fell into that group that still released a solid album.
The album opens with ‘Hypnotized’ which starts with a spoken intro, sounding like a gospel show on TV, this song basically says churches are screwing people out of money, and of what they truly believe in, yes this band writes intelligent lyrics, after the intro, the song starts with some heavy as fuck riffs, with some nice classical guitar overtones which lasts about 2 minutes, then the thrashing begins, with some excellent shredding riffs, and David White comes in, and I love this guys vocals, kind of a cross between thrash and power metal, mostly thrash though, love the chorus as well ‘your fate, will soon, BE CALLED!’ next is ‘Opiate of the Masses’ this is the song that got me into Heathen, this is some mid-paced thrash at its best, bludgeoning, plodding, and heavy as fuck, and might I mention catchy too, with awesome verses’ and a killer chorus followed by a solo that absolutely shreds, Lee Altus can sure play.
Next is ‘Heathens Song’ which is a monolith of a song, clocking in at 9:26, opening with some more excellent classical guitar, and David White showing off his powerful voice, this song is mostly mid-paced throughout, but does change to give it a nice dose of speed, I’ll skip to ‘Fear of the Unknown’ this song gets things thrashing again at full speed, it opens with a dark sound, not sure what it is, then some nice bass fills, and a touch of more classical guitar, then the thrashing begins, not much else to say about it, just a good solid thrash song, next is ‘Prisoners of Fate’ this would be the ballad of the album, but you know what?! I THINK ITs AWESOME, its a nice change of pace for the album, starting with a beautiful classical guitar intro, this song does actually get pretty heavy, especially for a ballad, don’t just skip this song, its worth listening to.
I’ll skip down to the closer ‘Mercy is no Virtue’ which closes things down in a thrashing rage, and kicks in right off, with killer verses’ and the chorus rules as well, and a nice heavy as fuck break in the middle, which Heathen are sure known for, followed by a solo that absolutely takes no prisoners, with some nice walking of the fretboard, yes indeed they know how to solo.
If you want something to compare this to, it would be Metallica’s…And Justice for All’ while its not a ripoff, they were obviously trying to do something similar to that album, only Heathen did it better! not just because of the production, obviously it wouldn’t take much to top …And Justices production, but the song writing as well as the riffs and everything else.
Bottom line, if you want some solid power/thrash in the vein of …And Justice, this is the album for you to check out, I highly recommend this album.