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Monday, March 01, 2010

CD Review: Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos

Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos
2010 Mascot Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Okay, ya'll can quit shouting "HEATHEN!" up at Lee Altus during Exodus gigs...he's heard you and he's managed to bring in-and-out vocalist David White back for another good ol' thrash party, Bay-style. Though the remainder of the lineup comprising today's Heathen weren't around during the band's brief run for the metal gold on 1987's Breaking the Silence, (though drummer Darren Minter did hook up with the group in '88) nobody told today's Heathenairres they couldn't make a difference.

Minus Heathen's set of covers and re-recordings from 2004, Recovered, which was released following a last-minute corralling for the Chuck Schuldiner/Chuck Billy benefit concert Thrash of the Titans, the classic speed metallers had remained dormant since the early nineties. Their last proper full-length, Victims of Deception was once thought to be their epithet.

As eighties thrash legends have collectively risen in response to an inbred generation of speed revivalists, the original guard are stepping on the gas once again just to keep up with their younger counterparts. Remember when thrash metal groups suddenly slowed down in the nineties after Metallica scored huge with The Black Album? Exactly the reverse is occurring at the tail end of the first decade in the new millennium. The bpms are jacked once again as the pupils are invigorating the professors to dust off their manuals and throw down a thrash course proper. Old Mustangs such as Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Overkill, Destruction, Exodus and Kreator are proving there's serious horsepower left in the tanks. Chickeerunners beware...

Unfortunately for Heathen, their day in the spotlight was far too brief and relegated upon the unlikely success of their revved and chunky cover of Sweet's "Set Me Free." Given most people until lately were familiar only with this remake courtesy of video play on VH-1 Classic's Metal Mania, it's probably been as much of a burden to Lee Altus as it is a grace Heathen's "Set Me Free" hit.

Only the diehards remember to yell out "Goblin's Blade," "Death by Hanging" and "World's End" at shows where Altus can be found. Yet there's something new for Heathen's faithful to demand from Lee either at an Exodus gig or with Heathen once they ultimately get on the road themselves. 2010 brings the Heathen cause back to the scene with The Evolution of Chaos, and if you thought Testament's The Formation of Damnation was a restoration of metal honor, look the hell on out here...

Altus and his current Heathen posse (which also includes bassist Jon Torres and tag guitarist Kragen Lum) make the most of their moment on The Evolution of Chaos, which means they do overstay their welcome in a few spots given the majority of the songs surpass the six and seven-minute mark. However, one cannot understate the vibrant energy level sifting out of this album.

Like Overkill's thrash-happy Ironbound, The Evolution of Chaos proves Altus and his Heathen trademark can take their listeners through exhaustive volleys of speed with professional exactitude. If the Grammy committee actually knew what they were doing, "Control by Chaos" would be a gimme nominee. Absolutely one of the finest-recorded metal songs of the year, "Control by Chaos" is a seven-minute epic filled with velocity, steady piston pops on the breaks and outrageous guitar solos from Altus, Lum and Exodus' Gary Holt. The final minute of the song is poignant and beautiful and it bolsters into a breathtaking double-hammer stamp filled with grandiose notes amidst Heathen's fading whirlwinds. Stunning...

The Evolution of Chaos does hit many mid-tempo glides throughout, yet there's no denying this is one fast and hard hour of power. "Bloodkult," "Dying Season," "Silent Nothingness," "Undone" and "Arrows of Agony" are all stocked with tremendous muscle, banging acceleration and ear-tickling fretwork. Even with "Undone" riding mostly at slower tempos despite some thrashy interludes, Altus and Lum lavish this cut with solos so tasteful and elegant they make the Dragonforce dudes seem spend-hardy.

One of the conversation pieces of The Evolution of Chaos is undoubtedly going to be "No Stone Unturned" due to its Metallica tributizing. Rather than a full-on rip, "No Stone Unturned" is a ten-minute-plus toast to Metallica's glory years--and the Bay Area scene's by attrition. In some ways "No Stone Unturned" is Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets rolled into one snug portrait. Frighteningly similar to "For Whom the Bell Tolls" during the intro (albeit with plenty of subtle differences), "No Stone Unturned" chugs on a primary set of riffs and freestyle bass slaps from Sadus' Steve DiGiorgio. The solo sections are pure Heathen yet undeniably Hammett-esque. Remember Kirk Hammett provided Heathen some input on "World's End." As "No Stone Unturned" builds a head of steam, a ghostly instrumental section with full kindred to "Orion" splices the main body of the song to a picked-up tempo adjustment complete with pasty-sounding bass rolls from Darren Minter. Amazingly "No Stone Unturned" works because of its blatancy. It's a love-letter to old school Metallica as it is everyone who played the Cow Palace back in the day.

"A Hero's Welcome" in another mini-epic written on behalf of the United States military. It's a fine bit of work until the hammy narrative interlude turns a grateful pat on the shoulders into a pulp comic panel.

That minor complaint aside, The Evolution of Chaos manages the impossible, which is to one, prove a lone remaining founder can put together a terrific album, and two, to outdo a cult classic album which deserved better treatment in its day. The Evolution of Chaos means business and both Altus and David White sound hungrier than they've ever been. Also aided by cameos from Terry Lauderdale, Rob Dukes from Exodus and Jon Allen of Sadus, Heathen 2.0 is a rousing bray from the Bay. Mandatory listening.

Rating: ****


curt said...

nice review on HEATHEN. spot on mate.

I just posted a rare unpublished HEATHEN interview from 1988.

if anybody would like to check it out, please peep it here:

Loved the "with professional exactitude" verbiage.

Rock on!

Curt King
Demolish HQ

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