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Heathen: The Evolution of Chaos

Both Breaking the Silence and Victims of Deception by Heathen are classic albums, but they have always been overshadowed by other thrash bands' releases that came out during the same period. The Evolution of Chaos is Heathen's first album in nearly 20 years -- unlike many other reunion/comeback discs, however, it is an unparalled success that will take its place among thrash metal masterpieces in the years to come.

This album is the epitome of thrash metal that avoids the pitfalls of any modern-sounding so-called metal albums. It maintains a very nice early 90s feel to it, utilizing hammering riffery from the outset, the unmistakable melodic facade brought to the songs by vocalist David White, and of course Lee Altus' signature guitar sound. The comparisons to later day Exodus are not completely off, given three of their (past) members make an appearance on this album and Altus is the primary writer. That said, Heathen's songs are a lot more varied and melodically developed. This definitely stems from the fact that all of the compositions impart indelible harmonies. Take the dual guitar force of "Control by Chaos", complete with intricate twin guitar sweeps, skin-peeling thrash riffs, and ultimately melodic harmonies. Whilst the song involves all the necessary thrash metal ingredients executed with primitive hunger, it is the guitarists' melodic explorations and White's gripping vocal parts that set it apart from other acts' releases. Also, the song contains a dexterous mid-part with hammering staccato riffs that precedes a fantastic run-out solo.

Two songs from the band's 2005 demo have been carried over to this magnum opus. "Dying Season" is a maelstrom of riffs and speed-of-light fretwork while "Arrows of Agony", epic in scope, merges relentless aggression with smooth melodies without pushing the song into "cheese" category. As a matter of fact, the solo on the song is so emotionally performed it makes for a religious experience. The melodic focus is further highlighted in the intro of "Undone" before a rhythmic anchor of drums and bass is worked into the mix, shifting the piece to its deserved thrash zone.

The centrepiece of the album is "No Stone Unturned" -- at over ten minutes, this song would be the best choice to represent the current Heathen sound: steady, unbreakable thrash metal riffs are wrung through a sick time signature with phenomenal guitar and bass (the fretless bass part is played by Steve DiGiorgio) interaction. The melodies are the best ever and they will reveal themselves more upon repeat listens. The calculated unison solo towards the end is quite possibly the album's highpoint from a creative standpoint. The final melody played atop this unison solo is mindblowing. It proves the creativity of Heathen has only increased during their hiatus.

What makes this album so great is also that each song stands on its own with its distinctive melodic traits and compositional elements. There is the technical piece "Fade Away"; the ballady "A Hero's Welcome", noteworthy for its shift between acoustic guitars and crashing metal thunder; the Exodus-like "Bloodkult", much more direct in its execution; or the blazing guitars of "Silent Nothingness", whose intro is easily the best thrash intro you will hear in a long time. The transition from the sweeping melody to the full-on thrash assault is stupepfying!

There is an array of guests on the album, from Exodus' Gary Holt performing the solo on the aforementioned "Control by Chaos" to the band's former guitarist Terry Lauderdale or the bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio whose sitar playing on the first track is simply gorgeous. He implants a strong eastern feel to it alongside Jon Allen's chimes and percussion work.

I have never been a fan of Jacob Hansen's production work as I feel he overcompresses any music he works on. This can particularly be annoying on progressive metal albums. However, on The Evolution of Chaos it works: the end result is a huge grey smear, compressed so densely that there is almost zero breathing room for the arrangements. The songs gush out like huge and thick crusts bludgeoning you from the start, and somehow it fits the music.

Will there be another 2010 thrash release that will match the intensity of The Evolution of Chaos? The answer is simple: No.

Track Listing

  1. Intro
  2. Dying Season
  3. Control by Chaos
  4. No Stone Unturned
  5. Arrows of Agony
  6. Fade Away
  7. A Hero's Welcome
  8. Undone
  9. Bloodkult
  10. Red Tears of Disgrace
  11. Silent Nothingness

Added: March 13th 2010
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Heathen MySpace
Hits: 4067
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Heathen: The Evolution of Chaos
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-03-13 07:21:31
My Score:

Hard to believe it's been 20 years since we've last had the opportunity to hear some new music from one of the Bay Area's most underappreciated thrash acts, Heathen. Though founding member Lee Altus has been busy in the revamped Exodus for a few years now, he always intended to resurrect Heathen, and judging by The Evolution of Chaos, metal fans are going to be glad he did.

Back in the mid 80's, Heathen and Exodus were always sort of linked together musically if not socially. Both bands got on quite well, and the music of both groups centered around aggressive yet melodic vocals and twin guitar attacks that churned out non-stop complex riffs and wild harmony solos. Altus and the new line-up of Heathen, which includes drummer Darren Minter, fellow guitarist Kragen Lum, singer David White, and bassist Jon Torres, continue on with this formula on The Evolution of Chaos and have delivered a fantastic modern thrash album that is rooted in the classic sounds of the 80's and early 90's. It's funny how so many classic thrash acts have seemingly resurrected their careers in recent years going back to the styles that made them famous in the first place; Megadeth, Exodus, Testament, Overkill, and Metallica instantly come to mind, and now you can add Heathen to that list.

Plenty of raging, guitar fueled classics here, such as "Control By Chaos" (which features some mind-melting solos), the epic "No Stone Unturned", the ripping "Fade Away", the surprising power metal number "A Hero's Welcome", and the rampaging thrash attack of "Bloodkult". In all honesty, there's not really a weak song here, and the band do a great job of adding in some variety from track to track so the whole affair is not a runaway speed fest. Singer White is a good find, as his strong yet melodic pipes keep up with the blazing guitar work quite well and fit right into these precision metal tunes. Altus and Lum though are the key here, and their masterful collection of wild riffs and tasty solos will please any thrash lover.

Plenty of guests appear here, such as Altus' mate in Exodus, Rob Dukes & Gary Holt, as well as original Heathen guitarist Terry Lauderdale, and Sodom/Charred Walls of the Damned bassist Steve DiGiorgio. They just add to what is an overall impressive return for this forgotten thrash act. Now it will be interesting to see of Altus intends to keep the Heathen spirit alive with regular touring and follow-up album releases, as well as do double time in Exodus.

Welcome back guys!

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