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Best U.S.A. thrash band ever
on 6 December 2008
The music industry can be a rather foreboding business to be involved in, but the most annoying part is how some untalented bands get lucrative recording contracts, whilst others that display incredible talent are left high and dry. With this statement, I am referring to the likes of American thrash legends Heathen, who undoubtedly were the most artistically talented band coming out of the San Francisco thrash metal movement in the 1980's. I am mystified as to how this band was overlooked for so long without getting the due attention and rewards they so rightly deserved. I am delighted to see that Century Media Records has taken the initiative to re-release the eponymous and sophomore albums, as well as adding a few demo bonus tracks to each of these albums. This has been a long time coming and I sincerely hope the metal community get behind this remarkable band, as these two classic albums best represent what thrash metal is all about.
Heathen's, `Victims of Deception' was originally released on the old thrash metal label, Roadrunner Records way back in 1991, but for me, this was a landmark album for many reasons. Some of the redeeming qualities on this release were the lightening fast tempo changes, the multifaceted song structures, peculiar time signatures, longer songs and some amazing and innovative guitar solos. If guitar riffing cuts close to your heart then Heathen are your band, as their approach is in favour of the twin guitar attack. I am yet to come across another thrash band that has the same riffing ability the way Heathen do it. For many thrash metal devotees, `Victims of Deception' has long been considered to be the most technical and progressively advanced album that was years ahead of its time. Even with a seventeen-year head start and by today's standards, this album is as good, if not better than anything that has come out in recent times.
During this period, the band comprised of Doug Piercy (guitar), Lee Altus (guitar), Darren Minter (drums) and David White-Godfrey (vocals). For the recording of this album, there was no permanent bass player so the band capitalised on the services of Blind Illusion's, Marc Biedermann. With Heathen's music, the lyrics have always been a strength of theirs as they vent their anger towards organised religion including other social issues that have an effect on us all. An example of this is the track `Hypnotized', which begins with a voiceover speech, delivered from the altar by the demented evangelist Jim Jones, ranting on about politics and religion. As the track fully begins the riffing is just sublime with White-Godfrey's vocals being as powerful as what we have come to expect from a thrash vocalist. As mentioned, the lyrics highlight the evils of organised religion by delivering a very poignant message in this regard.
Other standout tracks and for me the best song has to be the `Heathen's Song' which explores many different atmospheres and tempos, but is one great riff-fest that is interspersed with some remarkable solo work. This song does have an ominous Metallica thread running through it in places. `Kill the King' is a Rainbow cover version and has been done extremely well by keeping it as close to the original as possible, but just tweaking it ever so slightly to give that gritty Heathen sound. `Fear of the Unknown' starts with some eerie sound effects played over by an acoustic and bass guitar before the song crescendos to a full-blown pace. This is probably the most diverse song on the album from a tempo change point of view, but again the riffing is very hypnotic.
I believe there is a Heathen reformation on the cards at some stage, although a few years ago they did play several open-air dates in Europe. Lee Altus has primarily been the driving force behind Heathen, but over the last few years he has kept himself busy by affording his services to German industrial metallers, Die Krupp's, but more recently with seminal thrashers Exodus by replacing the departed Rick Hunholt. What is suggested is to purchase the remastered digital version instead of the original analogue version as the sound quality is far superior, due to the music been given a fresh 21st century production. `Victims of Deception' is a great album and should be mandatory in every thrash metal fans collection!