Released: 2010, Mascot Records
In 2005, Lee Altus joined Exodus – and Heathen recorded a 3-song demo, their first original material since 1991’s highly regarded VICTIMS OF DECEPTION. In the intervening five years between 2005 and now, very little was heard from the band. Lee, it seemed, was happily focused on the rigours of writing and touring with Exodus, and the demo (and the promise of a new album) soon slipped beneath the waves of the metal’s consciousness. Then, all of a sudden, Japan saw the release of THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS in late 2009, and Europe and the US in early 2010 – which sees the 1991 trio of Altus, singer David White and drummer Darren Minter joined by new second guitarist Kragen Lum and bassist Jon Torres (of Laaz Rockit and Angelwitch fame). Now that I’ve got all the boring intro bits out of the way, can I just say that this album is pure orgasmic thrash gold?
It’s an absolute masterpiece of modern thrash. Flawless in almost every way. At almost 70 minutes long, it requires slightly more effort to get through, but rewards the listener with meticulously conceived, painstakingly crafted and impeccably performed songs that twist and wind and evolve. Progressive, melodic thrash metal, this is about as far away from 3-minute, crossover style thrash as you’ll get. Possibly many will see the highlight as the 11-minute long ‘No Stone Unturned’ – it features an awesome intro riff that is a combination of 1984-88 Metallica and early 90s Pantera, a wonderful midpaced guitar solo that incorporates swept arpeggios, and a clean midsection that slowly builds back up into the neck-breaking main theme, bringing to mind echoes of the last two minutes of ‘Master of Puppets’.
But my personal favourite is the first song ‘Intro/Dying Season’. The main riff is just godly, reminiscent of a less caustic Exodus and some of the finer moments of Testament and Alex Skolnick. Some people on the Metal-Archives forums have, with some justification, compared this song to Artillery’s ‘7:00 to Tashkent/Khomaniac’ on the BY INHERITANCE album, but Mr. Lee Altus himself has come out to say that Satan’s COURT IN THE ACT album was the main inspiration for this song (check out the Heathen thread on the MA forums, Lee himself answers questions related to Exodus and Heathen). Whatever it is, it’s one hell of a thrash number, and a great way to kick off THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS.
It would be pointless to do a song-by-song report, or else this review would be twice as long, and you don’t want to hear my gushing on and on. There is only one truly weak song on the album, in my opinion, and that is ‘Arrows of Agony’, which was also on the 2005 demo. The disjointed, Pantera-ish riffing is not too much to my taste, and this is perhaps the least ‘ambitious’ of the songs on the album. I will however speak up in defence of the much-derided ‘A Hero’s Welcome’, the ‘ballad’ that is a tribute to war veterans. Although the spoken passage in the middle is cringe-worthy, the Thin Lizzy/Uriah Heep overtones make this one of the more aurally rewarding songs on the album.
Many hardcore fans will say that THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS cannot supersede VICTIMS OF DECEPTION, but I don’t have the same particular attachment to that album. It was and is a fantastic album for many reasons: the tech-thrash that matched Metallica’s …AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1988), Megadeth’s RUST IN PEACE (1990), Metal Church’s HUMAN FACTOR (1991), and whatever Coroner were doing at the time; the unusual vocal style of David White, more akin to classic heavy metal/NWOBHM vocals than yer average thrash shouter; the fantastic duelling leads of Altus and Doug Piercy; and the overall traditional heavy metal feel that reminded one of Metal Church so much.
However, THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS and VICTIMS OF DECEPTION are two different animals, yet with a common parentage, if that makes any sense at all. The overt heavy metal influences are pretty much gone, replaced by sheer grinding thrash metal riffs, palm-muted and down-stroked to hell. David White keeps to the mid-registers, which while making him sound more ‘generic’, certainly fits the more aggressive sound that Heathen have achieved in 2010. All this is made possible only with the crystal clear production – there is slight clipping but is not unduly annoying, and the riffs and leads and drums bite through with grunt and growl. There are nods to modern revival crossover thrash with call-and-answer vocals on songs like ‘Control By Chaos’, but Heathen tread the line between old, new and ‘new-old’ so well that you are drawn in by the music itself before even trying to classify or categorise. It’s only after you’ve picked your jaw off the floor that you can say, ‘hell that sounds like what newer Exodus would sound like minus Rob Dukes and if they were more prog-oriented’, or ‘this is what 90s thrash should have been instead of Pantera et al.’ It just doesn’t begin to compute until you’ve spun this through a few times.
All I will say is that Heathen have upped the ante for all thrash bands new and old, returning and re-returning. This is the benchmark for modern thrash, period, even though fans may prefix Heathen’s brand of thrash with descriptors like ‘progressive’ and ‘melodic’. Sacrifice’s comeback album ended the decade of the Noughties in style, and Overkill and Heathen have struck early blows for the relevance of thrash in the new decade of Armageddon and economic turmoil.