by Adrien Begrand
Remember Heathen? No? Well, you didn’t miss much. The Bay Area band attracted a little bit of attention back in 1987 with their Combat debut Breaking the Silence, but although it was a harmless, Metal Church-like blend of second-wave thrash and NWOBHM melodies, most people knew Heathen either as a) the thrash band that Ronnie Montrose produced, or b) the thrash band that covered Sweet’s “Set Me Free”. After that record the band kept plugging away for a little while (with Paul Baloff and David Wayne on lead vocals for a couple of spells), but they did little to distinguish themselves from the rest of the thrash metal pack in the late-’80s and early-’90s, ultimately fading away. In fact, yours truly hadn’t given Heathen a moment’s thought in ages until founding guitarist Lee Altus replaced Rick Hunolt in Exodus in 2005.
Still, with all the thrash reunions happening these days, from Sacrifice, to Testament, to Death Angel, it’s not a big surprise that Altus has decided to give his old band another crack, and although it’s been a whopping 19 years since their second album Victims of Deception, The Evolution of Chaos turns out to be a surprisingly ambitious return. So ambitious, in fact, that Altus and his band mates hammer us immediately with three epic cuts six, seven, and eleven minutes in length. Each track is superb, whether it’s the direct thrash ferocity of “Dying Season”, the Testament-esque “Control By Chaos”, and the labyrinthine, aptly titled “No Stone Unturned”. However, it’s clear they’re the obvious standouts on this record, and it would have been wiser to spread the tracks out over the album instead of top-loading it all at once. Instead, after that strong opening 25 minutes, the momentum starts to sag and our interest wanes as the album carries on for a near-unbearable 73 minutes.
There’s enough good material here to warrant a mild recommendation, though. Original vocalist David White is back in the fold, and it’s great to hear his strong melodic vocal style again, especially on shorter tracks like “Fade Away” and “Undone”, while Altus and guitarist Kragen Lum dominate the proceedings with their robust palm-mutes and slithering riffs. Being such a long album, of course there are a few missteps, the most obvious being the cloying “A Hero’s Welcome” and the maudlin “Red Tears of Disgrace”, both of which stick out too much amidst the more aggressive tracks. Instead of throwing all their eggs into one basket, a more tasteful approach would have benefited this album immensely. Look at Sacrifice, for instance, as their masterful comeback The Ones I Condemn is in and out in 40 crisp minutes, while with The Evolution of Chaos we’re stuck looking at our watches hoping the damn thing will just end. The band’s energy is admirable, though, and as flawed as this album is, it’s still nice to hear them performing with passion once again.