March 29, 2010 | | 4

Heathen, The Evolution of Chaos

Heathen: The Evolution of Chaos

It’s been nearly 20 years since Bay Area thrashers Heathen released an album. Now, that’s not to say that the band has been entirely dormant during that time. Featuring guitarists Lee Altus (Exodus) and Kragen Lum (Prototype) along with Dave White on lead vocals, bassist Jon Torres (Angelwitch) and returning drummer Darren Minter, the individual parts of Heathen have been plenty busy on their own — which is part of the reason The Evolution of Chaos has been so long in the making.

After spinning this epic album numerous times now, I can safely say that it was well worth the wait. Built on a foundation of mid-tempo thrash, The Evolution of Chaos is chock full of a sound that bridges several decades, pulling in that “retro,” old school feel while maintaining a crisp, modern vibe.

Altus and Lum let loose with volley after volley of guitar mayhem, trading off one another amongst swelling, thrashing riffs, melodic hooks, vibrant leads and creative fills. The length of each song definitely allows these guys to play around a bit with their instruments. The same can be said for the rhythm section, which lays down some serious galloping groove and atmosphere in all the right places. Vocally, White is on top of this one like all get out, delivering a mixture of clean and gruff vocals that match the music perfectly — making The Evolution of Chaos one of the more complete thrash albums I’ve heard in the past couple of years.

The opening track is a middle eastern tinged instrumental that serves more as a lead into the first song than anything else.

Dying Season
Man, the galloping pace to “Dying Season” is exactly what the doctor ordered as layered guitars bring in White’s vocals. The clean production throughout the album really adds an impact to each drum fill, riff and bass rumble. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song — it gets the blood pumping for the rest of the album. There’s a sick lead at 3:13 that flows into Testament inspired riffing before once again jumping into another sweet lead. Hell yeah!

Control by Chaos
“Control by Chaos” is a monster of a track, coming in at just over seven minutes in length. It starts out a bit slower with melodic riffs before shifting into a nice mid-tempo gallop with a sick lead around the :50 mark. The vocal patterns throughout the album (especially on this track) are well timed and perfectly executed. There’s an old school vibe to this song that permeates through the modern production and tones. The trading leads around 4:20 are freakin’ awesome.

No Stone Unturned
At over 11 minutes in length, “No Stone Unturned” is an epic track, that, despite it’s length, never feels too long, even after repeated listens. There’s a bit of a familiar feel (Metallica, perhaps?) to the start of the song as it builds up from staggered riffs and steady drums into decent groove with melodic hooks and thick bass. The band uses just about every second of this monolith to fill your ears with emotion and skillfully played mid-tempo thrash that borders of straight up metal. Overall the track is broken up into roughly two sections, the first of which ends around 5:40. Acoustic guitar starts off the second phase of the song with a softer atmosphere and overall tone. The instrumentation through this portion of the song is stellar and full of power as it shifts into full on thrash mode three minutes later. All I can say is wow, what a song.

Arrows of Agony
Following up the masterful “No Stone Unturned” could not have been an easy endeavor, but the guys in Heathen have done a pretty damned good job, carrying a similar, though slightly darker tone into this next song. This is pretty much a classic, bay area thrash song through and through — it’s got catchy riffing, Dickinson-like vocals and pummeling rhythms. The backing vocals and chorus around 3:15 are infectious, as are the series of soaring leads that follow.

Fade Away
“Fade Away” has a more technical and ferocious feel to it than the previous songs. It’s still got the mid-tempo groove of the first half of the album, but it’s also got a beefier footprint on the album that’s a nice change up from the more soaring and open feel of the first few tracks. The track takes a slight turn to the weird with production affected vocals around 2:50 that I’m not entirely sure I dig, but if the band wants to play around, that’s cool by me — just as long as they keep following up experimentation with leads like the one that follows the oddly treated vocal delivery.

A Hero’s Welcome
I’m all for supporting out troops who have done more than their fair share for their country — my old man served in Vietnam, earned a silver star and has a roadmap carved into his midsection as a result of a sniper — but the overly dramatic spoken vocals at the midpoint of this song are a bit much. The music that accompanies the lines of text is beautiful and heartfelt for sure, but the military documentary voiceover feels out of place. Other than that, it’s a pretty decent song.

I love the opening guitar work to this next song. It’s memorable and somewhat dark as the bigger riffs and drums come in shortly after the first few notes. There’s a weightiness behind this one that gives in a much heavier feel. Perhaps it’s the technical shredding or the beefier tones. At any rate, it’s a burly song with gruffer (yet still clean) vocals to match. Even the leads match the darker, more somber feel.

Aside from the opening intro, “Bloodkult’ is the shortest track on the album and it’s still 4:31 in length. It’s also got a darker overall vibe to it along with a quicker tempo and a feeling of urgency. I have enjoyed the album thoroughly so far, but would love to have some shorter songs to break up the longer tracks. Something like “Bloodkult,” but a bit shorter and more often. I absolutely love the tortured, wailing guitar noise that ends out the song.

Red Tears of Disgrace
After that more up tempo and darker song, Heathen slow things down a bit with softer vocals and acoustic guitar during the first minute or so of “Red Tears of Disgrace.” The band ultimately builds up a slow paced, yet moving series of riffs and melodramatic vocals. It’s an interesting song, but certainly not my favorite on the album.

Silent Nothingness
“Silent Nothingness” wraps up an album that I’m sure will be on many “year end” lists. It’s a song that’s full of guitar wizardry, beefy riffs and creative drum work. It’s definitely a summation of all that the band has thrown at you so far and proves to be a great closing song that leaves you with the need to hit play journey once again through The Evolution of Chaos.

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