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Sifting through obscure, demo only bands is sort of like slogging through a sewer to retrieve a lost piece of jewelry; when you find what you're looking for, it's well worth the reward, but getting there is quite an unsavory ordeal, and even when you do find what you've sought it's going to be a little worse for wear. For every cool demo band you unearth, you find fifty generic pieces of garbage, and even the best of demos are almost never up to par with the best of full-lengths, usually due to production or length. Occasionally a long, well-produced demo that's essentially a top-tier album will surface, like Vault's Sword of Steel or Stormbringer's Stealer of Souls, but that's certainly the exception and not the rule. Most of the time, even the hidden gems sound a little bit grimy, are a little too short, are just a tad underwritten. The first two at least are the case for Heathen's Rage's self-titled EP; okay, technically it's not a demo, but it may as well be since it's a 3 song release from a completely unknown band with a fairly poor production.
Luckily, the songwriting and performance make up for that. It may not be as groundbreaking as Omen or as technical and ambitious as Fates Warning, but it's certainly quite enjoyable. What we have here is simple, upbeat, NWOBHM-ish heavy/USPM, along the lines of a less epic Manowar with more emphasis on riffs and solos; for those who perhaps have read my review (I don't know how else you'd know about them), the closest example I can come up with is Blind Assassin, who also released a 3-song demo. Both essentially combine the atmosphere of Manowar with the structuring and style of Helstar. Vocalist Bob Pizzauro has a warm if slightly generic tenor that proudly carries the tunes along, sounding a bit like Geddy Lee, or, to give a more USPM-oriented example, Doug Lee (perhaps they're related?) of Siren. He certainly does a good job, but never a great one, and as such his performance, along with the rest of the music, is mid-second tier stuff at best. Sure it's fun, sure it's headbangable, it just isn't something you feel yourself constantly wanting to come back to.
However, don't let my complaints undersell the release for you; if you're a fan of epically-tinged NWOBHM stuff like Dragonslayer or perhaps Cloven Hoof's Dominator, or if you like Hail to England-era Manowar alongside your USPM, this is certainly worth tracking down. While it's not a pinnacle of the genre, it's a must have if you're like me and want to listen to everything good USPM ever produced. Head and shoulders above even more successful peers like Queensryche and Savatage, and on-par with sweet demo bands like Salem's Lot and Chozzen Phate, Heathen's Rage's single EP certainly doesn't disappoint.
Even though Heathen's Rage released a demo (though it was more like a full-length, with ten tracks at 35 minutes) before this release, I have yet to locate it, but this three song, self-titled EP that followed is a nice little collection of music for fans of '80s US power metal. This EP doesn't have any material that could really rival earlier bands' outputs, which contains a small list of masterpieces that include "Metal Church," "Battle Cry," and plenty of others, but "Heathen's Rage" is still worth a moment of your time if not for "Knights of Steel" alone.
"Knights of Steel" is the opening track for this EP, and it's a terrific song with a near-epic clean guitar intro that serves as the backdrop to a melodic solo. Then the bass and drums come in, before this song starts to pick up. Bob Pizzauro's vocals are a pleasant surprise, because they're very clean and soothing. There's not a hint of aggression like there usually is with other power metal singers. "City of Hell" isn't really a great song, but it does show how good the group's drummer is. His opening drum fills and solo moments are top-notch, and this can be said for his entire performance on the EP. "Dark Storm" is a thrashy number that will get your head moving, but not much else. Overall, "Heathen's Rage" is a decent three song EP that power metal enthusiasts are sure to enjoy. It's unfortunate that they never released a full-length album, because based on this performance, that record would have been awesome.
"Knights of Steel"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
This is some fairly impressive stuff for it's time. 1986 didn't have a great number of bands that sounds like this, nor this much intensity in the speed/power metal genres.
The production is demo/rehearsal quality ( by today's standards, obviously), raw, probably lacking on the volume, and somewhat cluttered. It's hard to hear much from the drums aside from the snare, honestly. But the anger and intensity shine through.
These guitars sound just plain nasty (take that how you will). They sound fuzzy, dirty, and just plain perfect for this style and era.
Normally I wouldn't, but since this is a three song EP, I will do a song-by-song breakdown.
Knights of Steel - starts out with a bleak soft part, that ending into a build up into the next riff which is pure speed metal. Pummeling double bass, and a vocals that remind me somewhat of older Running Wild. Somewhat of a NWOBHM sound in terms of the vocal melody, but otherwise pretty heavy on Iron Maiden influences, in the bass and pacing of the songs. A very good, catchy speed metal tune.
City of Hell - a much too long, drawn out intro, in which pretty much ... nothing is heard. Just the boom of a low metallic souding drum, and some random background noises occasionally. It generally gives you the impression of a empty vast, and evil place. Then the guitar starts in, warning of more speed metal to come. There are some pissed off sounding gang vocals, followed by a quick solo after the chorus. Some parts drag dangerously, then saved by another solo. But the vocals are really killer here, totally true to NWOBHM style. A solid song overall.
Dark Storm - Again reminding me of old Running Wild. The vocals sound more buried here. A pointless solo ... too much repitition on this song, and sounding too much like the first. It has one solid riff.
It would have been interesting to see what would have become of this band if they'd stayed around. I can only imagine. There was lots of potential here for an awesome band, really. It's still catchy stuff, for metalheads who can tolerate or get into the production. This may be pointless, but if you're really a speed metal buff, it may be worth hunting down.