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Very accomplished debut - 75%

OlympicSharpshooter, September 3rd, 2004

You know, if you were from the Bay Area, were in your late teens to early twenties, and played thrash metal in a band, it was not hard to make a "legendary" band. If you believe the press releases from record labels every single dude who ever picked up a guitar and formed a band called Swordsman or something of the like (is there a band by that name?) could conceivably be called a metal god on par with Glenn Tipton of James Hetfield. However, that legendary Bay Area Thrash moniker wasn't always just a big shot of hyperbole to spice up an otherwise boring press release.

Metallica, Exodus, Megadeth, Death Angel... Heathen. Yeah, I would put Heathen right up there with those hallowed, well-worn and much-loved names on the strength of a miniscule two releases (more so the second of the pair), because these guys were that good. From track one, side one, album number one of the catalogue Heathen was on the ball, at the top of the thrash sweepstakes, promising as hell and more than deserving of the chance to have a run as long and varied as a Slayer or a Metallica (on this site I'm alone in considering Metallica's variety a good thing, but so be it). Alas, it was not to be.

Still, Breaking the Silence was a hell of an auspicious start, propulsive and catchy lead single "Set Me Free" cutting a swath through the competition and getting some significant airplay on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, the band fairly prescient in releasing a video at that stage, something Metallica would wind up capitulating to a few months hence with "One". The record moved around 100 000 copies, a significant number of dented skulls, more significant as it was a debut record and the only street momentum would've come from a few demos rather than an established catalogue.

The music within is a clean and nimble brand of speed, quite polished production-wise (compared to the audio-terrorism of some of the less venerable thrash LPs), rather finessed and epic like Flotsam, yet still able to go to the gut (or lower) with some heavy, heavy riffs like Overkill. The leads a combination of Hammett, Maiden harmony leads, and outright shredding, this potent thrash proposal not so much hurled like a brick through the window of the club and taking over like a band of swarthy bandits (Reign in Blood, Darkness Descends, Bonded by Blood) as quickly building a way better bar right beside it and bringing in all of the deserters from the old one to hear the thoroughly brainy, fist pumping wunderkinds next door.

Breaking the Silence isn't really one of those albums that cruises along at a number of different speeds, each track a total about-face from the preceding track like Suffering Hour, but more of a steady thrash assault, only "Open the Grave" and the beautiful melodic intro to "World's End" really deviating from the rest in this regard. However, each song sounds unique and it isn't one of those situations where the songs all blend into this foggy abyss wherein you can recall maybe a riff or a chorus here or there, but for the most part is totally forgotten moments after the CD leaves the player and goes back on the rack.

The Sweet cover "Set Me Free" is insanely catchy, easily one of the best thrash updates I've ever heard. While Sweet isn't exactly the Mecca of stone-faced metal seriousness, singer Dave Godfrey handles the rather silly lyrics with an intense, boastful quality that does the song a world of good. Furthermore there is a blistering lead break, Heathen cramming more duelling leads and harmony riffs into about forty-five seconds than you can shake an Iron Maiden at, the cover itself being a cagey move ripped right out of the Anthrax play book, that act done one better by Heathen's ability to make a great cover right off the bat (compare to 'Thrax's "I'm Eighteen"... bleech).

Often there are just little precision parts that push this album to another level, the homicidal vocals and neck-wrecking outro on "Save the Skull", the Yngwie like proto-power intro soloing on "Breaking the Silence", the waver-y Belladonna-like vocals over the first verse of "Pray for Death"... there's a certain style and grace of execution here that hints at the brilliance of Victims of Deception, this willingness to really work on making excellent songs wherein all the parts really work, this crafted approach that comes spilling off of every hot solo burning into the night skies, even the crushing breaks on "Pray for Death" and "Death by Hanging" undertaken with a professionalism that belies the band's youth.

Ultimately the downfall of Breaking the Silence is that it's not Victims of Deception, that album just cloaking all else in the shadow of it's sheer magnitude. The sometimes light-weight, less serious vibes of the earlier LP almost making one want to just go listen to the shining neon genesis of Victims and it's futuristic cover and it's hyper-advanced epic progressive monster thrash.

Here's a tip of the mug to Breaking the Silence, one of the best albums to come out of the Bay Area movement... but if it's a tip to BTS, it's a full out keg-stand and a half for what follows.

Stand-Outs: It's all damned good, but "Set Me Free", "Death by Hanging", "World's End"