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Heathen > Demo with Paul Baloff > Reviews

My pants just exploded. - 98%

speedemon86, May 4th, 2007

There are very few recordings I can think of that can violate the listener in their most secret of places like this demo. On this recording, you will find the Heathen we all know and love, without question. Exceptionally competent (especially in the rhythm section, obviously), tasteful, varied enough for even those most easily driven to seek out new stimulation, and very consistent in general. Regardless of which incarnation of the band you might be dealing with, you can always expect some of the tightest thrash metal ever to be played, and never be let down. Whether they're in the studio, on stage, in a back yard, or probably even in a collective fucking coma, Heathen will play with precision and power.

Heathen are certainly notorious for those things. However, as is the case with bands that are similar in the aforementioned ways, Heathen aren't really known for being all that "raw" or "brutal". In many cases this tends to rest on Dave White's shoulders. Make no mistake, he's no less than respectable, but he didn't have a very mean voice, likely because he isn't the kind of person to project that (2005 demo be damned!). He sounds just as cynical as the next metalhead, but in the vein of John Connelly or Joey Belladonna (minus the complete ineptitude to effectively blend in with the music and hit actual notes), his vocals are not vicious, or crippling. When the music behind them happens to be "raw" and "brutal", that vocal style inevitably cheapens these characteristics.

Enter a cassette from The Eighties and the most famous poseur-hunter the world has ever known, Paul Baloff.

Given that this was a cassette demo in 1988, it's not going to be the most crisp and clear thing you'll ever hear. But this was 1988, not 1983, so it's not going to sound quite as veiled, muffled, and constricted as demos recorded 5 years before (coincidentally, Exodus comes to mind in this respect!). This abberation in sound quality (for Heathen, at least) actually works in their favor. Sure, the highs sound as modulated as you would expect from just about any cassette, especially a demo from almost twenty years ago. The low end tends to be a bit too resonant, and the middle frequencies are either at eleven or completely absent. Nevertheless, everything can be heard clear enough, even the bass to some extent (even though the bass really doesn't matter here)!

While the sound quality provides a superb foundation for impossible brutality, Baloff's vocal work really brings this completely over the top. So instead of having great fun like with Breaking the Silence, or being pummeled to a decent degree as on Victims of Deception, here you are maimed, violated, stripped, raped, strangled, and force fed broken glass through every orifice you possess (and likely some new ones that you didn't have before), whether you bothered to give your consent or not. The choice to be decimated is irrelevant; even nonexistent. You will, upon hearing this demo, never feel the same way about having your ass kicked on an intergalactic level (14:38 here is more than enough to take you there and back again, a 40 year trip or something like that as a beam of light).

Paul Baloff here sounds pretty much what you might expect the middle ground between leaving Exodus and returning later on to be. His voice doesn't sound quite as ravaged as on Another Lesson in Violence (ravaged being an entirely good thing), nor does it sound as fresh as it did on Bonded by Blood. It's rough, mean, and gritty, but not intensely so, and there's a stronger tendency here for Baloff to crack his voice into that shriek that nobody has ever done but Paul Baloff. Sometimes the vocals are a bit too loud for my tastes, but it's far from grossly sticking out. I'm going to venture that he also wrote the lyrics for these songs, either way they are certainly not the same lyrics found on Victims of Deception. As for what they are, your guess is about as good as mine. The sound quality and Baloff's manic shouting don't add up to make the clearest vocals ever heard. Never fear, the lines that can be made out are right in accordance with the style present. The line that sticks out the most is on Hypnotised, right before the pre-chorus. "Violent love! Violent fun!" Yes, what violent fun this is! From what I can make of the rest of the lyrics, violence is the special of the day, and we are but "helpless victims".

Riff-wise, not much is different from the studio versions. Hypnotised starts out with some rabid snarling while the minor melody fades in, which somehow manages to work even though the sound of nasty snarling and haunting arpeggios shouldn't match up that well. The intro section of Mercy is not a Virtue does not have the Metallica-aped opening riff, and is also drawn out just a bit, which gives more general effect (it's made a bit "dramatic", you could say), and thus creates a much larger buildup of tension before blasting you in the face with riffs and vocals made out of whatever chemical and/or physical weapon you find to be the most destructive.

With the exceptions of those very minor, everything except the lyrics/vocals is the same music that is found on Victims of Deception. Except, as stated many times already, with a sound that couldn't be more focused on putting your well-being firmly in the grave.

In the end, this is the most precious of jewels I've ever heard, and leaves me willing to sacrifice just to hear more than these two songs. However, that need is mostly satiated by listening to the whole thing again. And again after that. And one more time, until I've listened to the whole thing eleven or twelve times, and opt to listen to it yet again, or sit in silence. That's just how good this is. You can't listen to anything after this that isn't a letdown in some way or another. Even the best of the best can't follow this up, whether it's Sodom, Coroner, even Overkill, it simply does not matter. I've taken this album to be a chunk of substantial evidence that God exists, and is just the same as us in balancing and judging good and evil, right and wrong. He was cruel as can be to not grace pitiful humanity with a full-length effort from this lineup, but by the same token saved us from ourselves, because if that had happened, our corpses would have piled up in the streets. Why? Because a full-length with the same level of excellence as this would leave us all with no option but to ritually disembowel ourselves.

One thing to keep in mind as you listen to this for the first time, and should reoccur throughout the 14 and a half minutes of merciless death. Cookies and free-range chickens are granted if it also persists afterwards and every consecutive time you listen to it, until you die. A plea for understanding that Baloff demanded of a rambunctious, inebriated pack of heathens nine years later: "WHY MUST YOU BE SO HEAVY?!?"