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Tech Thrash 101 - 74%

HumanShred84, September 16th, 2007

Wow...I can't believe I used to love this album THAT much. This is an edit of my previous review of this album where I gave it a 97 and called it a "Victim of Circumstance"...I must admit I used to borderline jack off to this album, like so many other "hardcore old sk00l" thrashers seem to, but as I musically matured a little, discovered some better metal from other subgenres, and gained a better knowledge of music in general for myself, I realized that Heathen, this album, and the other albums I loved back then aren't very well known for a reason...their not that good.

What one can find in this supposed "underground classic" of an album is some fine technical musicianship and decent melodic thrash metal songwriting, but in the end, a very shallow, "been their done that" musical experience. Basically this takes the two best known well renowned "tech thrash" albums ("...And Justice For All" and "Rust In Peace"), blends them together but with songwriting and originality reduced times 5. It's not a bad album; it's just not that good of an album.

Let’s start by focusing on the positive, because, in spite of my somewhat critical tone of this review, there is really more positive than negative on 'VOD'. There are some really nicely written songs on here..."Hypnotized" is definitely the albums highest achievement in songwriting. It's just a state of the art tech thrash song, from the clean arpeggios in the intro to the heavy buildup, the thrash riffs, the catchy, big chorus, the Yngwie-esque solos...everything you'd want in this kind of music. "Opiate of the Masses", "Heathen's Song", "Fear of the Unknown" and "Mercy Is No Virtue" are also highlights, and indeed Heathen shows they can write some pretty nice melodic but at the same time technical thrash metal.

The musicianship is also definitely not the problem, these guys can play. A lot of people have commented on the guitar duo of Lee Altus and Doug Piercy, and while these two quite honestly aren't the best I've heard, even within their genre (Calvert/Locicero anyone??), they can definitely lay down the riffs on here (some of which are quite technical) with ease. The solos sound like basically more melodic Malmsteen solos, which are decently technically impressive and work fine in the song craft. Dave White can belt too, there is no doubt he is an excellent vocalist, balancing aggression and operatic vocals sort of like Russell Allen by way of Joey Belladonna. My personal favorite musician here is Darren Minter though; the drums on here are really the highlight for me. They have the excellent "wall of sound" drum tone that I absolutely love, and this is probably one of the first metal albums to use triggered double bass, which really shows Minters skills combined with his excellent fills. The bass is audible only in a few songs, but is not terrible, and quite honestly in this style of music the bass almost never does anything anyway (exception: Watchtower).

So you've got some nice melodic songwriting and good musicians, as well as decent production (actually, especially for this era, the production is excellent), what can possibly be wrong...Heathen has an extreme lacking of individual personality and being able to "play outside the box". They simply do not branch out too much, with the exception of the equally if not more formulaic "ballads" ("Prisoners of Fate" is borderline painful, this sounds like it could have come straight of a Warrant album, and I mean that). Some of the more mediocre thrash songs on here, particularly "Morbid Curiosity", just screams "Bay Area Tech Thrash 101", and even the above mentioned tracks, despite their melodicism and catchiness, just sound rather dull. While Heathen's more talented and as a result more historically revered contemporaries like Forbidden, Coroner, and Watchtower were making music that pushed the boundaries of thrash as we know it, Heathen seemed very content with following the standards set up by...you guessed it..."Rust In Peace" and "...And Justice For All" for early 90's tech thrash.

I would only recommend this album for someone who's REALLY into technical thrash metal...otherwise this should only be purchased if you have some extra money and nothing else really good is coming out. This is actually Heathen's better album by far ("Breaking The Silence" suffers from the same case of "101", but only even more generic). For tech thrash, I would strongly advise getting "Rust In Piece", "Twisted Into Form" or even "Distortion", "Mental Vortex", "Control & Resistance" and "Time Does Not Heal" instead of this. For metal overall, there’s so much stuff out there that’s just so much better and more original than this, and that you don't have to buy off eBay...

Final Score: 74 (81 was WAY too high)

Best Songs: Hypnotized, Opiate of the Masses, Fear of the Unknown, and Mercy Is No Virtue