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Victims of Circumstance - 92%

lonerider, December 27th, 2012

It is no secret that by the time “Victims of Deception” was released in the year 1991, the writing was on the wall for Bay Area thrash and the thrash genre in general: aside from a couple of late classics, one of which was “Victims of Deception”, the genre had seen its heyday in the mid to late 1980s and was now mired in a fast decline. But then along came a bunch of relative newcomers – after all, the band had previously put out only one full-length under the Heathen moniker – that pulled off the remarkable feat of writing an album that rivals and in many ways surpasses much of the genre’s best work from the eighties.

It remains an interesting question to this day why Heathen, who as musicians were superior and as songwriters at least equal to a band like Metallica, were never able to make it big or garner any widespread success. The answer seems to come down to two overriding factors, one I have already touched upon: “Victims of Deception” came out a couple of years too late for Heathen to take a ride on the proverbial thrash bandwagon, which had mostly run out of steam by the time the 1990s dawned. The other factor is that the music on “Victims of Deception” is more complex and technical than Metallica ever were, even considering that “And Justice for All” wasn’t exactly tailored to mainstream success either.

That in turn brings us to the actual music on “Victims of Deception”, which is characterized by a departure from the speed metal leanings of the band’s debut, “Breaking the Silence”, and the advent of a thrashier, heavier sound. In fact, “Victims of Deception” is vintage Bay Area thrash, but with added complexity and a multitude of tempo and riff changes to spice things up and make this a textbook example for technical thrash done right. As soon as the ominous sampled introduction to “Hypnotized” ends and the massive opening riff kicks in, whatever expectations the listener may have had increase considerably and the album never lets up until the final chords of “Timeless Cell of Prophecy” roll around.

If this otherwise brilliant effort has one minor flaw, it is that the best three songs all come at the beginning and the remaining tracks, with the exception of the more mellow “Prisoners of Fate” and the hard-rocking “Kill the King”, aren’t quite as memorable, taking a more progressive and technical approach instead. While this is not a bad thing at all, the album still could have benefited from a different track order, as intricate songs like “Fear of the Unknown”, “Morbid Curiosity”, “Mercy Is No Virtue” and the closing “Timeless Cell of Prophecy”, excellent though they may be, are all stacked on the second half of this more than one-hour long album and therefore can get a little overbearing at times. Perhaps putting the instantly accessible cover of Rainbow’s “Kill the King” in place of the somewhat pointless instrumental “Guitarmony” would have been a smart move in that regard.

Ultimately, however, “Victims of Deception” is an album of astounding quality and consistency, recorded by musicians of remarkable technical prowess. It’s safe to say that a band like Metallica – as the most successful band to emerge from the Bay Area scene, they are the perfect measuring stick – doesn’t hold a candle to Heathen in that category, as the drums, guitars and even the vocals are sometimes light-years ahead of what the likes of Ulrich, Hammett and Hetfield have ever been capable of. That in turn allows the band to infuse more melody and progressive elements into the music whilst retaining plenty of speed and aggressiveness. Particularly the riffing on tracks like “Fear of the Unknown” and “Hypnotized” is positively spectacular. Moreover, the stellar production brings out the best in the band’s performance, giving the guitars a massive sound without stifling the other instruments and various little details in the band’s awe-inspiring delivery.

In closing, “Victims of Deception” is the perfect album to demonstrate that the more iconic and commercially successful bands from the Bay Area scene weren’t necessarily the be-all and end-all in musical quality and that some of the more under-the-radar acts were actually just as good or perhaps sometimes even a little better. With an effort like this under their belt, Heathen were definitely deserving of more widespread acclaim and sustained success than they ended up with, but as we all know, life simply isn’t always fair …

Choicest cuts: “Hypnotized”, “Opiate of the Masses”, “Heathen’s Song”, “Fear of the Unknown”