Sunday Old School: Heathen
Band Photo: Heathen (?)
The wonderful thing about the thrash metal movement is that there were so many bands to find, it really is something of a treasure chest. Today we’ll look at a band which released some of the finest albums known to speed and thrash metal, but arguably haven’t got the recognition they deserve, Heathen. Heathen was formed in 1984 by former Metal Church drummer Carl Sacco and Russian guitarist Lee Altus and were initially accompanied by vocalist Sam Kress and guitarist Jim Sanguinetti before replacing them after their first gig with David Godfrey and Doug Piercy respectively, whilst also bringing in bass player Eric Wong. Although from the Bay Area and often associated with the thrash metal scene at the time, their music wasn’t strictly speaking contained in the thrash vein, as they also demonstrated more of a New Wave of British Heavy Metal influence than many of their peers. Although Wong decided to leave the group after the recording of their first demo, "Pray For Death" (being replaced by Mike "Yaz" Jastremski,) the demo was something of a success and earned the band a deal with Combat Records.
Their debut album, "Breaking The Silence" was released through the label in 1987 and was hailed as one of the best thrash metal albums of the year. It also contained something of a hit single in "Set Me Free," a cover of a song originally by British glam rock legends The Sweet. The song received regular rock radio airplay and the video was also broadcast frequently on MTVs Headbangers Ball show. While touring for the album however, Heathen ran into some internal difficulties, resulting in Sacco, Jastremski and Godfrey all leaving the group at some stage. Several well known vocalists were a part of Heathen for a while, including former Exodus frontman Paul Baloff and ex Metal Church singer, David Wayne.
After unsuccessful stints with these singers, as well as Dispossessed vocalist Rick Weaver, Godfrey (now using the surname, White) returned to the group, bringing with him former Blind Illusion bassist Marc Biedermann. With this lineup in tow, Heathen recorded and released their second album, "Victims Of Deception," this time through Roadrunner Records. Like its predecessor, "Victims Of Deception" was critically acclaimed, though it found little success commercially, despite a strong cover of the Rainbow classic, "Kill The King" and the inclusion of a ballad entitled, "Prisoners Of Fate." They soon recruited a new bass player in Randy Laire but would lose him not long afterwards when he and his girlfriend were killed in an automobile accident, leaving his place to be taken by Jason Viebrooks. Heathen planned to continue and record a covers EP in tribute to Laire, as well as White’s brother, but called it a day before such a record came to fruition.
Like many other Bay Area bands of the eighties however, Heathen would reunite in 2001 for the Thrash Of The Titans fundraiser, which was to support Death frontman Schuldiner and Testament singer Chuck Billy, who were both battling cancer at the time. Their set was very well received and the group decided to stick around permanently, though a new album was not to surface until 2005 in the shape of, "Recovered," which comprised of re-recordings of old songs. Although he never left the band, in 2005, Altus joined fellow Bay Area metal veterans Exodus as their new guitarist (where he remains to this day,) which raised the bands profile amongst younger Exodus fans who hadn’t heard Heathen previously. The group kept promising that an album consisting of all new material would be released though and proved to be true to their word when they finally released, "The Evolution Of Chaos" in 2010. Once again, the album received strong positive feedback, earning perfect scores from some metal publications. Since the release of, "The Evolution Of Chaos," the band has been touring sporadically, most notably in Europe with other thrash metal legends such as Destruction and Overkill. If their latest album is anything to go by, let’s hope that Heathen stick around for a good while, because they’ve proved once again that Heathen simply oozes high quality.
Heathen - "Set Me Free"
Heathen - "Save The Skull"
Heathen - "Hypnotised"
Heathen - "Dying Season"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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