Heathen was officially formed in 1985, but had deeper roots extending to the early 80's. Guitarist Doug Piercy, drummer Carl Sacco and singer Sam Kress were integral Bay Area names. Kress would come up with the band's name. The band went bassless for a while but eventually recruited Sceptre's Eric Wong. This line-up churned out an inaugural demo in 1986 called Pray For Death, but Wong was soon turfed for incoming bassist Yaz. Carl and Lee had been teenage neighbours. The early line-up also featured Jim Sanguinetti who would soon join Mordred.
Combat records on the East Coast soon went for the band's complex speed metal sound and released the debut in 1997. Local hero Ronnie Montrose from the 70's band Montrose would produce the LP. The label would issue a single for the track Set Me Free, which was a Sweet cover version. Heathen would soon begin bleeding members. One new recruit was bassist Biedermann, an old pal of singer Godfrey. Godfrey was soon out though. Apparently the band and label were concerned with his voice's commercial viability. None other than Exodus' Paul Baloff is recruited to fill the vacant slot. Baloff was already booted from Exodus owing to his personality and addiction and predictably will not last. Godfrey is soon back. Baloff returned to Piranha for a while. The band was simultaneously off the Combat deal after expressing much dissatisfaction with the label's lack of support.
Heathen released its second album through Roadrunner in 1991 after a four-year hiatus. The new company promoted the album by citing the presence of a Rainbow cover version. The album featured bassist Randy Laire. The band would also drop Doug from the line-up. The band toured with Sacred Reich and Sepultura. Roadrunner would soon drop the band. It was rumoured at the time that Heathen was not selling well and the members were acting unprofessionally. Laire was soon killed in a car accident. A couple of the band members would soon form a cover band called The Company. Others would play in Bomb Threat. Future Grip Inc man Jason Vie Brooks soon joined the ever-changing fold, but things would soon fall apart. Altus had moved to Germany to become a part of the techno/dance band Die Krupps. Joining him was Darren Minter. Minter left the fold in late 1994 because he was incarcerated in the USA for possession of illegal weapons.
What goes around comes around and it was reported in late 2000 that Altus, Godfrey, Rasmussen, Vie Brooks and Minter have reformed Heathen. Minter would remain involved in Deconstruct and Angelwitch. Altus had earlier denied the possibility of a Heathen reunion. Heathen played at the Thrash Of The Titans show in 2001 and Wacken in 2002 and began working on a new album called Recovered.
The much-delayed Recovered Rarities (later Recovered) album was later postponed to March, and then May, 2004. The band would then set out to write a new album, albeit without guitarist Doug Piercy who had opted not to join the band. Heathen recruited bassist Jon Torres (formerly of Lääz Rockit, The Lord Weird Slough, Angelwitch and others) in June, 2004 to replace Mark Biedermann. The third album was scheduled for release in the spring of 2005 through Thundering Records. Entitled Recovered, the band had begun the project in 1992, but tracks remained archived and unfinished until 2005. Bassist Mike "Yaz" Jastremski, a veteran of the Bay Rea scene, died in May of 2005. Altus joined Exodus. One-time singer Sam Kress died at the end of 2006.
Drummer Darren Minter and guitarist Terry Lauderdale left in 2008. Guitarist Kragen Lum of Prototype and drummer Mark Hernandez formerly of Vio-Lence were temporarily in the band. Minter returned in time for the summer recording sessions however. The band would release a new album, The Evolution Of Chaos, in January of 2010 (delayed from July 20th, 2009 and again from November of 2009) through Mascot Records. A tour of Europe was planned for March of 2010. Heathen cancelled its planned Mexican shows of October 15th in Monterrey and October 16th, 2010 in Mexico City because the promoter failed to fulfill its financial obligations. Heathen was still due to hit Europe with Destruction, After All and Overkill in March. Heathen was temporarily re-joined by bassist Jason VieBrooks (ex-Grip Inc.) given that Jon Torres was staying away from the band in order to work on his health. The band was touring with Overkill and Destruction. Sepultura, Exodus, Heathen and Destruction were touring Europe using the Thrashfest Classics monicker. Sepultura was playing songs from its Beneath The Remains, Arise and Chaos A.D. albums. The tour would take place in November and December. Exodus, Heathen and Death Angel were among the bands that played at a celebration for Exodus guitarist Gary Holt and his girlfriend Lisa Perticone's wedding. The event took place on Saturday, September 24th, 2011 at Avalon in Santa Clara, California. Nuclear Blast Records signed the Bay Area’s Heathen in 2012. The label’s roster included other thrash metal bands Testament, Exodus, Forbidden and Death Angel. The band cancelled its summer 2012 shows. A reason was not offered. Jon Torres of Angelwitch, Ulysses Siren, Heathen and LÃÃz Rockit, died Monday September 2nd, 2013 due to heart failure. Guitarist Vinnie LaBella (Exhorder), bassist Jason Viebrooks (Grip Inc. and Heathen) and drummer Sasha Horn (Forbidden and Heathen) had a 2017 project called Year Of The Tyrant.
Heathen would release an album called Empire Of The Blind through Nuclear Blast Records in 2020.
HEATHEN - BREAKING THE SILENCE - COMBAT/CENTURY MEDIA
Can you imagine Malmsteen without the classical influences and Testament with clear, sometimes high-pitch vocals, combined with Speed Metal? Add a bit of Iron Maiden to that (especially in the guitar work), and you get Heathen.
Breaking The Silence was originally released through Combat Records in 1987, but the CD used for this review is the Century Media re-release of 1999. Heathen’s most prominent band members at that time were guitarists Lee Altus and Doug Piercy (former member of Anvil Chorus, Exodus and Legacy) and singer David Godfrey (Blind Illusion). Godfrey might be the most melodic Bay Area singer of his time, which is already evident in the opener: Death By Hanging begins with a Malmsteen-like intro, but soon develops into a straight-forward riff monster with a catchy chorus: "Death by hanging ... death from the gallows ... death by hanging around". You notice a certain kind of (maybe unintended) humour. Goblin’s Blade features fantasy lyrics given the fact that Goblins traditionally guard bridges and kill people who are unable to answer their questions again, melodic vocals. Open the grave is a mid-tempo song with a tapping intro, whereas Pray For Death criticizes the military, politicians and religion or at least their negative aspects. The solos are lightning-fast here. Set Me Free is a Sweet cover that does not really fit the atmosphere of the album. It is not a good song in its original form, but of course the guitar parts are improved here and sound like Maiden during the solos. The title track again has a Maiden touch until the main riff sets in and clearly identifies it as pure Heathen. World’s End starts with an acoustic intro, but gets heavy soon after. The creative riffing and several bridges and sub-choruses are unique. Save The Skull is simple and a bit weaker than the rest. The re-release also features the bonus track Heathen from the 1986 Pray For Death demo with a great melodic middle part and four songs from same demo, namely Pray For Death (with a church organ), Goblin’s Blade, Open The Grave, and Heathen in another version.
This is a very melodic album, yet still incredibly heavy, fast and creative. - Andreas Herzog
HEATHEN - THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS - MASCOT
The Evolution Of Chaos is one of the increasingly uncommon breeds of metal albums that surprises - pleasantly. Even in its heyday of late '80s Heathen was better known for being a slightly more technical and more complex version of the Bay Area thrash metal acts. Indeed, Heathen was part speed, part heavy and only part thrash metal.
The Evolution Of Chaos is mature, but devastatingly heavy hitting. With the aid of a big sound Lee Altus and David White, as well as returning drummer Darren Minter, bassist Jon Torres and second guitarist Kragen Lum deliver on the hope of a strong, serious and genuine metal album. It begins with a sitar with the tour de force Dying Season displaying some Middle Eastern sounds. The Bay Area sound lives on here with many shades of Testament (particularly The New Order era), Exodus and even 1986 Metallica present. The album - no surprise for Heathen - is bursting with ripping melodic solos with both guitarists contributing quality and quantity-wise. On top of this, Heathen has tapped into the energy of the hardcore sound for the bursts of energy that keep this behemoth churning out crushing tracks. It really is hell of a successful album.
David White really sounds like Dark Angel’s Ron Rinehart. He is gritty, powerful and has a limited range that he, nonetheless, puts to perfect use. The drumming is brutal and there is ample use of the bass drums. Minter has a superb sound with the snare being far far away from the crappy lightweight pots and pans sound that drummers seem to favour. The drums on this album are tuned for heaviness.
The lyrics are substantial and interesting for sure, but the group is deliberately deducted ten points for the stupidity of A Hero’s Welcome. After seemingly understanding the futility and stupidity of war on other songs the song sticks with the tried and true 'soldiers are heroes' shtick. Americans.
The album benefits from the contributions of Sadus’ Steve DiGiorgio (on sitar!) and Exodus’ Gary Holt, but it is the songs, power and sound of The Evolution Of Chaos that makes Heathen a serious proposition in 2010. This album is equal to Exodus’ recent output and better than the music that groups like Death Angel have been delivering to Nuclear Blast. Mascot has a winner on its hands. - Ali “The Metallian”