originally written by Jim Brandon
Truth be told, I’ve only been a moderate fan of Bay Area thrash veterans, Heathen, as they’ve always kind of come across as a band that couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to sound like Iron Maiden, or Exodus, so they decided to try to sound like both while packing the firepower of neither. But what I respect is the fact that vast time and countless trends have not sullied the direction they’ve taken, and even though it’s been the greater part of two decades since Victims Of Deception came out, their songwriting chops are just as sharp as ever, while their technical skills are still quite flawless, with quite a few moments of purely shredding thrash excellence on display.
The exotic untitled opening sitar instrumental (performed by Steve DiGiorgio) is a lithe introduction to The Evolution Of Chaos; a light, nimbly played Melechesh-like piece that leads directly into “Dying Season”, rich with rhythm guitars battling for tensely chugging supremacy over a sturdy percussive backbone, catchier-than-hell harmonies, and the gracefully-aged gravelly melody of vocalist David White all coming together to give a proper, smokin’ welcome. Classic stuff. “Control By Chaos” brings back fond memories of ”Morbid Curiosity”, and features a plethora of fluttering leads towards its conclusion that are absolutely fantastic. However, there begins an odd series of tunes that, in theory, would serve as a departure from their regular thrash/shred attack, but instead causes the midsection of the album to sound somewhat disjointed.
In unusual placement, the fourth track “No Stone Unturned” lopes along with a Pantera-lite march through the first half of its eleven minute length, and then abruptly switches gears entirely to an Opeth-esque instrumental section before finally reenergizing into something more uptempo, but still serves as little more than a very long filler piece that goes almost nowhere. “Arrows of Agony” gets things back on track nicely with its steady, almost bouncy midpaced stomp, when “Fade Away” abruptly comes pummeling forth with a lead-in riff that could have been lifted directly from The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A, but thankfully it takes a turn away from what was promising to be an interchangable Dukes-era Exodus tribute, and instead settles into a really strong fist-pounding groove with a great chorus.
It’s when “A Hero’s Welcome” arrives that things take an unfortunate turn for the worse, because this is one huge ham and cheese sandwich of a tune that has a Manowar/Iced Earth feel stamped all over it. Even Vikings would tell them to lighten up a little bit. “Undone” does decent job at bringing things back up to more aggressive levels, but at this point the momentum has still been slightly depleted until following track “Bloodkult” fully raises the thrash flag back up to ass kicking heights. “Red Tears Of Disgrace” treads back into power ballad territory, in which Heathen goes for big chords and more of those catchy harmonies and vocal hooks found on “Arrows Of Agony”, and “Fade Away”. Closer “Silent Nothingness” ends things with a full-on thrash bombardment that can only be called triumphant, since it wasn’t a completely smooth ride getting there.
What makes this disc such a reward isn’t the fact that the low points never come close enough to spoiling the highs, it’s that Heathen is obviously not trying so damn hard to sound valid or current. There’s is no feeling of anything too forced or self-aware, and as a result, everything does manage to flow extremely well despite a running length that probably wouldn’t have suffered too much with a little creative editing.
People use terms like “underrated” or “overlooked” way too often, because I still think Heathen gets their fair due with a firm resting place on the second-tier of thrash on a widespread scale, and they’ve delivered an album worthy of their name. It’s everything a fan of theirs is expecting, filled to the bursting point with astounding Altus/Lum leads, lengthy song structures, interesting melodies, and some white-hot vocals from White. There are clunkers that might be worthy of passing over (or fast forwarded in parts), and the riff patterns of the thrashier bits have never been too adventurous, really. But after so many years between releases, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear Heathen drop an album like The Evolution Of Chaos and sound modern, polished, and fresh at times, and makes for a bold statement about the vitality of some of the old schoolers out there. A vibrant return, but it might take some folks a little while to warm up to it.