Review Summary: And Justice For All, Part II. Possibly one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever released period.
It took four years for Heathen to release the followup to their awesome debut, Breaking the Silence. That album was superb, showcasing most of the band's strengths. It was nearly impossible to not headbang to the pummeling riffage of Open the Grave or Death by Hanging, but it was also nearly impossible not to sing along to the main riff of Goblin's Blade or the chorus to the title track. Heathen could write aggressive music with a keen eye for melody, able to work catchy, memorable stuff in there without sacrificing an ounce of metallic goodness. Parts of Breaking the Silence, namely the tracks Open the Grave and World's End, showcased progressive tendencies. What if these elements were to be fleshed out further?
Enter Victims of Deception. Victims of Deception showcases immense technical skill on the part of the performers. Absolutely everything has improved this time around. Piercy and Atlus still deliver lots of intense and catchy riffs, and the soloing is even more technically proficient and brilliant than before. While their riffs are often more memorable here, there's also an increase in overall aggression. There's nothing as menacing as the opening to Mercy Is No Virtue to be found at all on Breaking the Silence. Victims of Deception is definitely a more fiery and brutal thrash metal album than its predecessor. A slim majority of it is probably in the midpaced range, there's Guitarmony and Prisoners of Fate, and David White's vocals are still well-sung, but when Hypnotized finally kicks into full gear, one notices a newfound level of intensity and speed that is not to be found on Breaking the Silence.
There isn't one thing here that's not way better. As stated directly above, Piercy and Atlus still write and excellently perform memorable riffs and leads, but now they sound a bit angrier, though there are definitely dynamic moments. David White also improves significantly. He's still a magnificent singer, but now...well, he's got a lot more balls. He sings with more conviction on this album, seemingly carrying more of a metal edge to his voice. Marc Biedermann, frontman of Blind Illusion (Which David White is a former member of), plays bass here, although he wasn't their "official" bassist. Most of the time, the bass doesn't stand out too much, as this is definitely a guitar driven album. But it's still usually somewhat audible, and Fear of the Unknown sports a cool bass intro. New drummer Darren Minter is no Dave Lombardo or Charlie Benante, but he is nonetheless more than competent on here. A very, very important improvement is the production values. The bass is actually audible on occasion, and the guitar tone is now razor-sharp. It kind of sounds like Ride the Lightning or And Justice For All. Fitting, considering that this album's tendency towards long, technically demanding songs with unusual structures combined with a melodic edge makes it feel like And Justice For All, Part II. The drums and vocals sound a lot more powerful here, and are no longer buried in reverb. If the bass was a touch louder, I would consider this the definitive thrash metal sound.
Opening with a speech sample from deranged preacher Jim Jones (See the Jonestown mass suicide incident, which spawned the phrase "Don't drink the Kool-Aid"), Hypnotized is properly introduced with heavy distorted guitars underneath an ominous acoustic riff. As the soloing comes in and the song builds up a bit, you know that this album's going to rule. Soon, they're going full speed. Nothing on Breaking the Silence is this fast! Then White comes in, shouting away. "Masses form into religion, to fulfill their lives!" With the super catchy main riff and vocal lines, this song's an instant classic. The frantic yet brilliant shredding from Atlus and Piercy only serves to further prove this. Opiate of the Masses, the best Heathen song and one of my favorite songs ever, opens with an absolutely orgasmic dual guitar intro. So, so good! How are these guys not multi-platinum superstars? The answer is that reality is cruel. Pounding heavy riffage abound, and White's vocals are still in top form. The infectious chorus here is impressive. "Power is the fix! And man is drawn to it!" ***, this is so good. The riffs get more crushing, leading to a dual guitar moment reminiscent of the fantastic intro, culminating in more full-speed thrashing and skillful shredding. "POWER!
To this world/Brings death and destruction! Leaving the Earth in decay!" Heathen's Song...if you're heard "Heathen" from the Pray For Death demos or from Breaking the Silence, you'll somewhat know what to expect. Beginning with a melodic acoustic guitar intro, they don't take long to launch into crunchy riffage. Featuring everything from a fast and aggressive climax to melodic passages, Heathen's Song is probably my favorite rendition of this metal epic. David White's dynamic performance really adds to the musically varied feel of the song. By the way, it's the longest song on here, clocking in at nine and a half minutes.
Next up is a cover of Rainbow's Kill the King. Not familiar with the original, but this version is pretty good. "Fly like the wiiiiiind!" The next track is Fear of the Unknown. Opening with a cool bass and acoustic guitar intro complimented with an eerie synth, they set up an atmosphere that would leave one to believe this is in a similar vein to Heathen's Song. Though it is over seven minutes long, it's definitely more straightforward thrash, with some slicing riffage. The riffs during the double bass parts nearing the end are particularly menacing. A lot of riffs in this song are quite fast and aggressive. I'd say this is probably the most pure "thrash" song so far. So naturally, it's followed up by Prisoners of Fate. I can imagine this being a big MTV hit in the late '80s or so, getting Heathen the recognition they truly deserve...too bad that didn't happen. While this might be my least favorite song on the record (Yet it's still fantastic! Tell you something?), there are two things that stand out. The first is the incredibly memorable chorus. "Life is a gamble! No matter how you play the game! Roll the diiiice! And take your chances!" Like I said, this could have totally been a huge hit if it were released some time earlier. The second thing that stands out about this song is the genius melodic soloing that leads the song out.
What's the best way to follow up a ballad that came after the most raging thrasher yet? With an even more raging thrasher! Morbid Curiosity opens with that fill from Darren Minter and introduces that razor-sharp riff, and doesn't let up from that point on. Yet another amazing refrain is here ("Sirens screaming into the night...), as well as more and more great riffs, ranging from the fast ones that cut like a knife to slower, heavier ones that are impossible not to headbang to. One of my favorite guitar solos of all time comes after the section with the sirens. Oh yeah, the song even has interesting, thought provoking subject matter, dealing with people's fascination with disasters that happen on the road, and the psychological factors leading to said fascination. "Some people love to hear it/The disaster of the day! It makes them feel better/While their own lives decaaaaaaay!" Magnificent, magnificent stuff.
Speaking of magnificence, Guitarmony is nothing short of absolute brilliance. Tons of "Oh ***, that was cool!" moments tucked into one three and a half minute guitar-driven (obviously) instrumental. One again playing into the pattern of "softer/heavier" introduced with track 5, Mercy Is No Virtue follows Guitarmony is and thrashers harder than anything else here. Somehow, this song's riffs are way more vicious than anything that came before them on here. Just check out the opening seconds, with rapid-fire double bass, speedy, chugging riffage, and ominous, thundering power chords introducing what is to be the most brutal, balls-out track on the album by far. Gotta love that section a bit after two and a half minutes in, with that awesomely heavy riff. It's brief, but perfect to mosh to. Then into another ominous section, and when the double bass comes in and it all gels together, the brilliance of this album and its status as an absolute obscure classic will be sealed into your head. Timeless Cell of Prophecy is a full-speed thrashing track as well, and although it would be a less than memorable closing track overall, a few riffs (including a certain very, very good one that appears for the first time about twenty seconds in) are all it takes to redeem it. That and, of course, the soloing that drips with yet more brilliance.
It's a bit hard to put into words just how good this album is, but be assured that it's some of the best stuff you'll ever find in the thrash metal genre. In fact, I would probably place it among the greatest heavy metal albums recorded. It's just that good. With solos so brilliant in performance and composition, with riffs and refrains that make you want to sing along while giving yourself whiplash, with superbly performed vocals from David White, and pounding percussion from Darren Minter to top it all off, Victims of Deception is a criminally obscure classic that I would recommend to just about any heavy metal fan. It's also, no two ways about it, an essential
album for fans of the more melodic side of thrash metal, especially anyone who digs progressive or technical thrash. It's just that good. Some thrashards might be disappointed that it's not the most raw or brutal album around, but it doesn't need to be. 5/5.