Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Heretic - A Time of Crisis

Heretic are a groovy power/thrash band perhaps best known for being fronted by Mike Howe shortly before he joined Metal Church. The band met an untimely end after his departure following their only full-length in 1988, but over 20 years later they have returned with Julian Mendez, the vocalist on their debut EP, along with founding guitarist Brian Korban and a powerful support crew with a few more veterans. Still loyal to the 80s heavy metal style, they released this sophomore effort in 2012.

The band finds their groove, quite literally, somewhere between faster heavy metal riffs and mid-paced, groovier riffs. They don't get to a full-on thrash speed, rather finding their power in the hefty tone of the vocals. Mendez has tons of grit and power and a respectable melodic range, but he mostly focuses on the force of his mid range - a strong complement to the riffing. Nearly all of the energy from the songs is derived from the driving force of the riffs and vocals, which have quite a bit of power in them, though they could use a stronger complement. The drumming is fairly constant in following the direction of the guitars and vocals, staying on pace with the song, but it could drive the music a bit more in emphasizing the faster parts and providing a bit of rhythmic variation in the slower parts. The snare seems to be a bit low in the mix, buried beneath the vocals somewhat, especially for this style of music. A higher pitched vocalist leaves more room in the mix at the frequencies that the snare cuts through, just a small detraction from a band
that otherwise fits together well.

It seems as if the high points on the album come when the band provides a bit of variety, be it the up-tempo parts of "Tomorrow's Plague" or "Heretic", the rock and roll of "Child of War", or the melody of "Let Me Begin Again". These differences help emphasize the force of their near-constant propulsion of the mid-paced thrashing, which is certainly the band's forte, but not their only strength. In a way, they're on one track and they stick to it while swaying to either side at times.

One of the nice highlights of the album is when they break down their approach into even groovier territory on "Betrayed" and "Police State", where the music feels trampling and anthemic, still the same headbanging riffs that they consistently deliver, but the force and grit of them comes across quite forcefully and very nicely in the slower parts of these tunes. Similarly, the faster tracks and sections are still quite similar to the others, except for the tempo, but it provides a pleasant and powerful variation of the band doing what they do well - power thrashing. It's quite an appropriate genre label as they manage to blend the power of their vocalist with thrash riffs that are quite groovy - that's just what their music feels like, and they're the same type of style as Metal Church and Sacred Reich. They stick to what they do quite adamantly, and it's good heavy metal, but it wouldn't be hurt by a bit more variety in speed and melody.

A Time of Crisis is sure to please if you like well-produced, mid-paced heavy metal with a strong foundation of old school metal mixed with a more modern, groove/thrashy approach and a powerful vocalist who contributes percussively while still keeping some melody. If this doesn't seem like quite your style, perhaps this is one to pass over - this isn't one of the strongest of this style, rather a nice example worth a listen if you enjoy it. It is consistent, but not standout, good if you like the style, but a bit repetitive if you're not really into it. If you like California thrash metal, Manowar style heavy metal, or you're from Germany, you'll likely enjoy this album.

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