|The San Francisco Bay Area has produced what is undoubtedly the greatest lineage Heavy Metal in the 30-odd years of the genre's existence. During the period from 1982-1992, many bands have come and gone and few having survived 'til today. However, recent times called for the reformation of some of the Bay Area's finest Thrash bands looking to rise up once more and reclaim the throne of heavy music. Such is Heathen's story.
One of the most unique bands to rise from the second wave of the Bay Area Thrash explosion, Heathen's style was characterized by high-speed precision riffage and harmony sections coupled with melodic singing. Inspired by '70s rock acts such as Rainbow, the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) and the first wave of Thrash Metal (Metallica and Exodus), Heathen was formed in late 1984 by Russian-born Lee Altus (guitars) and Carl Sacco (drums). Vocalist Sam Kress and guitarist Jim Sanguinetti joined the duo and this primordial version of Heathen played one gig in April 1985. Within the year Sanguinetti (who moved on to Mordred) were replaced with Dave White of Blind Illusion and Doug Piercy of Anvil Chorus/Control; and Eric Wong (Specter) was enlisted as Heathen's first bass player. This revamped lineup of Heathen debuted at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco on February 9, 1986.
In April of the same year the classic self-produced demo Pray For Death was recorded. This demo paved the way for the band's contract with Combat Records, which released Heathen's debut record Breaking The Silence in 1987. By the time of recording the band had replaced Eric Wong with Mike "Yaz" Jastremski of Griffin. The record was produced by Ronnie Montrose. A cover of Sweet's Set Me Free was released as a single and was well-received by radio and was on heavy rotation on MTV's Headbangers' Ball.
Breaking The Silence went on to sell close to 100,000 copies worldwide. Carl Sacco was replaced by Darren Minter from Dissident Aggressor and a headlining tour across America followed. In late 1988 Dave White was briefly replaced with Exodus's Paul Baloff and Mike Jastremski left the band soon after to form Pigs. The following year White returned to the band and Heathen gigged with a rotating bass slot, including Vern McElroy and Manny Bravo.
In 1991 Heathen's sophomore record Victims Of Deception was issued on Roadracer Records. With four years between albums, the band had crafted some of the best material to come out of the Bay Area. The musical progress was evident in the complex double harmony sections backed with frantic solos and complex rhythms; Darren Minter's drumming was a fast-paced Thrash assault compared to his predecessor's more calculated style and Dave White's vocal performance was top notch: the trappings of an epic album. Marc Biedermann from Blind Illusion played bass on the record as a guest (because the position had not been filled) and Thaen Rasmussen from Anvil Chorus also did some lead work on Prisoners of Fate and Guitarmony, which he co-wrote with Doug Piercy.
In the summer of 1991 Heathen embarked on their first European tour, in support of Victims Of Deception, opening for Sepultura. The band had finally broken out of America and was well-received by the fans throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Soon after returning home, Heathen was to begin rehearsing for their West Coast tour. Randy Laire and his girlfriend Mya were involved in a fatal car accident. After grieving their deaths, Heathen began a search to fill the vacant bass spot. Ohio native Jason Viebrooks was recruited to replace Laire. Then Doug Piercy was replaced by Ira Black. The band started recording what was to be an EP including covers from the likes of Queen, Thin Lizzy, Sweet Savage, Tygers of Pan Tang and an original tune as a tribute to their departed bandmate and David's brother Jeffrey, who also passed away while the band was in Europe. Thaen Rasmussen also was
included in this project. Unfortunately, these recordings were not finished at the time.
During the years that followed Lee Altus sought an opportunity cutting a few records with German industrial monsters Die Krupps. Dave White briefly fronted Bay Area locals Inner Threshold; Ira Black more recently joined Vicious Rumours and Jason Viebrooks went on to Dave Lombardo's Grip Inc. Darren Minter played on one Die Krupps record and later on with Soul Motor and Sideswipe (who recently signed to Columbia Records). Heathen seemed a distant memory until, ironically, unfortunate circumstances heralded their return.
In the summer of 2001, Heathen regrouped with most of the 1992 line-up (with Mike "Yaz" Jastremski back) and took part in Chuck Billy's Thrash Of The Titans to raise funds for the Testament frontman's cancer treatment. The concert was a great success, drawing fans from all over the world. Soon after, Heathen was invited to play in Hamburg, Germany for the 2002 Wacken festival. Heathen received great reviews and has been re-energized. Ending the year of 2003, Heathen went back in to the studio with co-producer Rob Beaton to finish the unfinished material as well as adding their four-song Opiate of the Masses demo, which includes tracks from the Victims of Deception album. All of this material is to be released in the new year, 2004. Recovered is the title of this upcoming album release.