You know everything old is new again when mega marginal bands like Heretic decide to make a comeback. Even in the salad days of the 80s, Heretic was a small-time, bit player. They only managed an EP (Torture Knows No Boundaries, which was quite good) and one full length (Breaking Point, which had moments but was mostly average). Their big claim to fame was the brief sojourn of vocalist Mike Howe, who was quickly poached by Metal Church when they booted David Wayne. After that, Heretic called it a day and became a footnote in metal history (though oddly enough, most of them ended up forming Reverend with the displaced David Wayne). Now, they’re back by nonexistent demand with a new line up and new album A Time of Crisis. Despite their low profile, I was quite eager to hear this, since I still spin their EP fairly often (“White Chapel,” “Blood Will Tell” and “Portrait of Faith” were all really good songs). Their old sound was a straight forward, 80s metal approach like Metal Church, Obsession and especially Armored Saint. The new approach is heavier, ranging from mid-paced to quasi-thrash and sounds uncannily like the material Reverend was spitting out on their debut EP and the World Won’t Miss You album. Unfortunately, like the hot chick from high school you see again at the twenty year reunion; this thing got real ugly. It’s poorly executed, tedious, dull and generic. Between this and Grave Digger, the bands of my youth are really pissing the bed lately!
It doesn’t take long at all for the problems to become evident. While the riffing on “Tomorrow’s Plague” is heavy and crunchy, like a mix of Practice What you Preach-era Testament and the Fight debut, it’s also uninspired and dull. Original vocalist Julian Mendez sounds NOTHING like he did on their 86 EP and his new style is a low, raspy, one-note performance that’s instantly irritating and never ever improves (his singing at 2:5o is so lifeless and pained, it boggles the mind). He sounds like a mutant hybrid of Chuck Billy, Oderus Urungus and Udo, which should have been euthanized in the lab. I know age does bad things to us all, but… geez. Musically, things don’t improve much with numbers like “Betrayed,” “Remains” or the title track, and its one snoozy chug-fest after another, adorned with terrible vocals.
It isn’t until the back half of the album that Heretic manages a few minor victories. “For Your Faith” has some decent guitar moments (especially at the beginning), the re-recording of “Heretic” is okay, but it’s a pale shadow of the version with Mike Howe. The best of the litter is “Child of War,” which sounds like the recent Accept material and has a more urgent vibe. Lastly, “Police State” has some effective riffing, but the song itself is no great shakes. Overall, this thing drags along with one song bleeding into another without leaving an impression. Making things more arduous, the songs are generally too long and the album itself feels VERY long. Long and boring…and bad.
The biggest problem here is Mr. Mendez. While he sounded battle-ready and full of piss and vinegar on the band’s EP, here he sounds disinterested, tired and ineffectual. His flat, deadpan delivery is a song killer and he actually sounds bored most of the time. The riffs by original axe Brian Korban and new gun Glenn Rogers are largely re-heated semi-thrash riffs we’ve heard many times before. While flashes of substance appear later in the album, it’s a case of too little, too late. The writing is listless and the choruses are all instantly forgettable. I played this thing a bunch and it was a chore every single time.
Me thinks Heretic came back to cash in on the very minor name they made for themselves back in the 80’s. I’m no economics expert, but that seems like a suspect business model, even if they managed to cough up a decent album. Hell, I’m part of their twelve-strong fan base and I couldn’t even wring any nostalgia juice out of this damn thing, since it sounds nothing like their old material. Just pretend this never happened and go track down the EP.
[Postscript: It’s come to my attention that Oderus Urungus heard I linked his name to this album and he’s understandably taken great umbrage. Naturally, he’s sworn an oath of unholy wengeance against me, my descendants and my deities. I probably should’ve seen that coming – Steel Druhm]