HERETIC
"From the Vault: Tortured and Broken"

(Metal Blade)

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RATING: 8.5/10

Back in the day, L.A. power metallers HERETIC became a cult legend, mostly in correlation with of the history of METAL CHURCH. The original unit only played from 1985 to 1988 before they disbanded once their third vocalist in as many years, Mike Howe, went on to front METAL CHURCH, another band in disarray. Howe would receive accolades for his performance on METAL CHURCH's "Blessing in Disguise", while the exiled David Wayne would hook up with HERETIC guitarist Brian Korban and bassist Dennis O'Hara to form REVEREND. In 2011, Korban and original vocalist Julian Mendez would kick HERETIC back into action with a new lineup including former HIRAX and REVEREND bassist Angelo Espino, ex-HIRAX guitarist Glenn Rogers and drummer Ignazio Coppola.

Having first made their mark on Metal Blade Records' seventh "Metal Massacre" compilation from 1986 with "Impulse", HERETIC cut their "Torture Knows No Boundary" EP (also known as "Don't Turn Your Back") the same year. That was eventually followed by their full-length debut "Breaking Point" in '88. Probably because ARMORED SAINT and W.A.S.P. were dominating the west coast power metal bracket and because thrash was waging war against AOR glam metal, HERETIC was inadvertently swept under the mat of the scene, despite their sizeable following. Having staged their own lyrical war against the Parental Music Resource Center (PMRC), spearheaded by Tipper Gore, HERETIC's melodic tirade against censorship with their stellar metal ode, "The Circle" constitutes what is now a lost classic.

This year, Metal Blade, friend and host to HERETIC's modest legacy, releases "From the Vault: Tortured and Broken", a box set including the re-mastered versions of "Torture Knows No Boundary" and "Breaking Point", plus a DVD featuring two live capsules of the band in 1985 and 1986, the latter as openers for MEGADETH. Also included on the DVD is the amusing promotional clip for "Let 'em Bleed" from HERETIC's "Crash & Burn" video, and commentary from KNAC's Will Howell with Korban and Mendez. Squeezed onto the CDs are audio selections from the two featured concerts and a re-recording of "Blood Will Tell" by the current HERETIC lineup.

While the two HERETIC releases are presented in reverse order, if you want a proper perspective, begin your listening session with the second disc and savor the rawness of the band during "Torture Knows No Boundary". Then you can appreciate how quickly the band evolved in the two years between the EP and "Breaking Point". Even remastered, HERETIC's cover of "Riding With the Angels" (previously done by Russ Ballard and SAMSON) is devoured by a clanging echo behind drummer Rick Merrick, yet it sounds so welcoming if you come from the Eighties. Julian Mendez is hardly Bruce Dickinson, but HERETIC does a hearty take nonetheless.

The subsequent "Blood Will Tell" and "Portrait of Faith" wrap traditional American and British heavy metal modes into compact and brisk packages. Ultimately, HERETIC changes the buzzing scheme of "Portrait of Faith" with a tasty bridge following railing guitar solos from Brian Korban and Robert Marquez. "Whitechapel" is the heaviest (and smartest arranged) track on "Torture Knows No Boundary" with the gritty Julian Mendez shrieking at times over the song's mincing chug. The breakdowns and bridges of "Whitechapel", along with the gloomy instrumental for "Torture Knows No Boundary", shows the forward thinking HERETIC would soon take on "Breaking Point".

While some folks have erroneously referred to HERETIC as a speed metal band, at least "Heretic" comes raging out of a terrific acoustic intro on "Breaking Point" and later, the chewy thrash of "Let 'em Bleed". Far more polished than "Torture Knows No Boundary", the HERETIC unit that stepped into the recording studio with Mike Howe for "Breaking Point" exhibited twofold maturity. It's not just in the upgraded production values. Mike Howe possesses better control and range than Julian Mendez and accordingly, the HERETIC band circa 1988 shows much more confidence in their songwriting. Though "Breaking Point" plays largely on a mid-tempo roll, the riffs are tighter, the rhythms are snugger and Howe's ability to extend his vocals gives HERETIC opportunity to adorn their tracks, add a few extra bars per song and maintain a metrical, huffing cadence.

"The Circle" is an unacknowledged metal gem that deserves bigger attention. An impeccable marriage of acoustic and electric, "The Circle" is one of the most refined metal tracks of the late eighties. It never loses an ounce of strength with its stamping strides and it carries a translucent tang with Brian Korban and Robert Marquez's fragile acoustic and static couplings, played like a mantra as the verses roll along. Their tag solo on "The Circle" is equally taut and stylish.

Later in the album, "The Search" attempts to cast the same entrancing spell as "The Circle", albeit there's much more attention paid to progressive movements in the extensive intro. Still, the haunting acoustic lines and Mike Howe's harmonious high octaves escalate and lavish what soon turns into a slow-measured power anthem. In between, the songs of "Breaking Point" such as "Shifting Fire", "Time Runs Short", "And Kingdoms Fall" and "Enemy Within" assume a hard-driving crunch yielding moderate variations. "Time Runs Short" plus "And Kingdoms Fall" do have the benefit of some accelerated riffing in spots. "Pale Shelter", noted by Brian Korban to be a "tribute to the lost art of the Michael Schenker (UFO) instrumental", picks up where "Torture Knows No Boundary" left off and it's nailed splendidly. If there's any glaring fault to "Breaking Point", however, it's a sense of redundancy, even if HERETIC plays their hand on this album with no thought to folding. Sadly, the folding part would become a reality not long after "Breaking Point" was released.

The bonus DVD will be more for old-school metalheads who remember the days of VHS bootlegging. You can even see tape track lines as the antiquated video manages to hold though the hazy projection. What's lost in visual presentation is compensated by the opportunity to hear HERETIC's songs in a vintage live capacity. The Country Club show on December 26, 1985 is the better of the two concerts visually, but not by much. As HERETIC rips through their set with the shaggy-headed Mike Torrez at the helm, you'll get to see "Blood Will Tell", "Whitechapel" and "Impulse" along with the never-recorded songs "Escape", "Too Much", "Burn Away the Night" and "Master at Her Game". With Lizzy Borden introducing the band, HERETIC delivers a rambunctious performance which finds Torrez diving into the crowd during the scorching team solo for "Escape". Torrez is followed by the band's tech Trevor Rick, who fishes him out of the throng. Crazy fun, as it is getting to see HERETIC work through an evolving version of "Heretic".

By contrast, the "Jezebels" show from 1986 with Mike Howe on the mike furnishes a better stage performance, even if the video and audio get garbled frequently. You get much of "Breaking Point" delivered live plus the "Riding With the Angels" cover and a rowdy tear through AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock".

"From the Vault: Tortured and Broken" is designed to re-expose HERETIC and hopefully land into the hands of newer metal disciples looking to bolster their knowledge of the genre's roots. HERETIC hardly broke ground in their first run, but they were certainly more than just "that band Mike Howe used to sing for before METAL CHURCH."

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