Heretic – From Reverends to Reverence

Monday, 18th November 2013

A fate worse than being an actual hair band or thrash also-ran in the 80’s was never actually being either. Two well-known examples exist: Armored Saint and Metal Church, two bands every bit as musically worthy in their own right, but since they didn’t cater to either style, got lodged in some sort of tagless musical no-man’s land. Armored Saint’s Joey Very admitted as such to this scribe, and Metal Church leader Kurdt Vanderhoof has stated similar sentiments on many occasions, but don’t overlook the third band of note to emerge from this cross-section: Los Angeles’ Heretic.

Formed in 1985 by guitarist Brian Korben, the band enjoyed relative club success during a three-year run that saw them produce the 1986 Torture Knows No Boundary EP, and 1988 Breaking Point full-length. Stylistically, the band had no trouble running with the big gallop dogs ala Maiden and Priest, while keeping up with the technical pyro coming from Megadeth and even Metallica. So with all this sonic jumbling and taste-testing, Korban relays to DR that success in the L.A. scene hedged largely upon visibility.

“In the early days, we fit in just fine,” he begins. “We played a lot with Armored Saint locally and gained a loyal following fairly quick. Like any new scene, it blossomed very fast. The scene was very competitive, but for the most part, every band knew each other and supported each other. If you were in a band, you were out seeing all the other bands play, just so you could be seen and pass out flyers to get exposure for your own group. By the late 80’s, hair metal kind of took over the clubs because it was more MTV friendly and the heavier acts were on a collision course with grunge.”

Indeed grunge killed many bands in the early 90’s, but it wasn’t flannel, Kurt Cobain, and diluted power chords that were the death knell for Heretic…it was the departure of leather-lunged Mike Howe to join the above-mentioned Metal Church.

“Heretic started a search for a new singer after Mike Howe left, but all roads were leading us to start working with [former Metal Church vocalist] David Wayne,” says Korban. “It was an odd swap of vocalists to say the least. Dave did not want to replace Mike in Heretic, so we chose disband Heretic, and form a new group to be called Reverend, which was Heretic songs with Dave singing.”

It took the band 23 years to reform, so when the bells came calling in 2011, Korban rounded up Torture Knows No Boundary vocalist Julian Mendez, the now ex-Hirax pair of Angelo Espino (bass) and Glenn Rogers (guitar), and drummer Ignazio Coppola. According to Korban, the primary reason for Heretic’s reformation wasn’t money or the need to rekindle relationships with former band members.

“The reason I started playing again is due to my own envy,” he admits. “I was seeing pictures of my dear friends Glenn Rogers and Angelo Espino playing festivals in Europe in front of thousands of people with the band Hirax. Glenn had been telling me for years that I should consider reforming Heretic, but I never took it to serious. When Julian came to me and asked if I would want to play a few shows as Heretic, I was all in and started writing new songs right away.”

The result of Korban’s songwriting surge is 2012’s A Time of Crisis. The album maintains the band’s common power/thrash hybrid, utilizing Mendez’s expressive mid-range as well as the muscular, taut riffing of Korban and Rogers. Of course, none of this would be possible if Korban didn’t hook up with the right people for Heretic Mach II.

“This is the most fun I’ve playing in a band to date,” he enthuses. “We are all old friends who get to sneak away from our families a couple of nights a week and make music. Now that I’m older, I really enjoy playing a lot more than when I was young. We don’t have the pressure to succeed like we did in the past. For the band, the smallest step forward is now a giant leap forward as far as I’m concerned. Sure we want to push the band as far as we can go, but this time I’m enjoying the ride.

Therefore the goal is play some cool shows, shuffle on over to Europe, and pump out albums, right?

“You left out world domination,” laughs Korban. “Yeah, you hit it right on the head. The goal is to record as much as possible and get out on weekend tours around our work schedules.”

This year saw the marvelous From the Vault…Tortured and Broken (Metal Blade) box set released. The set features a remastered version of Breaking Point, and the inclusion of the Torture Knows No Boundary EP. For bonus, some hard-to-find live jams were included, complete with sound bumps (i.e. cassette tape blips) along with a bonus live DVD, and A+ plus packaging that helps give the Heretic back catalog some clarity.

“I have to give full credit to the wonderful people at Metal Blade Europe for all the packaging,” says Korban. “I can up with the title, that’s about it. I can’t say enough how happy we are with the whole package, and what it is doing to help promote our current project.

“It was amazing listening to the old Country Club show we were able to add to the DVD,” he finishes. “I hadn’t realized how many songs we had that never had a chance to be recorded. As I write new songs, other songs get pushed aside and forgotten. There are four songs that never saw the light of day, ‘Master At Her Game,’ ‘Escape,’ ‘Burn Away the Night,’ and ‘Too much.’ I’m sure we will find a way to record an updated version of a couple for a couple of these songs.”

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