Two Bay Area bands joined forces for a killer show.
Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Place: Reggies (2105 South State Street; Chicago, Illinois 60616)
Ticket Price: $20 ($25.94 after fees)
This was my first time seeing Heathen. Breaking the Silence (1987) is one of my favorite albums. I picked it up while I was in high school when I was like 15 or 16 and still listen to it regularly. I love all the songs on it. It’s a tremendous thrash metal record. Their singer David White is fantastic. He has a great voice and can actually sing, with a melodic aspect to his sound. Heathen are a really underrated band. They’re apart of all those great San Francisco Bay Area thrash bands from the ’80s. Their lyrics were always socially and politically conscious and talked about a lot of important issues. On each album their style changed, as the next record Victims of Deception (1991) had a more mature and evolved sound. I think what hurt them is the inconsistency in putting out albums and that they were gone for so long. Heathen broke up in 1993 and then returned in the early 2000s. I’ve always wanted to see them live.
Heathen are still supporting their latest album Empire of the Blind, which released in September 2020 on Nuclear Blast. Empire of the Blind is still just only their fourth album in over 35 years of the band’s history. It’s another album released during the Covid pandemic and lockdowns so they probably didn’t get to fully support it. Their last album before this one though was The Evolution of Chaos in late 2009. They haven’t put out a lot of music compared to other bands or their peers. Kragen Lum is their guitarist who has been in the band since 2007. Lum also played live shows with Exodus for several years filling in for Gary Holt when he was with Slayer. Heathen and Exodus are linked together a lot. Their other guitarist and co-founder Lee Atlus records and tours with Exodus as well since joining that band in 2005. Jason Mirza is on bass for Heathen who joined them in 2019.
Vicious Rumors are also from San Francisco. They have been around since 1979 with their first album Soldiers of the Night releasing in 1985. I guess they get put together in the heavy and power metal genres. Their lead singer Carl Albert died in a car accident at 32 years old in 1995. Since then they have continued to put out new albums with several different vocalists. Their 13th studio album was Celebration Decay that released in August 2020 on Steamhammer. Losing their main singer is a big blow that could be hard to come back from but Vicious Rumors has stayed pretty consistent with new releases and touring since Albert’s passing. They’ve had a lot of different lineups and singers though. Ronny Munroe just joined the band in July 2022 as their new singer. He replaced Nick Courtney who was on their last album but only in the band for a few years. Courtney joined the band in 2018 and was actually a contestant on American Idol. Munroe played on four Metal Church albums from 2004-2013 and was also apart of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2011. Geoff Thorpe on guitar and Larry Howe on drums are still in the band from the original days. Those two guys are pretty much the only constants in the group. The band has continued to tour extensively throughout the years as well, doing gigs all over the globe. Most recently the band performed over 100 shows to support the 30th anniversary of their Digital Decay (1988) album all the way up to the start of the pandemic.
This tour was going to be mainly focused on the band’s “Atlantic Years” material from the albums Vicious Rumors (1990) and Welcome to the Ball (1991) that released on Atlantic Records. A boxed set of all that material released last summer that also includes the live album Plug In And Hang On from Japan. I have actually never listened to Vicious Rumors. I vaguely knew of the band but never got into them or even checked their music out. They seem really underrated. It also sounds like there might even be a new record out this year from them through SPV/Steamhammer. I can’t believe I slept on these guys for as long as I’ve been listening to metal.
It seemed like there were two tours coming together for this show at Reggies. Vicious Rumors co-headlined this show with Heathen. Vicious Rumors are on their “Over The Atlantic” tour that started on March 8 in Reno, Nevada and ends on April 1 in Tulsa, Oklahoma with 17 total shows. This is the first tour with Munroe on vocals and still some of the first gigs with him in the band since he joined last year. Vicious Rumors will also be doing shows across Europe later in April through May on the same tour. On the other side of this show is Heathen, who are on their own “Empire of the Blind” North American tour with label mates Arrival of Autumn supporting them. Heathen’s tour with 17 shows started on March 9 in Providence, Rhode Island and end on March 27 in Philadelphia.
Lee Atlus wasn’t on this show in Chicago, who co-founded the band in 1984. I’m not sure if he’s even on this current tour. I just recently saw him live with Exodus so maybe he’s taking a break because of that tour. Atlus is still a member of Heathen. The band had Kyle Edissi on guitars instead of Atlus, a Canadian from the band Invicta. Edissi has toured and done shows with Heathen in the past. There was also someone else filling in on drums on this show too as it wasn’t Jim DeMaria who joined Heathen in 2019. Ryan Idris from the Canadian band Aggression was playing drums for them. White was the only connection to the old days but Kragen Lum has been with the band a long time and on their last two albums too so he has become an integral part of the group.
Arrival of Autumn are like a metalcore band. The five-piece band is from Alberta, Canada and formed in 2011. They independently released an EP called Endless Nights in 2012 and their fist full-length album Shadows in 2014. They’re also on Nuclear Blast and signed with the label in 2017. I hadn’t heard of them but checked out a few of their songs before this show. I really wasn’t into them. Even their name reminds me of all those other metalcore bands with the longer titles and stuff. The band’s third album is coming out this May called Kingdom Undone.
Misfire are a newer thrash band from Chicago that formed in 2018. They put out their first album Sympathy for the Ignorant in April 2022. It looks like it actually came out earlier a few years ago but maybe they re-released it. I didn’t realize they were local until the frontman said it during the show. They have a new singer and guitarist though. The guy singing was definitely a different person than in all their music videos. I think the band started as a three-piece but now there’s four guys in the group. Tim Jensen is on vocals and Kostadin Kostadinov on guitar instead of Jay Johnson handling both duties who doesn’t seem to be in the band anymore. The band’s description leaves much to live up to though. “It’s music that could have arrived in the thrash golden age of 1986, when bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Dark Angel, and Sodom delivered vital records. And yet Misfire is forward-thinking, injecting modern metal mastery into their brew for a powerful, timeless sound.” That sounds like literally every metal band in existence. I wasn’t expecting much from them either based on some of the tracks I heard before this show and their overall description. They definitely weren’t on the level of Dark Angel or Sodom. It’s hard to standout as a newer thrash metal band.
I got to Reggies around 6:30 p.m. It was kind of getting cold but still pretty light out because of the recent daylight saving time change. There was hardly anyone there. When I walked in they were playing crunk hip-hop from the 2000s over the room. That felt very out of place as more metalheads entered the building. It was funny. Eventually they switched the music to Iggy Pop. The merch area had a lot of good stuff from Heathen and Vicious Rumors. The tour shirts for both bands were $25 each. They both had various other shirts too. Heathen had their last few CDs for sale and some signed guitar picks. Vicious Rumors had a lot of music for sale that looked like more of their newer releases. Their CDs were $15 each. They did have a Digital Dictator (1988) vinyl for sale at $40 that looked pretty cool. I wonder how hard it is to find that record.
Misfire were actually pretty good live. They opened their set at like 7:01. The second song they did was “He Said She Said.” They played “Fractured” after that, which is one of the songs they did a video for. The song has a good riff too it. Their singer Tim Jensen said they had a fill-in drummer for this gig on short notice, only 48 hours before this show. He said the guy just got engaged the past Sunday and is moving out of state later this week. That’s a pretty hectic seven days. The fourth song they did was
“R.I.P.” from their debut album. It had some faster riffing and is a good live song. Misfire’s new guitarist Kostadin Kostadinov can shred pretty good. Jensen would do this weird thing where he would leave the stage during the songs and then come back out. He did that a lot. I liked his voice better than Jay Johnson’s on the band’s album and music videos. The fifth song they did started out slow with a bass intro then picked up with faster riffing. Apparently they were on tour with Heathen before. Their singer said Misfire did a three week tour with them and Heathen were really nice guys. The sixth and last song they played was “Red Flag,” another one they did a music video on. This song had a good riff and guitar solo. Kostadinov is a really good guitar player. He did some really solid shredding guitar solos throughout the songs. Misfire ended their set at 7:28.
There was a smaller crowd when Misfire played. It was still pretty open on the floor but they had a small, decent sized crowd for an opening band. The fill-in drummer they got was actually really good. He was really locked in and and focused, going hard the whole set. Sean Coogan on bass laid down some nice playing too. Jensen’s vocals sounded more like street level style. He did some higher pitched stuff but those sections were more controlled. Misfire are still a young band with lots of potential. They have a lot of room for growth and improvement, especially since the band has a new lineup after just putting out their first record. I liked them. Misfire put on a solid live performance. The songs sounded better than on the studio recordings, probably in part because there’s a new singer. Misfire didn’t blow me away or anything but you can tell they could go somewhere. It’ll be interesting to see what music they make with this new lineup and start growing more beyond the basic thrash stuff.
Arrival of Autumn were good. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from them. Their style of music isn’t for me but it’s still pretty popular with certain people. The guys in the band seemed cool though. They’re all really good musicians. The lights went off around 7:49 and the band went right into their first song “Better Off Without” from the 2019 album Harbringer. It was a good opening song. It’s got a mix of harsh and mostly clean vocals done by the band’s singer Jamison Friesen. The second song the band went into had more harder vocals and was a lot more metalcore sounding. Arrival of Autumn played an upcoming song from their new album called “One More Day.” It had some really great guitar playing from Ryan Sorensen. I don’t think the band had their bass player with them on this show. They just had two guitarists on stage. The fourth song they played was “Endless” from Harbringer.
Their drummer Ty Fox seemed really happy and excited to be playing. He had a ton of energy. I thought he was going to fly out his seat because he kept almost like jumping up every time he hit the drums. He was really flailing his arms when he played too. He had a distinct form. Arrival of Autumn played “Apocalyptic” next, another one from Harbringer. After the sixth song Friesen plugged their upcoming album and said it was available for pre-order. He also plugged all the band’s social media. More bands need to do things like that at shows. They played another new song called “Scars” as the last song in their set. There was some really good soloing on this song. The band ended their set at at 8:18 so they got a little over half an hour in. Arrival of Autumn is a pretty good live band. Friesen’s singing mixed harsh and clean vocals together pretty well but the band is definitely in that metalcore style. His vocals were good live but I don’t think the microphone or mix was loud enough though. The drumming was impressive too because just the cardio and energy you need to keep up with their music is pretty demanding. The whole group were talented musicians.
I might actually pick up their new album Kingdom Undone. I think Arrival of Autumn won me over with their live performance. After it was over with they kind of stuck with me. I definitely wasn’t expecting that because I’m not into their style of music at all. The crowd at Reggies got larger by the time Arrival of Autumn ended. It still wasn’t sold out or close to being fully packed. The room was maybe at 45% capacity at this point. There was still lots of room spread out on the floor.
Vicious Rumors were pretty incredible. They are still high level performers. Sometimes when you see a band live you just know the group is next level and seperates themselves from other acts. Munroe is a great frontman and a phenomenal singer. He’s a great addition to the band. Munroe just has this aura and stage presence about him that makes him stand out. Their new bassist is Robin Utbult from Sweden and their other guitarist is a younger guy too named Gunnar DüGrey who joined the band in 2017. When they were setting up they were super loud during sound check. Even while wearing ear plugs the volume of the drums and guitars took me back a bit. The lights in the room went off at 8:48. Some hard rock instrumental song played and then some epic music that sounded like it was from Greek mythology followed it. The whole band came on stage at 8:51, all stood in front of the drums and opened their set with “On the Edge” from Vicious Rumors. At first you could barely hear the vocals but that got fixed. They were still a little quieter for most of the show though. They went into “Abandoned” and “You Only Live Twice” from Welcome to the Ball. Munroe and the band sounded fantastic on both songs. “Abandoned” is great live.
The band played the title track from Digital Dictator next. The crowd sang along with the chorus. There were a lot of people at this show for Vicious Rumors. The crowd applauded loudly after “Digital Dictator” ended. It’s a fantastic live song. The band’s bassist Robin Utbult looks like Henry “Superman” Cavill but with long blonde hair. It’s like those guys would be identical twins or something. Utbult is actually from Sweden so Vicious Rumors has guys in the band from all over. The band’s fifth song was “Ship of Fools” from Vicious Rumors. There was some great guitar soloing from DüGrey like right in front of me. Munroe also had some great singing at the end of the song. They played “Strange Behavior” from Welcome to the Ball next. I really liked this song too. Munroe killed it on the song. The band’s seventh song was “Down to the Temple” from their self-titled album. Munroe had a really awesome extended vocal delivery during this song. He had some great facial expressions too and looked super intense. The next song they did was “Hellraiser” taken from Vicious Rumors. It’s a thrashier song live. There were some great back and forth guitar solos between Geoff Thorpe and DüGrey. The bass playing from Utbult was heavy throughout “Hellraiser” and really thumping. Munroe did some extended screaming at the end of the song that was seriously awesome. He has a powerful voice.
After the song Thorpe said they live like 50 miles from Heathen but they only see them in Chicago or Europe. “March or Die” was the band’s ninth song, which is from their debut album Soldiers of the Night. There were lots of solos from both guitarists at the end of the song, with Munroe getting pumped up too. Thorpe talked again after the song was over. At first his microphone wasn’t working but one of the tech guys at Reggies ran out and quickly fixed it. Thorpe really put over Reggies as being a great place with a great staff, and said that was just an example of how awesome they’ve been to the band. He actually talked about Reggies a few times during the set and really was positive about the whole place. That’s probably one of the reasons why Reggies gets so many great metal bands at their venue. The last song Vicious Rumors performed was “Don’t Wait For Me” from their 1990 album. Munroe had some great extending singing parts again. It’s such a killer live song too. The band ended their set at 9:42 after performing 10 songs. A lot of people at this show really knew Vicious Rumors and were into the set a lot. There were plenty of people that knew al the lyrics to the songs and stuff like that.
I wish I had gotten into Vicious Rumors sooner. I’m glad I got to see them live on this show though. The whole band was pretty amazing. Larry Howe was still killer on drums. Thorpe seems like a really cool guy. The bass playing was great. DüGrey ripped on guitar, especially for being such a younger member of the band. You could tell he has probably been playing guitar most of his life. It was really cool to see the band’s Atlantic Records material mostly performed. It gives the tour a special vibe to it that’s different from just supporting a new album. Each song the band performed sounded fantastic. I’m really looking forward to their new album and seeing them on tour again. After now seeing them perform live I feel like Vicious Rumors is criminally underrated. Munroe is a phenomenal addition to the band.
After Vicious Rumors finished an older, gray haired guy standing next to me was talking to some people about his hearing loss and having issues with his ears ringing. He said that what you love kills you. He said that he loved paintings but they don’t hurt his eyes. That’s actually a pretty deep and oddly kind of philosophical point that I never thought of before.
Heathen rocked hard. Before they got going, David White was shaking hands with people during the set up. He seems like a nice and cool guy too. It was a pretty packed room by the time Heathen got started, probably around 75% full. The lights went off at 9:59. Before coming out, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” by ABBA played. That’s one of the more unique band intro songs I’ve heard at a show. It’s a good song. It would be even cooler if Heathen somehow covered it. The band came on stage at 10:05 and opened the set with “The Blight” from Empire of the Blind. It’s got a decent main riff and the song kicked off the band with a lot of energy on stage. They went into the title track from their new album next. It’s a good live song. A big pit opened up on the third song for “Opiate of the Masses” from their second album. White said we’re going old school. It’s a really great song that’s an interesting live choice because the track is almost eight minutes long. It didn’t seem that long seeing them perform it live though. “Blood to Be Let” from the new album was the fourth song Heathen played. I liked this song live a lot, especially with how White sings on the track. The music goes really well together with his voice. Before the song White said they had recently done over 80 shows in like 20 countries and that they were the hardest working band in metal. Like with Vicious Rumors, White also put over Reggies and its staff along with the venue’s kitchen. I haven’t eaten their food before but heard it’s really great.
The new songs from Empire of the Blind actually sounded a lot better live than they do on the recorded album. Empire of the Blind sounds a lot different from their older material and lost some of the harmony and complexity of their earlier albums. I read some comments from people on it saying that the record sounded too much like Exodus, which Atlus and Lum are involved with. I can kind of see that point since a lot of the songs are more mid-tempo and a bit stripped down. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s just different from their older songs. Heathen’s set on this show prominently featured the new material from Empire of the Blind, with a third of it dedicated to the new songs. It’s a pretty good album but the live energy gives the songs something different to them. “Arrows of Agony” from The Evolution of Chaos was played as the fifth song. This is one of my favorite songs from them and sounded killer live. Heathen played “Goblin’s Blade” from Breaking the Silence next. This song sounded awesome live. A big pit opened up again and people were running around like crazy. White’s voice sounded great on “Goblin’s Blade.” He sounded really strong the whole night and is still a fantastic singer. He’s really underrated as far as a vocalist and frontman goes.
I was surprised when White said it was only the third time the band has been to Chicago, with the first time being in February 1988 and then again about 10 years ago. I’m glad I caught this show then because who knows when I would even see these guys again. I figured they had played here a lot more. White said when Heathen first came to Chicago it was like 30 below. February definitely isn’t a good time to come to Chicago, especially for a group of guys from California. They played “Sun in My Hand” from the new album as their seventh song, which is a slower tempo song. The guitar playing sounded great live though.
Heathen went back to Breaking the Silence with “Death By Hanging.” That’s one of my favorite songs from them. During the song all the guys from Misfire came on stage to headbang and sing along. It was kind of cool. Heathen did a bit of an extended version of the song with both the bands and crowd singing to it. On “Dying Season” from The Evolution of Chaos another big pit opened up again. People at this show were really into Heathen. “Dying Season” was really great live. The band did “Set Me Free” next, the Sweet cover song on Breaking the Silence. It’s still a song that shows off Heathen’s distinct sound and playing style compared to other thrash metal bands. Heathen finished their set with “Hypnotized,” which is another lengthy and epic song from Victims of Deception that’s almost nine minutes. I think that’s one of the marks of a really great band is that they can play an intricate and detailed song like that live and it goes by so quickly. Some bands do their longer songs and it feels like a drag. Both Lum and Kyle Edissi killed on guitar during this song. Lum is a great guitar player. Heathen ended the set at 11:16 after doing 11 songs. Afterwards White stayed on stage and shook hands with everyone and seemed genuinely interested to meet people.
I bought a Heathen tour shirt for $25 after the show. There were a lot of people buying Vicious Rumors and Heathen merch.
Heathen were fantastic live. The whole band had a lot of chemistry and sounded awesome together, even with two guys filling in for their usual lineup. Having Heathen together with Vicious Rumors was an incredible combo. I really want to catch both bands live again.