Don’t you just love it when you unwittingly stumble onto something great? Until a few months ago, I wasn’t even aware of Heathen‘s existence. At first I thought I was listening to a fairly recent band. Turns out these are actually thrash veterans originally hailing from the San Fransisco Bay Area like Exodus, Death Angel and Testament. Unlike those other bands however, Heathen never quite enjoyed the same level of success. ‘Empire of the Blind‘ is only their fourth studio album since their formation over 35 years ago.
Back then the future seemed bright though. First with ‘Breaking the Silence’ in 1987, followed by ‘Victims of Deception’ in 1991. But then came the notorious nineties. A challenging transitional period for many a (thrash) metal band. Heathen went into hiatus in 1993, only to reunite in 2001. ‘The Evolution of Chaos’ was released in 2009. After that, it took another decade for ‘Empire of the Blind’ to finally see the light of day in September of 2020, via Nuclear Blast.
I reckon this lack of output might be the reason why I hadn’t heard of this band before. It sure as hell can’t be because of any lack of musical prowess, because every single studio release has been nothing but stellar! The current line-up consists of longtime members Lee Altus on guitars, vocalist David White, guitarist Kragen Lum, who joined Heathen back in 2007, and recent additions Jason Mirza on bass guitar and Jim DeMaria on drums.
Unlike Heathen’s previous releases, ‘Empire of the Blind‘ veers slightly closer to traditional heavy metal. With clean vocals, plenty of melodic guitar solos, and shorter tracks that never overstay their welcome. I would still categorize it as a thrash metal album though, as it also features plenty of fast-paced shredding. The album starts with ‘This Rotting Sphere’, a beautiful melodic instrumental that aptly describes this planet we call home. Then the album kicks into high gear with the blistering first single ‘The Blight’, followed by the album’s title track.
The rest of the album follows a similar pattern. Alternating between more melodic mid-tempo tracks like ‘Sun in My Hand‘ and more aggressive bangers like ‘In Black‘ and ‘The Gods Divide‘. The latter half of the album also features a ballad-like track (‘Shrine of Apathy‘) as well as an instrumental track (‘A Fine Red Mist‘). This variety ensures that the album never feels stale nor repetitive. There’s also a nice sense of thematic cohesion between the tracks. Not just in terms of lyrics, but with recurring melodies as well. The instrumental outro ‘Monument to Ruin‘ for example re-uses the same melody as the opening track.
Christopher “Zeuss” Harris expertly handled the mixing and mastering of the album, while artist Travis Smith (Overkill, Death) provided the beautiful cover artwork, which perfectly captures the bleak atmosphere present in the lyrics. ‘Empire of the Blind‘ is an excellent album from a band that definitely deserves more attention. Hopefully the wait won’t be as long for Heathen to bless us with a fifth studio album.
Release date: September 18th, 2020
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
- This Rotting Sphere
- The Blight
- Empire of the Blind
- Dead and Gone
- Sun in My Hand
- Blood to be Let
- In Black
- Shrine of Apathy
- A Fine Red Mist
- The Gods Divide
- Monument to Ruin