Heathen – Empire of the Blind (Nuclear Blast)Friday, 9th October 2020
Proverbially underrated due to their semi-technical power/thrash style (or the fact that they haven’t released as many albums as their Bay Area brethren over the decades), a Heathen studio record is a welcome addition to any metal collection. Melodic in ways where other acts went more aggressive, they stand out against the Exodus, Testament, and Slayer brigade. Empire of the Blind as the fourth album comes a decade beyond The Evolution of Chaos – released later than anticipated due to the dual axe responsibilities guitarists Lee Altus and Kragen Lum share live when Exodus was touring for many years to support their latest record. Fortunately for us all, the wait is well worth it – the songs bristling with crunchy, rhythmic power, the tempos solid, strong, and significant, plus the one-of-a-kind voice of David R. White bringing home all the words to treasure.
Layers of guitars assault your senses, propulsive aural tidal waves that lay to waste anything that dare remain rooted in the past – the band taking full advantage of the producer Zeuss’ skills to bring the band with tones and sonic quality into the current age. Spirited lead breaks that often mirror the atmosphere and texture of the arrangement/song presented in front of them, you’ll be hard pressed to not execute air axe simulations when taking in the work of Altus/Lum during standouts like “In Black” or the addictive, blistering title cut. Wisely choosing to be more succinct in riffs and song lengths pushes the focus on catchier aspects from the main hooks all the way through to solid, simpler to retain choruses. And when you have a singer in David R. White who can send chills when vicious but also hit some Halford/Dio heights in clean parameters, you gain numerous takeaways to the good like “Dead and Gone” plus the ballad “Shrine of Apathy”. Plus for the shredders of the world who love neoclassical runs amidst their thrash, look no further than the instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” for solid mechanics, alert time changes, and irresistible mesmerizing components that put this in the class of classic Metal Church or Metallica for dynamic parallels of power.
In a just world, Heathen would have been in that elite talk, but bad timing with their second album Victims of Deception coming out in 1991 when alternative music took over and left most thrash to the wayside diminished all hope for leveling up to that first wave. Empire of the Blind proves Heathen aren’t staying stagnant in terms of ability, songwriting, performance, execution, as well as using the production tools of today to get their sound across hopefully to a wider base.