Heathen – Empire of the Blind (Album Review)
HEATHEN – Empire of the Blind
Released: September 18th, 2020
Jim DeMaria |drums
Lee Altus | guitar
Jason Mirza | bass guitar
Kragen Lum | guitar
David White | vocals
Heathen return after a decade away with an album that encompasses both their classic thrash approach and modern production aesthetics. In what has been a banner year for thrash, Empire of the Blind stands tall amongst the latest from Havok and Testament (amongst others) and has been worth the wait. Instrumental opener ‘This Rotting Sphere’ is a slow build with soaring guitars, before transitioning into a straight ahead thrasher, ‘The Blight’. Fans of 80s metal will straight up air guitar this track immediately and headbang along to the thumping drums. Vocalist David White sings his heart out and then turns on the agro for the bridge, before Lee Altus and Kragen Lum unleash killer solos.
First single and title track ‘Empire of the Blind’ goes heavy on the riffs and faster from the outset, the production really highlighting the technicality of the guitar work. They’re not following trends here, there are no death metal growls, they are unmistakably themselves and bring a ton of energy on tracks like this. This is classic speed metal though it still sounds fresh and is remarkably accessible as a single. Lyrically they are covering common ground, with political concerns and dystopian themes prominent throughout the album.
There is variety in their music though. ‘Dead and Gone’ slows things down a little, with a repetitive hard rock groove that will appeal to fans of 1990s metal. White is in attack mode with almost acapella sections and a simple melodic chorus. ‘Sun in my Hand’ similarly goes for more of a hard rock vibe, though this time with a melodic lead over the rhythm section. The verses really stomp and the gang backing vocals fit perfectly with the tough lyrics. ‘Blood to be Let’ sounds exactly like the title suggests, pedal to the metal and sure to cause serious whiplash. ‘In Black’ is a little more stock standard, a fine album track but not one that sticks in your head.
Heathen aren’t prone to keeping things stock standard though and the album’s later tracks see them spread their metal wings. ‘Shrine of Apathy’ follows a long legacy of thrash power ballads that really emphasizes the strength of White’s operatic vocals, calling out “Can you hear me?” in a moment sure to inspire punters to wish they had a lighter instead of a phone torch. ‘Devour’ is a beast of a riff with some serious double kicks behind it, arguably more reminiscent of post-2000 bands such as Lamb of God, a hidden heavy gem stone between more progressive tracks. ‘A Fine Red Mist’ is laid down on a bedrock of chugging rhythms that allow Lee and Kragen to solo over for five minutes of technical wizardry. If you got it, flaunt it, and the duo really push themselves engaging in a duel of finger taps and wammy bars. ‘The Gods Divide’ is a real throwback to late 80s thrash, a tight and focused riff with gang vocals adding to White’s call-to-arms chorus.
Heathen’s return to the scene is certainly a welcome one, as Empire of the Blind is an album that has something for everyone – from classic thrashers to guitar afficionardos. Well worth streaming as an album experience, you’ll end up coming back to it a fair bit, and get ‘The Blight’, ‘Empire of the Blind’, ‘Sun in My Hand’ and ‘Shrine of Apathy’ on your 2020 playlists.
Heathen – Empire of the Blind tracklisting:
- 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
Rating: 8 whiplashes out of 10
Empire of the Blind is out this Friday via Nuclear Blast. Pre-Order here
Review By – KJ Draven
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Go KJ! Awesome review. I am going to check this out now. I have played The Blight and I like it. Great to see you join the very cool crew of Wall of SOund. I’ve always like your thorough reviews you sometimes link at 7Rocklists and thought your talents should be getting published. I also love the format of the reviews here and the fact they talk about the songs ON the album. Not the band in general or bullshit behind the scenes. Thanks and I hope to see more of KJ’s work here. Go you! \m/