REVIEW: HEATHEN – “Empire Of The Blind”
Perhaps one of the most underrated thrash metal bands of all time, Heathen is one of the most prominent, intelligent, and classy acts to come out of the Bay Area. Having released only three albums prior to this one, the San Francisco natives led by current Exodus axeman Lee Altus and vocalist David R. White have an immaculate career so far. Having released two timeless classics of the genre in ‘Breaking the Silence’ (1987) and ‘Victims of Deception’ (1991), and returned with the equally killer ‘The Evolution of Chaos’ (2010), ‘Empire of the Blind’ had an almost impossible task to at least be on par with the flawless discography so far.
10 years is a LOT of time and a lot can happen. As with everything in life, Heathen have matured in some ways and, sadly, regressed in others. The choice of adding modern thrash elements to their music and aesthetic could have fared better if not for the mixing and production, but this new outfit doesn’t suit a legendary band so well. Songs like “Sun In My Hand” and “Devour” suffer from this attempt to renovate, but instead sound apathetic and less than enthusiastic, to say the least.
However, there’s plenty of good ol’ Heathen to go around as well. “The Blight”, “In Black”, “The Gods Divide” and the title track are intense, aggressive, and powerful enough to carry the mythical Heathen name. Altus and Kragen Lum (Prototype, Psychosis) destroy everything in their path with crunchy riffs, brutal bridges, and face-melting solos, while White’s voice continues to be a great trademark of the band. Current Toxik drummer Jim DeMaria provides great support in the skins, but I missed some more prominent bass lines by Kragen Lum.
As I said before, there are some different moments in the album that may raise some eyebrows. One of such moments is the semi-ballad “Shrine of Apathy”; while it’s a decent track, it doesn’t quite fit with the group’s musical history, and just plays strange in the middle of the record. It could have been better used somewhere else.
The album is stacked with inventive elements and head-banging moments, all characteristic of the Bay Area greats. There are some parts, though, that the whole store-bought, pre-heated laminated style we see so much in thrash metal these days take the lead and things get a little bit frustrating, especially in the songs I mentioned in the second paragraph. These are minor and don’t affect the overall listening experience, but must be taken into consideration when writing a review.
‘Empire of the Blind’ is yet again a good entry in Heathen’s compact, but near-perfect discography. It doesn’t offer nearly as much exquisite, mind-blowing thrash metal mastery than its predecessors – which may give the false impression that this is not that good of an album, in comparison – but can easily rival with the best the genre has to offer these days. Altus, White, and company have delivered once again, and here’s hoping that they continue to do so for a long time.