Heathen Empire of The Blind (English Version)

Nuclear Blast Records

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Heathen

The San Francisco, CA based band Heathen was founded in 1984 by Lee Altus. The band debuted in 1987 with the meritorious ‘Breaking the silence’ and competed with other thrash releases those days (Testament, Forbidden). The album’s successor was released in 1991 and ended up in the grunge time; little to no attention to regular metal music by record companies (they all hoped to sign the next Nirvana). The band therefore split up and Lee Altus joined the German industrial band Die Krupps for a few years. Acceptable music, but not very memorable. Thanks to the concert/festival Thrash of the Titans (2001), a fundraiser for Chuck Billy (who suffered from cancer at the time), the band was motivated to pick up where they left off. In 2004 a cover-CD was released ‘Recovered’ (certainly worth listening to), but the real deal was released in 2010 (19 years after the first album) with the comeback album ‘The evolution of chaos’. Unfortunately it took another 10 years for the next album to be released ‘Empire of the blind’.

An understandable delay with Lee Altus and Kragen Lum playing guitar at Exodus when Gary Holt joined Slayer. I was very curious what the album would sound like when I found out that all songs including lyrics(!) were written by Kragen Lum (who joined the band in 2007 and had only signed for 3 songs out of the 10 on the previous album). I can tell you that this record surprised me in a real positive way! If I had not known that Kragen Lum had written all songs, I would not have even noticed. The songs have a familiar Heathen-sound, with a more melodic edge (maybe even catchy). The songs are a little more compact, being 4 to 5 minutes. The new rhythm section, Jason Mirza and Jim DiMaria, take care of a tight basic sound.

After the intro ‘The rotting sphere’ the song ‘The Blight’ blasts your speakers. The first noticeable thing is the fact that it connects with the previous album, 10 years ago: high speed, catchy chorus (we’re dead inside) and flashy guitar solos. Lyrics are worthwhile, this song is about humanity destroying earth (we are the plague). Next song is my personal highlight, title track ‘Empire of the Blind’. It is what ‘’Master of Puppets’ was for Metallica, a once in a lifetime. The speed varieties, the magnificent pre-chorus followed by the catchy chorus are what makes an instant classic record. The amazing voice of David White comes out really beautifully. The following song ‘Dead and gone’ is a bit slower, but again with a catchy chorus.

‘Sun in my hand’ is the first moment to take a breath during this album; an amazing power ballad resembling ‘Fade to Black’ by the (not coincidentally) earlier mentioned Metallica. After this, another 2 wonderful speedy songs (‘Blood to be let’ and ‘In Black’) and another ballad ‘Shrine of apathy’. Latter mentioned is a tribute to the losses the band suffered in the past few years. A kind gesture, but this song doesn’t appeal to me as much. Thankfully we’re picking up the pace with ‘Devour’, the instrumental ‘A fine red mist’ and the raving ‘The Gods divide’ before the outro ‘Monument of ruin’ ends the album.

The album has a noticeably perfect sound (as opposed to the previous album). Responsible for this bulky and open sound is producer Zeuss (Dee Snider, Overkill, Sanctuary and Queensryche, among others). The album cover is especially noteworthy, done by Travis Smith (Death, Iced Earth and Nevermore). The ideas behind this album cover can be read in the interview with Kragen Lum.

In conclusion: with ‘Empire of the blind Heathen has released its very own ‘Master of Puppets’. The fact that Kragen Lum has written all songs generates some extra credit. It’s a real ‘album of growth’ (don’t they prove to be the best) that needs to be in every metal fan’s collection. You will find ‘The Blight’ and ‘Empire of the blind’ on YouTube. Besides digitally, the album can be obtained on both CD and vinyl at the band itself and through their label Nuclear Blast. (Alex Thrasher)

90/100

Tracklist:
01. The rotting sphere (intro)
02. The blight
03. Empire of the blind
04. Dead and gone
05. Sun in my hand
06. Blood to be let
07. In black
08. Shrine of apathy
09. Devour
10. A fine red mist
11. The Gods divide
12. Monument of ruin (outro)