There is an old horror movie “Sometimes They Come Back”, based on the short story of Stephen King. This name is quite matching for some bands, which are somehow alive and even active but release their albums very rarely. Heathen is one of such bands: after 10 years of silence they finally released their new album Empire Of The Blind.
Strictly speaking, Empire Of The Blind is not so new album at all. “The writing process for the new album actually started back in 2012 when we signed with Nuclear Blast,” says guitarist Kragen Lum. “The music for about half of the album was demoed that year and by 2014 we had about 2/3 of the album demoed with vocals. Unfortunately, we didn’t make much progress over the next few years as both Lee [Altus; guitars] and I were touring full time with Exodus. It really wasn’t until 2019 when we had a long enough break to really dig in and finish writing and recording the new album.” There were also some changes in the line-up during these ten years, which also didn’t contribute to the fast release. Vocalist David White and the band’s founder, guitarist Lee Altus are the constant members. Kragen Lum is also an old-timer – he came to Heathen from Prototype in 2007. But the rhythm section was changed: now it comprises drummer Jim DeMaria from Toxic and bassist Jason Mirza from Psychosis.
Along with Metallica, Exodus, Testament and many other bands, Heathen played Bay Area Thrash Metal and Empire Of The Blind is mostly aggressive and robust Thrash. After short atmospheric intro “The Rotting Sphere”, “The Bright” starts its old school aggressive Thrash Metal attack with solid riffs, fast drumming and David’s rough vocals. Some catchy melody appears in chorus and Lee with Kragen delivers technical solos. The same thing happens in titled “Empire Of The Blind” and “Dead And Gone” sounds grimmer and more brutal because of riffs and vocals – David don’t sings here but spit the words out of his mouth.
“In Black” is a quintessence of Bay Area Thrash Metal in this album, if you ask me, with powerful drumming and great guitars. “Devour” and “The Gods Divine”) are also really aggressive songs with chanting in choruses (in the vein of Overkill, for example).
At the same time, Heathen apparently decided not to obsess on old school Thrash Metal only but also bring something contemporary to the music. “Sun In My Hand” is melodic and mostly reminds Disturbed from last years somehow, but not Thrash Metal. Steadily hitting riff and melodic second guitar only exacerbate this impression. “Blood To Be Let” sounds much more Thrashy against it, at least in verses but chorus takes the music somewhere to Modern Metal. At the same time there is a great drums pattern here and long melodic guitar solo.
Suddenly a ballad named “Shrine Of Apathy” presents in the album. It is heavy, melancholic and has some Modern Metal elements as well. The fast instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” is a place where two guitarists seemingly competing in their playing techniques, taking music into Progressive Metal a little bit. And Empire Of The Blind ends exactly with the music from its beginning – a short outro “The Monument To Ruin”, which loops the album.
But to be honest, this album doesn’t sounds solid. I really like that the band is not static and try to add some contemporary sound and elements to Thrash Metal (which, frankly speaking, is more or less stagnating). But in Empire Of The Blind it sounds non-uniformly, with sharp changes. Take a “Shrine Of Apathy” for example: the song itself is great but it sticks out too much against other songs and it seems like it was written not for this album at all. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that Heathen wrote these songs eight years ago and I think the next album will also please the fans but will be a little bit more coherent, if I will be still alive at that moment – with Heathen‘s release schedule you can’t be sure of anything.
Empire Of The Blind was released on September, 18th via Nuclear Blast.
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