Heathen – Empire of the Blind [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

Heathen. I’ve got three shirts that say it and nine people that call me that. I liken it to a word like “dickhead.” It’s got great pop and works in all situations. Though it’s maybe more fun to call my mom a “dickhead” rather than a “heathen.” But, I suppose it depends on the day. Speaking of fun, let’s talk about that other Heathen. The one that released Empire of the Blind, and we never got it. Not that it would have mattered with this bunch falling head over heels for September releases like Ayreon, Carnation, Darkened, Raventale, Napalm Death, The Ocean. While I was one to bathe in the vastness of The Ocean, Vous Autres and Second to Sun really engulfed me.1 And, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t realize the new Heathen was upon us. But, never fear, dickheads, I will correct the issue.

To start, I’m sad that so many metalheads don’t know Heathen. Even some old-school thrashers have never heard of them! Co-founder David White has a voice that can be Forbidden‘s Russ Anderson one second and Anthrax‘s Joey Belladonna the next. Add tough-guy Chuck Billy-isms, sharp James Hetfield-ings, and crooning David Wayne-ies, and then, and only then, will you inch closer to White’s versatility. Some people don’t even realize that Exodus‘s Lee Altus is a goddamn co-founder. The mfer has been playing with Heathen since its start in 1984. Unfortunately, Heathen is a back-burner band—set aside for other projects. It’s been ten years since The Evolution of Chaos and almost thirty since Victims of Deception. But that doesn’t mean Heathen hasn’t used the time to hone in on the Empire of the Blind.

Like The Evolution of Chaos, Empire of the Blind combines Exodus-like shredding and mid-paced headbangers with the calming leads of old-school Metallica and the emotional tendencies of Testament‘s The Ritual. Simply put, it’s fantastic. On the ripping side of things, you’ll find songs like “The Blight,” “In Black,” and “A Fine Red Mist.” The first has a Dystopian Iced Earth flavor to the vocals while “In Black” is Metallicain’ good and “A Fine Red Mist” is Exoduous in nature. The latter being the album’s instrumental and an amazing display of guitar work.

But what has always had me putting Heathen in with the likes of Anthrax, Metallica, and Metal Church is the charging riffage married to a perfectly melodic chorus. “Sun in My Hand,” “The Gods Divide,” and the title track are just such songs. While all kick the shit out of Trivium or Machine Head, “Empire of the Blind” has that same characteristic beauty of a strong chorus over a powerful riff. While the Anthrax-meets-Susperian “Sun in My Hand” uses some clean guitars for depth and dimension, it’s “Shrine of Apathy” that takes it one step further. For Testament fans, you might find yourself on a course back in time to the first time you heard Testament‘s “Return to Serenity.” Except that “Shrine of Apathy” is better.

While I liked 2010’s The Evolution of Chaos, I like Empire of the Blind more. So much so that I’ve probably listened to this album more than any other this year. It’s a well-balanced record that covers every aspect of the band. From the technical and blistering-face guitar work to the low-end-driven marches to the soaring choruses of White, it’s all here. If you’re an old-school thrasher wondering where Heathen‘s been. They’re right here.

Tracks to Check Out: “Empire of the Blind,” “Sun in My Hand,” and “A Fine Red Mist”


Show 1 footnote

  1. Goddamn, September was massive.
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