ALBUM REVIEWS: Heathen – Empire Of The Blind

All good things come to those who wait, and if there ‘s one thing Bay Area thrashers Heathen believe in, it’s making people wait. With a four year gap from their 1987 debut to the follow-up, followed by a nineteen year-long hiatus, a decade has now passed since The Evolution of Chaos (Mascot Records), so make the most of new album Empire of the Blind (Nuclear Blast Records) because who knows how long it will take for another one to appear.

With founder member and guitarist Lee Altus, co-guitarist Kragen Lum, and vocalist David White returning from TEOC, the 2020 incarnation of the band is completed by bass player Jason Mirza, and drummer Jim DeMaria, both joining the band in the last year.

The deceptively titled ‘This Rotting Sphere’ opens proceedings, a short melodic instrumental which literally reeks of that classic Bay Area sound, before the first single ‘The Blight’ rips your speakers apart with some unsurprisingly Exodus inspired riffing. More razor-sharp riffs follow in the shape of the cataclysmic, groove-heavy title track, and the mid-paced crunch of ‘Dead and Gone’.

After a smooth, opening bluesy lick, ‘Sun in my Hand’ settles into a choppy militaristic rhythm, backed by a simple but catchy chorus. Picking up the pace, ‘Blood To Be Let’ and ‘In Black’ are classic sounding melodic thrashers, while the haunting melancholy of ‘Shrine of Apathy’ sits firmly within Testament-style ballad territory. ‘Devour’ follows next, a bruising frenzy of riffs and double-kicks punctuated by a dark backing melody and a menacing gang vocal chorus. Instrumental ‘A Fine Red Mist’ is an exercise in shredding, while closer ‘The Gods Divide’ sprays its Exodus style venom with belligerent lethality before outro ‘Monument to Ruin’ eases things to a close.

A more cohesive and confident record than their previous release, Empire of the Blind features five musicians at the top of their game. Altus and Lum shred and dive-bomb their way through a slew of riffs and stupefying solos, the newbie rhythm section is nothing short of watertight, and White’s vocals are astonishingly good for someone only two years shy of reaching his sixties.

It comes as no surprise to find the record features guest appearances from the likes of Gary Holt (Exodus, Slayer) and his former Exodus axe-partner Rick Hunolt, as well as Heathen’s very own former guitarist Doug Piercy, adding that little extra touch of authenticity. Heavy yet accessible, Empire of the Blind is not only a worthy addition to the Heathen legacy but also one of the best thrash releases of the year.

9/10

GARY ALCOCK