“Been A Long Time”:
Heathen after a 10-year break are back with a brand new album called Empire Of The Blind. The Bay Area thrashers have only released 3 previous albums with their first album being Breaking The Silence in 1987. They formed a couple of years before that so have managed 4 albums in 35 years so not exactly prolific. Lee Altus is the only regular through the years with singer David White being around for a long time too, being on the last 3 albums. Guitarist Lee has been busy last few years working along with fellow guitar player Kragen Lum as part of Exodus. Other members here are drummer Jim DeMaria and bassist Jason Mirza who are as solid a backline as I have heard. There are a lot of guitars on this album with some layering going on, although some of that may be due to guests helping out including Gary Holt (Exodus/Slayer), Rick Hunolt (ex Exodus) and ex-member of Heathen (obviously no acrimony here) Doug Piercy who features on the first 2 albums.
The album sounds huge, it has a shine, a clarity which just oozes class all the way. It is, of course, a thrash album, with plenty of speed, power, and energy going on but they allow a mix of classic metal (NWOBHM) and even progressive rock to broaden it out making it an excellent listen. I have found myself playing the album on repeat and headbanging away in the flat, it really grabs attention. Vocally I am so impressed by Mr. White who can spit lyrics out at a fair pace when required but has such strong diction making it easy to understand the lyrics. The man has an excellent voice. Some of the album is conceptual, dealing with this George Orwell society or world where “Groupthink” (think social media for instance) is the order of the day. It also suggests that humans are the plague destroying the world we live in. We have access to so much information but yet are blind to the realities. Truly we live in the Empire Of The Blind.
Song By Song:
Both opening and closing tracks namely “This Rotting Sphere” and “Monument To Ruin” are short musical passages by way of topping and tailing the main feature. The first builds like a movie score and the last is short and quite reflective. First full song “The Blight” has plenty attack on the verses but a very easy on the ear chorus (it does sound similar to something else but I am damned if I can work it out though). This gets the heart pumping, the feet tapping and headbanging (and even some air drumming) in an excellent 4 minute work out. Title song “Empire Of The Blind” follows on with an attack on the leaders of today and the filthiness of politicians and in general society. Musically I heard a little early Dream Theater at points which is no bad thing. The musicianship is excellent and there is plenty of punch as well as melody throughout. The way they flow so easily, mixing those elements is impressive. “Dead And Gone” has a slower groovier intro and the chorus is powerful and is easy to sing along with. “Sun In My Hand” is a chugger and feels like a song of hope or at least determination to keep going. The guitar solo sounds gloriously uplifting.
“Blood To Be Let” speeds things up yet still sounds so infectious and commercial. Seriously this is music that moves a person and will cause some serious pits if they gig this album (when allowed). “In Black” keeps the energy and intensity up. Faster paced than the previous track but still infectious especially the line “watch me as I rot” which is more pre than chorus which itself is tasty.
“Shrine Of Apathy” is the ballad of the album. It made me think at points of Alice In Chains strangely. Mean and moody even allowing itself an Iron Maiden sounding ending it is a very good track indeed and allows a little something different. The guitar harmonies (very 1970s meets NWOBHM) are gorgeous here as well. “Devour” is one of the heaviest and angriest sounding songs which opens with a female voice saying “if God can do miracles” before it rips into evangelical religion in particular. Willing to believe due to the desire of something better however hopes and dreams end up shattered due to it being lies. “Swallow like broken glass” it will end in harm.
The most prog track here is “A Fine Red Mist” where the guitars are fully allowed to shine in virtuoso style. It has elements of neo-classical ala Blackmore and Malmsteen but never overindulgent as the latter name is prone to do. All the lead solos are top-notch and the rhythm section hold everything down superbly allowing the guitarists to roam free. A very fine instrumental track indeed. “The God’s Divide” is the last proper song and returns to the more thrash metal roots with rapid-fire drums and guitars, a real out and out thrasher. No wonder they or we need a short musical break to finish the album afterwards!
Please Don’t Leave It So Long Next Time/Final Thoughts:
As noted earlier Heathen doesn’t release albums very often but when they do they make it very worthwhile, making sure it is quality over quantity. Even within the parameters of the genre, there is some variety and everything is so spot on it just seems to capture all the best things and deliver them with aplomb. There is nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering here, there is a familiarity throughout yet still it grabs by the throat and keeps your attention throughout. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 10 years until the next one, personally I am not getting any younger! Great stuff!
Out on Nuclear Blast Friday, September 18!