Heathen - Empire of the Blind (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Empire of the Blind (2020)

nuclear Blast

In general, I prefer my thrash to be in the punky, crossover style. That being said, some of my very favorite thrash records are the melodic, progressive type. (...And Justice For All!) Heathen and Empire of the Blind definitely fall into the latter category. Their fourth album arrives a mere nine years after their last, The Evolution of Chaos.

Heathen are actually a relatively unsung old school thrash band from the Bay Area. They formed in 1984, and put out their first record, Breaking the Silence, in 1987. Fellow Headbanger’s Ball fans may remember their minor video hit from this album, a cover of Sweet’s “Set Me Free”. Internal problems delayed the band’s epic second album, Victims of Deception until 1991, and by then, thrash was on its way out.

To a certain extent, Heathen will always be linked to Exodus. Now deceased former Exodus frontman Paul Baloff did a stint singing for Heathen, and founding Heathen guitarist Lee Altus has been the second guitarist in Exodus since 2005. Heathen’s other guitarist, Kragen Lum, also filled in for Gary Holt in Exodus when he was busy with his Slayer obligations. Only Altus and singer Dave White have appeared on every Heathen record.

Empire of the Blind is an ambitious record, and it’s best taken as a whole, rather than just as a collection of songs. From the clean guitar intro of “This Rotting Sphere” to the end of the outro, “Monument to Ruin”, it’s clear that the band has a story to tell. Across 12 tracks and 47 minutes, the story is told by the words as well as the ever shifting musical mood. While the words can be sort of abstract in that classic metal kind of way, it would certainly make sense that the Empire of the Blind is a metaphor for the good, old U.S. of A.

After the intro, “The Blight” makes the case against humanity as a whole, before the epic, six minute title track drives the point home further. Both songs are very heavy and very melodic. The heaviness has a machine-like precision, but the melody seems like the more important ingredient. Ditto for other earworms like “Dead and Gone”, “Sun In My Hand”, and the power ballad-like “Shrine of Apathy”. Heavier highlights include “In Black”, and the anti-religion anthems “Devour” and “The Gods Divide”.

“Blood to be Let” might be the catchiest song on the record, and probably could have been a thrash “hit” in ‘80s. Singer Dave White has a classic metal voice, and isn’t afraid to go after the high notes. The storytelling lyrics might appeal to fans of old school metal bands like Iron Maiden too. The musicianship is top notch throughout the entire record, and the guitars get plenty of opportunity to shine.

The bottom line? If you’ve got a little longer attention span, Heathen will reward your patience. Empire of the Blind works on a lot of levels. The cover art is killer too. This is yet another great ‘80s style thrash release in 2020! Recommended.