Heathen
Empire of the Blind


3.0
good

Review

by Fernando Alves CONTRIBUTOR (78 Reviews)
September 28th, 2020 | 64 replies


Release Date: 09/18/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A twist on the past

The Bay Area thrash scene was one of the most exciting heavy metal subcultures to emerge in the eighties. Influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and genre pioneers like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, or Exodus, several bands from the San Francisco Bay Area burst forth to further deepen the revolutionary style that had flourished a couple of years ago. It somehow acted as a counter-current to Los Angeles' glam trend that was going full speed at the time. In contrast to its fellow LA countrymen, this movement had a much more radical attitude, linked to bands like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, in detriment of the hair metal approach of bands such as Ratt, Cinderella, or Mötley Crüe. Although not among my favorite Bay Area thrash acts at the time, Heathen was well regarded by the metal community, being in the same pot as bands like Vio-lence or Forbidden. Their debut album, Breaking the Silence, filled the gap between thrash and power metal, with influences from European bands like Helloween, who had just released the iconic Walls of Jericho two years earlier. Like most post-88 thrash releases, the band's sound evolved into a more technical and intricate signature on their sophomore album Victims of Deception, at a time when the genre was already losing ground to death metal and other emerging genres like groove metal, nu-metal or grunge. Although the album enjoyed considerable recognition, the band broke up a year later due to a series of disruptive events, including the death of bassist Randy Laire. Following a nearly ten-year hibernation and several line-up changes, the band would return in full force with The Evolution of Chaos, cementing the more technical approach of its predecessor. Yet again the band went into pause mode, much due to the fact of Lee Altus becoming Exodus resident guitarist since 2005. Therefore, with only three albums under their belt and countless line-up changes, Heathen isn’t exactly a success story in terms of stability and reliability, thus generating quite a bit of buzz and curiosity around their long-awaited comeback in 2020.

The Metallica-esque intro 'The Rotting Sphere' instantly takes us back to 1986, leading us to believe that Empire of the Blind would be a return to the band's roots. This feeling would be extended through the following speed metal-ish 'The Blight', one of the album's best songs thanks to its rather catchy, melodic approach. However, I couldn't help noticing that the guitar tone reminded me of Exodus, which although not entirely surprising due to Lee Altus' affiliation, didn't thrill me as much as the songwriting. Although I enjoy Exodus' saturated, powerful tone, I don't think it fits Heathen's more melodic style so well. This closeness to the thrash pioneers is evident not only in the guitar sound but also in songs like 'Dead And Gone' or 'Blood To Be Let', with the latter featuring a Fabulous Disaster-esque kick-off, leading to a mid-paced Anthrax-ish tempo. Therefore, the return to the band's beginnings proved to be a false expectation as we delved deeper into the album. Empire of the Blind has at its core a rather mainstream thrash approach, orbiting around mid-paced tempos, catchy choruses, and somewhat generic and accessible songwriting. This more mainstream focus is mirrored in songs like the title track or 'Sun In My Hand', which features one of the album's most captivating choruses. These songs, although enjoyable, have a certain ephemeral flavor, showing some predictability and a certain degree of institutionalization in the band's current signature. I have no objections to bands that add new flavors to their formula, even if they are more mainstream, yet I can't help but notice that songs such as 'In Black' or 'Devour' seem too conventional for the band's standards. Despite its somewhat generic package, the band's DNA reappears at the end, either in the instrumental 'A Fine Red Mist' or in 'The Gods Divide', which proudly mirrors Heathen's Bay Area roots. I believe Empire of the Blind would benefit from more songs like these or 'The Blight'. At this late stage of their career, I don't think the lads will be able to broaden their audience through a more mainstream approach, on the contrary, I think the focus should have been the existing fanbase, which orbits bands like Testament, more interested in intense thrash approaches with a solid technical background. Zeuss's sound engineering, although competent, could also have enhanced the band's identity in another way, exploring more suitable tones, particularly on guitars. I do enjoy Andy Sneap-esque productions, and I certainly understand he wanted to boost the mid-paced riffing, however, there is a saturation value that doesn't quite match the band's personality.

After a second long hibernation, Heathen returns with an album that not only differs from their previous works but also shuffles the band's DNA. With its more mainstream thrash approach, Empire of the Blind mirrors a band within a more conventional comfort zone, unwilling to take risks or venture into more intricate territories. That being said, this more generic angle still delivers some highlights that should be valued accordingly, because, at the end of the day, Lee Altus & Co will always deserve our attention and respect.



Recent reviews by this author
Akhlys MelinoëOf Feather and Bone Sulfuric Disintegration
Carcass DespicableUndeath Lesions of a Different Kind
Anaal Nathrakh EndarkenmentGorephilia In The Eye Of Nothing
user ratings (50)
2.8
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
TheNotrap
Contributing Reviewer
September 28th 2020


15278 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Better late than never, I guess. The album has its ups and downs, but it certainly deserves a spin.

Empire of the Blind is available on Spotify and other streaming platforms.



Digging: Akhlys - Melino

Pikazilla
September 28th 2020


13275 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Cover looks like something that should've been on a megadeth album.

bloc
September 28th 2020


64134 Comments


Can't imagine this being any higher than a 3

Digging: Big Kahuna OG and Monday Night - Thug Tear

ShadowRemains
September 28th 2020


25946 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

evolution of chaos was a good comeback album but yeah this is pretty bland

TheNotrap
Contributing Reviewer
September 28th 2020


15278 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The album has some good jams, I wouldn't be surprised if some guys rate it higher.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
September 28th 2020


8923 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

@TheNotrap



Can you partition each of the two bigger paragraphs into two smaller ones of roughly equal size, so that they can be read more easily?



I agree with your rating, I would put anything beyond a 3.2.

Digging: Pandrador - Ov Rituals, ov Ancestors, ov Destiny

TheNotrap
Contributing Reviewer
September 28th 2020


15278 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I don't feel the need to break the paragraphs, but I will review them tomorrow with fresh eyes. Thanks for the feedback.

metalhead2425
September 28th 2020


361 Comments


Rating is about what I expected. I used to jam their first two albums pretty often back in high school, but I wasn't too impressed with the singles for this. Might still jam.

facupm
September 29th 2020


11673 Comments


should check this at some point

TheSonomaDude
September 29th 2020


7277 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

the songs i have heard thus far seem like such a hard 3/5. modern c-tuning chugthrash just sucks out all of the life and power from thrash riffs. it makes something that should be very tight now sound loose and floppy.



check out the e-standard remixes on youtube. the songs now sound good, lol

parksungjoon
September 29th 2020


23013 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

people always talk about thrashers as being these mega elitists stuck in the past





but here we have heathen, courteously allowing godsmack to contribute a track (sun in my hand) to their new album

Digging: Slauter Xstroyes - Free the Beast

parksungjoon
September 29th 2020


23013 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

anyway sonoma makes a good point

ChaoticVortex
September 29th 2020


1070 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

A bunch of leftover Exodus/Testament riffs cobbled into an album. The technicality and the melodic vibes that made the backbone of their previous albums are shockingly absent. For a simple thrash album it's not awful, its competent and listenable, but from Heathen this is a total letdown especially given the 10 year wait.

parksungjoon
September 29th 2020


23013 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

honestly i dont even like 2010s testament but comparing this chugga chugga shit to them is kind of silly

TheNotrap
Contributing Reviewer
September 29th 2020


15278 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Damn, you really nuked these guys.

Testament has been the most consistent old-school thrash band for some years now, in my opinion.

vermillionZ
September 29th 2020


344 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It's a solid album in my opinion, not more, not less.

Digging: Dark Tranquillity - Moment

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
September 29th 2020


8923 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

^^Agreed, but expectations from a Heathen album tend to amount to more than that, in general.



What bewilders me is the complexity of the main riff in "Empire of the Blind", it is an island in the middle of a sea of simplified staccato riffs.

parksungjoon
September 29th 2020


23013 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

>What bewilders me is the complexity of the main riff in "Empire of the Blind", it is an island in the middle of a sea of simplified staccato riffs.





ding ding ding!!



cant even say i truly hated this, but my tolerance for mid tempo downtuned open string palm muting these days is at an all time low. aggressively boring



sun in my hand illustrates this perfectly, and sadly it is far from the only offender

Casavir
September 29th 2020


4261 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Comparing stuff like Brotherhood of the Snake to this is insulting tbh

south_of_heaven 11
September 29th 2020


5564 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

2.5-3 is about right for this one.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy