Heathen-Empire of the Blind

Fourth album overall for a band whose first album came out in 1987 kind of sums up Heathen’s status as a back-bencher in the Bay Area thrash scene. That’s not meant to imply that their past material has been sub-par, but Heathen has always felt like a band that only exists when it’s band members’ other gigs are at a standstill rather than an actively healthy musical entity.

Heathen has always lived in the shadows of Metallica, Testament, Exodus and Death Angel as far as the San Francisco Bay Area metal scene is concerned. Hell, their most well-known member, guitarist Lee Altus, is probably more well-known for his stint in Exodus than he is for his Heathen material. But, I guess credit is due to the band for not completely giving up on this entity entirely and sporadically putting out decent material. Dude needed something to do while Gary Holt was running around with Slayer the past few years.

This latest album really doesn’t feel like a thrash album to me. Sure, there’s a bit of that Exodus-sounding crunch to some of the guitar riffs, but the sound on this album feels more akin to American power metal more than anything. It kind of lives in that Jag Panzer, Onward or Firewind realm of power metal rather than the aggressive classic thrash sound that is normally associated with the Bay Area. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that Heathen normally gets lumped in with the thrash scene and I think it kind of does the band a disservice. The sound on this album is a little more melodic and little more in the traditional vein of metal. I think vocalist David White’s performance and vocal style contribute highly to the power metal vibe. He’s got that silky smooth power metal voice that doesn’t really have that razorblade bite a lot of thrash singers possess. I guess what I’m saying is if you go into this one expecting a little less thrash and a little more power metal, you might have a better reaction to the album as a whole.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

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