Sounding calm, relaxed and genuinely excited about his return to the front lines of Thrash metal, White and fellow band members Lee Altus (Guitar), Kragen Lum (Guitar) have raised the bar with their new opus, “Empire of the Blind“.
OD – Heathen are back! Briefly walk me through how all of this came about, as we have a decade between the last album ‘The Evolution of Chaos’. I know that writing started around the time of when you signed to Nuclear Blast back in 2012, that’s a long time?
DAVID – Well, the writing actually started before we signed with Nuclear Blast. Kragen actually started writing stuff almost as soon as ‘The Evolution of Chaos‘ was done. Myself and Lee did a good portion of writing also around that time.
We did a good bit of touring for ‘The Evolution…‘ and I guess we were really enjoying ourselves [laughing] and looking forward to a new record with Nuclear Blast, to whom we had very recently signed with at the time.
So, it was about this moment that Jeff Hanneman (Slayer) became very ill resulting in the band [Slayer] to ask Gary [Holt, Exodus] to fill in, so subsequently Exodus, then asked Lee to cover Gary’s role in Exodus. Then Jeff sadly passed away and Gary ended up sticking around with Slayer and as a result, Exodus wanted to keep their stuff rollin’ so, they asked Lee to stick with them to fill in for Gary. And that was the situation that crippled Heathen for those 6 years.
I used my time to keep active in a few different projects just so I could keep a creative handle on things but it was very frustrating at times to just sit by and not be able to get Heathen back in motion. Don’t get me wrong, I really learned to appreciated life and spending time with my family during this time. But all the while this was happening, Kragen was writing what has now become ‘Empire of the Blind‘.
Lee and I had been writing during this time also but it was Kragen’s material that was just flowing as one whole album. We had to kind of step out of the way and just let him get on with it. He just had a very clear vision on what this album would sound like. It wasn’t without debate or argument [Laughing] but the whole album idea was in Kragen’s head and we just had to clear the table and let him release it.
He [Kragen] really outdid himself on this album. It’s a beast from start to finish! [Laughing] It was a lot of fun to take it all in and just go in there [studio] and just lay down the vocals. I didn’t have to worry about the lyrics, I just had to do the very best job that I could.
OD – And what of the material that you and Lee had written for this album?
DAVE – That stuff will most likely be on the follow-up album to “Empire…“.
OD – New album ‘Empire of the Blind’ couldn’t have a more appropriate title considering what’s happening, not only around the world but especially what’s happening in America right now. What was the main influence on this album and the reason behind the album title?
DAVID – I think that this album is a continuation of ‘The Evolution of Chaos‘. There are a lot of concepts on that album that have actually happened and ‘Empire…‘ is just the follow-up.
The signs were all around us and I’m not just talking about the Pandemic, I mean everything! Kragen was definitely plugged into what was happening in the world during the writing process. You can see that throughout the album’s lyrics.
For example, there’s a song on the record called ‘Blood to be Let‘ and that’s about the old medieval doctors that would take a pint of blood from the body in the hope of taking the parasite or infection out of the body. But then you could look at that song in a more intense and deeper way.
OD – We’ve had a taste with the first single ‘The Blight’ [listen below] and it doesn’t disappoint. There is an energy that is captured that most younger bands struggle to find. When you look at the current state of old-school Thrash bands releasing top-quality albums 30 years into their career, do you feel that the overall genre is in good health?
DAVID – I totally agree! I’m blown away by the energy that is on these new Bay Area releases. You know Vio-Lence are currently recording a new album? It’s gonna be insane. That’s a beast that’s been in hibernation, just waiting for a long, long time.I’m really looking forward to that. Mordred have also been busy working on new material also. I laid down some vocals on their new stuff, it was actually myself and ‘Zetro‘ [Steve Souza, Exodus].
I’ve been listening to the new Testament album also and it’s just amazing! Thrash is proving to be one of the strongest and most resilient genres in Metal’s history and it’s just an honour to be part of it.
OD – I understand that Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt, how did that come about and was the track written with them in mind?
DAVID – I don’t really know if it was ‘in mind’ when those tracks were written. But I know that Kragen was determined on bringing in the ‘Slay-Team‘ for those tracks. He also wanted Doug Piercy [former Heathen guitarist] to be part of the album too.
It was for them, but also for the fans. We’re still a very big family. Even on the last record, ‘The Evolution…’. The only person from Exodus that wasn’t on the album was Tom [Hunting, Exodus drummer]. Gary [Holt] came in to do some solo’s, Rob [Dukes, ex-Exodus vocalist] did some killer backing vocals on ‘Fade Away‘ and Jack [Gibson, Exodus bass] came in a played some bass on the album.
Also, Terry Lauderdale [former Heathen guitarist] laid down a killer solo on ‘Arrows of Agony‘ on the demos for ‘The Evolution...’ LP. By the time we were recording the album, Terry was no longer in the band.
OD – I have to note that the San Francisco Thrash scene is very close, almost incestuous at times. [Laughing]. I’ve witnessed or known a bond like it from any other genre, between so many bands, who all grew up with each other, and for the best part, still helping each other out, playing on each other’s albums and touring together. What is it about the Bay Area that makes it so special like that?
DAVE – Well, it’s a very special place. [Laughing] Everybody knows everybody there. We all grew up with each other. We were fellow school friends at first then playing shows together before people started taking an interest and bands were becoming really well known all around the world.
OD – A great example of that is the legendary co-benefit show [Thrash of the Titans, August 8th 2001] for Testament vocalist Chuck Billy, [who was diagnosed with germ cell seminoma]; and Chuck Schuldiner, l[eader of the death metal band Death], who was also battling cancer. I was lucky enough to have attended that show and, still to this day, one of the best I’ve ever witnessed. It was a united force of friends that came together to help one another out.
DAVE – You were very lucky to have attended that show. That show had a lot to do with many bands coming back from hiatus, including us.
Death Angel, for example, that was their first show in a decade. We found our way back to being a band again thanks to that gig [Thrash of the Titans]. It was a historic show for the Bay Area Thrash scene.
OD – When you see documentaries such as “Get Thrashed” and the more recent, “Murder in the Front Row”, do you think that it is a good representation of documenting the Bay Area scene in it’s truest form?
DAVID – I do like seeing the old footage. Now, in saying that, I haven’t seen ‘Murder in the Front Row‘ yet. I actually just ran into Harold O [Harold Oimoen, photographer, DRI bassist] and I was like: “Hey dude, I left you a message and wanted to pick up a couple of books“. I then started to give him shit about the fact that there is little to no mention of Heathen in the book or the movie. [Laughing]
We were such a part of the scene back then and there’s no mention of us!!! He was like; “I’m doing another book, I’m doing another book!, You guys will be part of the next one!” [Laughing] We got snubbed from that book and so did Lȧȧz Rockit who were one of the bigger bands in the early Bay Area scene. When I saw the book, I was like; “Man, that’s some bullshit“. I get why he did it, it’s very focused on Metallica, Exodus, Megadeth etc and I get it, but I just think, if you’re gonna do something like that, then get the history right, you know? [Laughing]
I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie. It looks awesome and was a huge part of my/our lives. We all experienced this. We all grew up with this. Like, I’m really good friends with Kirk [Hammett, Metallica guitarist]. We grew up together, went to the same high-school together and to see this phenomenon happen, him getting that call to join Metallica when he was in Exodus. That was just unbelievable to see and then to see them become as big as they have, it’s incredible.
OD – Has there been any discussion about releasing a documentary much like Death Angel did about the history of Heathen?
DAVID – We’ll definitely be doing that. We have some much stuff from over the years. Tones of very old footage, as well as new footage. As most people know, Heathen has had it’s fair share of line up changes so we want to make sure that it’s all documented correctly and the story of the band is told correctly. This will be something that will come down the line and will take a lot of time to create. Watch this space…
OD – There’s no doubt that the Bay Area, is ground zero for the genre as so many iconic bands emerged from that specific location, are there any bands that you feel personally should have been way bigger than they actually were?
DAVID – From the Bay Area scene? I would say almost all of the bands! [Laughing]. When Metallica finally took off and there was this really incredible scene that was peaking with quality bands and virtually none of the radio stations were paying attention, then the Seattle scene happened 1o years later and the reaction from the press/media was kind of amazing in retrospect.
They invested so much in that Seattle sound and overlooked the Bay Area sound. It’s just one of those things I guess. What was meant to be, was meant to be. Bands from Seattle were being signed based on the way they looked, where bands like Heathen, Vio-Lence, Forbidden, Death Angel and more, were somewhat forgotten. We all had to work our asses off to stay relevant. None of us knew what was going to happen and we just had to keep trying as hard as we could.
Metallica were very fortunate and were lucky enough to have fantastic management behind them, as well as a great record label that helped them to realise their vision.
OD – With the pandemic’s grip on the globe, did you guys have any hesitation in releasing the album with options to perhaps wait for a later date depending on the status of the entertainment/live music situation?
DAVID – Absolutely, we had ten weeks booked for Europe for this Summer, South American and a Festival in Japan. As soon as we can hit the road, we’ll be out there doing what we can to promote this new album.
Heathen’s ‘Empire of the Blind‘ is released on Friday, September 18th via Nuclear Blast. Order your copy here. Stream the album here.
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Photos – Chrissie Dieu © 2020