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Articles : “It’s been a long time coming” – An interview with Kragen Lum (Heathen)

By on September 21, 2020

Reactivated Bay Area thrash quintet Heathen is back, and in a big way in 2020 courtesy of the album Empire of the Blind. The blistering assault is proof musicians from one of heavy metal’s most hallowed eras needn’t have traded venomously infectious jagged staccato rhythms for a load (geddit?!) of butt-rock, guy-liner and an alleged coke habit.

Kragen Lum is the guitarist in Heathen, he wrote all the lyrics and music heard across Empire of the Blind’s 12 cuts. Lum is a remarkable musician, and with the support of some of the best minds in the music industry behind the band, he said he hopes the album can reach its intended audience.

“It’s been a long time coming, in terms of getting this record done. I’ve been in the band for 13 years now, and I think I’m the third longest-running member behind Lee (Altus- guitar) and David (White- lead vocal),” he said. 
“We put out the Evolution of Chaos album in 2010, and we did a lot of touring for it, but it never really took off the way that we had hoped it would. We’re now on Nuclear Blast and have what I think is probably a little bit better support system.

“We’re hopeful that this new record can do something great because we all put a lot of work into it.” When Exodus head honcho Gary Holt was seconded into Slayer following the death of (saint) Jeff Hanneman, Lum was asked to step into the void in Exodus. Given Empire of the Blind owes its many riffs to the gifted guitarist, Lum said the hectic schedule of touring and performing with Exodus, then preparing the album account for the decade between releases.

“I started writing the music in 2012 when we signed with Nuclear Blast. And I had I think I had about half of the album demoed with vocals and everything by 2014. Then I got pulled into the Exodus vortex and was touring heavily with them for their last record,” he said. “David and Lee both had many riffs and ideas, but they didn’t have anything that was fully ready to go, and I have more music than what’s on the record, but we just kind of collectively decided as a group to go for it. “Those guys liked what I presented to them, so it’s my baby so to speak, I’m just happy that it came out so good.”

Empire of the Blind resembles the listening experience offered by all-time metal classics such as Megadeth’s Rust in Peace (‘90), and Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (‘88), insofar as the album’s chief architect intends for a ‘start to finish’ listening experience. Lum lamented the absence of quality albums in the market, offering a complete experience and said fan expectation in the era of Spotify playlists could be the deciding factor.

“Most albums sound like a collection of songs. They don’t sound like an album in a sense they’re well thought out,” he said. “For Empire of the Blind, I wanted to have something where there are a beginning and an end and a roller coaster ride in between just like on those classic records. “These days it seems like there are a group of thrash fans that only like it if it’s in E tuning and if it’s at a certain tempo. They put a bunch of rules around everything. To me, that’s ruining what the genre was all about in the first place.”

For Lum, the only way to craft an album is by using a diversity of tactics to engage the listener. “There’s fast stuff, there’s heavy stuff, there’s epic stuff, there’s a ballad, and there’s an instrumental (on Empire of the Blind),” he said. “I think that kind of variety is what made those old records that we loved listening to so great.”

The new album, Empire of the Blind is out now via Nuclear Blast.


Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of Queensland. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @andymckaysmith