Not to be confused with the long-running Bay Area thrash/speed metal band of the same name, Norway’s Heathen is an obscure black metal entity that recently released its debut full length via the mighty Caligari Records. The first thing that struck me about Heathen is that there is literally no information on them to be found; nothing is known about the band’s lineup, their online presence is meager to say the very least, and they’ve already developed a penchant for self-titling multiple releases. Indeed, there is an air of mystery that surrounds Heathen, but if this excellent tape is anything to go by, rest assured that they have much more than an esoteric image going for them.
Heathen’s brand of black metal is of the intensely hypnotic variety that recalls the likes of Burzum and Xasthur; the mixture of buzzing distortion, repetitious riffing and lo-fi production makes for a mesmerizing listening experience that’s all too rare in modern black metal. It is evident that Heathen have studied the masters of the genre closely, but they inject the music with enough of their own personality to keep from being a mere clone of what came before. The droning guitar work occasionally takes on a darkly shimmering quality that juxtaposes itself against the stiff drumming and buried, hissing vocals in a most interesting fashion, at times reminding a bit of the dearly departed Lifelover, while at others taking on a more traditional tremolo-picked, Vikernes-influenced ugliness, particularly during the album’s faster sections.
The tape as a whole is characterized by a stripped-down, bare-bones quality; guitars and programmed drums dominate the mix, while the vocals lurk deep down and the bass guitar, in traditional black metal fashion, is completely inaudible. This approach lends the music an intimate feel; it’s easy to imagine Heathen as a solitary musician rather than a full band, practicing his craft with nothing but a guitar, a few mics and a battered four track recorder in some isolated shed out in the middle of nowhere. When Heathen’s eerie black metal gives way to the sounds of a rain storm and synthesizers on Side B, it only serves to increase the feelings of loneliness and desolation that ooze out of every nook and cranny of this tape.
Heathen’s mixture of traditional and depressive black metal textures makes for a unique and addictive listen. It will be interesting to see if the veil of mystery surrounding the band begins to lift as they start to gain attention, but in truth the image (or lack thereof) matters little given the excellence of the music. With 2015 already shaping up to be a great year for black metal, Caligari have unearthed yet another gem deserving of your attention.