March 2017 is a busy month for music, especially Denver Thrash Metal band, Havok.
Havok, formed in 2005, released their first album in 2009, with subsequent albums released in 2011, and 2013. Havok, despite close inspiration from bands such as Anthrax, Megadeth, and D.R.I., retains a unique identity, mixing the iconic sound of ‘80s Thrash Metal with 21st century production technology, and well-crafted concept albums, tackling topics such as war’s impact on the psyche of its survivors, suicide and depression, imprisonment, and, with their 2013 album called Unnatural Selection, the United States in the 21st century. With track names like I am the State, and Under the Gun, it was immediately clear that Havok had something to say about the current state of America. [“I find it hard to believe ‘some things are better left unsaid’. Is this the land of the free? Democracy is dead.”] The album, while not as much of a critical hit as 2011’s Time is Up, was still successful, and a widely respected album, leaving Havok’s fans salivating for more, predicting the two-years-one-album pattern to continue, delivering another album for them in 2015.
But as ‘15, came, and went, Havok’s biennial-album streak was broken, and some fans began to fear for the worst. What was the hold-up? Creative stagnation? Hostility within the band? Did they sell out?! Even worse, in August 2016, the band underwent a major management contract dispute, resulting in their ejection from a major tour with Megadeth. Fans were getting worried, until December 20th when the band announced their next album, Conformicide.
On March 10th, the album was released, to excellent critical reception. The album opens with a 60-second unplugged intro, before the drums kick in, and the album is in full swing before you can say “Wait a second!”. Listening to it for the first time, the very first thing that caught my attention was the production quality. It sounds amazing. I cannot remember the last time that I could hear the vibrations of a guitar’s strings jumping back into place after being plucked, but Conformicide does just that. It holds its top-notch quality throughout the album.
The bass has a much greater presence than most albums, and this bass is given plenty of chances to shine, the hip-hop beat inspired bass riff of F.P.C. being a prime example. That said, the bass is not the only versatile aspect of the playing, as the drumming is completely unique for every song. It is the versatility of the instruments that produces its distinctly ‘wonky’ sound; a mix of unconventional bass-emphasis, contrast between the razor-precision of the lead guitar, and the ‘wobbly’ tuning of the rhythm guitar, and the raw atmosphere of the album unforgettable, without any styling-overhauls.
Where the album starts to lose me a little bit is the vocals. The singer, David Sanchez, has a distinctly scratchy voice, that he utilizes in different ways. Sometimes, the gruffness enhances the atmosphere of unrelenting aggression perfectly. Other times, it degrades to nails-on-a-chalkboard screamo, completely ruining otherwise good songs. This issue afflicts the album on a track-to-track basis, so I have found myself shunning the tracks that decay into a mess of screeching and 300 BPM solos, without letting them detract from the tracks that hit the perfect sweet-spot between speed and melody. I do not think that this album will win-over naysayers of metal, and there will be people who complain that it is ‘not fast enough,’ but I recommend a listen for anyone whose interest was piqued by this article. Just remember to skip over a track if it overwhelms your senses. One listener’s pleasure is another’s pain, and this album is about picking and choosing which songs you ‘feel.’
Written by Jonathon Rose