Monday, April 3, 2017

Havok – Conformicide

Despite the dwindling popularity of thrash metal over the past 5 years, one of the few bands that is still carrying the torch is Colorado’s Havok. This band’s popularity seems to grow exponentially with each release, which is a curious outcome given that “Time Is Up” is widely hailed as their masterpiece. Nevertheless, the band has returned with their fourth full-length: “Conformicide”. Once again, it has received far more hype than its predecessor, and this time, it is more than deserved!

The obvious topic of discussion for this album is its unavoidably overt lyrics. Every track on this release bashes you over the head with messages encouraging you to “Wake Up” to see the truth. It’s clear why “Conformicide” has turned Havok into a love/hate band: if you agree with their message, it’s easy to get into, and if not, it comes across as annoying and distracts from the music. As someone that doesn’t care to get political very often, “Conformicide” surprisingly doesn’t bother me at all. This is no different from a modern version of Megadeth. Whether or not you agree with David Sanchez’ messages, one can’t help but appreciate the conviction with which he delivers them.

The vocals on this album are one area where Havok has changed significantly. Sanchez used to employ a slightly cartoony Dave Mustaine-esque voice that was overflowing with attitude. While this character is still present on “Conformicide”, Sanchez now spends much of the album screaming his lungs out, leaning more towards a band like Kreator. Though this actually makes the singing on this record less unique than in the past, it is appropriate given how angry the lyrics are. A track like “Hang ‘em High” or especially “F.P.C.” can only deliver its most vitriol moments effectively with this sort of aggression.

If you’re a stereotypical thrasher, neither the lyrics nor the vocals probably matter that much to you. What is important, is the quality of the riffing. Make no mistake, “Conformicide” is a huge step up from “Unnatural Selection”. The prior record’s biggest problem was that there were really only 3 fast songs, and most of Havok’s mid-paced riffs weren’t all that thrilling. “Conformicide” show the band reinventing themselves in a more technical and daring direction. Megadeth is once again a good point of comparison, but some tracks like “Ingsoc” show influence from bands that are distinctly tech-thrash.

Additionally, even though a lot of the songs on this album have their mid-paced moments, they tend to vary tempos quite often. “Dogmaniacal”, for example, has some slow chugging at the start of its verses, but quickly explodes into a speedy, punk-influenced riff. “Intention To Deceive” has perhaps the most effective tempo change, as all hell starts to break loose once the band hits warp speed. Other tracks like “Wake Up” feed off the energy of drummer Pete Webber to remain interesting. This song is dominated by a catchy, albeit not exceedingly thrashy riff, but it is the constant rolling double-bass assault of Webber that keeps it driving forward.

The rhythm section as a whole is a major factor in making “Conformicide” sound so tight. There are several moments on the album where Sanchez will yell out a quick word or two, and the band breaks into an absolute frenzy. The drum tone on this record is unparalleled, and any time that Webber starts abusing his ride cymbal atop a healthy dose of double bass, Havok creates thrash magic. Complementing the tightness of the drums is one of the greatest bass performances thrash has ever seen. Some might find the bass playing too busy, but the slapping, popping sounds of new bassist Nick Schendzielos truly add a unique dimension to Havok’s sound. He shines on pretty much ever track, and allows the band to groove without dumbing down their riffs.

Conformicide” is far more than just four musicians showing off. It also has some of the band’s strongest songs in a long time. As always, Havok is at their best when they’re playing fast, and for this reason, the frenetic “Masterplan” is one of the standout tracks. This song shows absolute mastery of how to implement gang vocals in thrash, as the band continually screams out “War, famine, death, disease” in an undeniably catchy manner. The band’s attention to detail is impressive, as after repeating this three times, the fourth set of screams is altered slightly as the music uses triplets to add an extra syllable (“War, famine, death and disease”) and build a more crushing chorus. It is these types of subtleties that are spread throughout the record, and make it a compelling listen time and time again.

Though this is a stellar thrash offering, it is not without its flaws. The most obvious weakness is the sheer length of it. With the bonus tracks, it exceeds an hour. The biggest reason for this is that many of these tracks have 1-2 minute intros before things truly kick off. Some pull this off more effectively than others, but several of them (including the one in the aforementioned “Masterplan”) add little value. Perhaps more glaring is the fact that there are a few tracks that don’t quite stand up against the rest of the material. Each of “Peace Is In Pieces”, “Circling the Drain”, and the Pantera cover “Slaughtered” don’t present anything particularly unique or memorable. If you cut these three tracks, “Conformicide” suddenly becomes an unbeatable 45-minute record that closes with the obligatory hilarious goofy-thrash track “String Break”. 

The greatest strength of “Conformicide” is its sheer authenticity. Though you might not like the band’s message, the blatancy of Havok’s lyrics really doesn’t feel all that different from Nuclear Assault, Megadeth, or any other number of politically motivated bands. The album shows four musicians who are looking to push the boundaries of their abilities are far as possible, while still staying true to the roots of thrash, and they have succeeded. Sure, there might be a bit of filler, but it is easy to see why this record has attracted so much attention. When all is said and done, “Time Is Up” will likely be remembered as Havok’s masterpiece, but “Conformicide” is the record that will propel the band to thrash supremacy!

Be sure to check out and like Havok on Facebook!

"Hang 'em High"
"Wake Up"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott

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