Album Review: HAVOK Conformicide
The thrash revival, affectionately called the re-thrash movement, has split thrash fans into two camps. On the one side, there are those who strongly feel that no modern thrash band could ever outdo the classic bands who laid the foundation for thrash, names like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, and Testament, and that there's no point in trying; at this point, they'll argue they're merely recycling riffs and are doing nothing original. On the other side are those who fully embrace the re-thrash movement, basking in its homage to the greats and are fully supportive of a new generation thrash bands picking up the torch and carrying on the great name of thrash metal: bands who will remain long after its founding fathers retire.
Those in the former camp have to be feigning ignorance, because the re-thrash movement has spawned some ridiculously talented bands that truly give the old guard a run for their money. Among these bands, and arguably at the top of the pack, stands Denver's Havok. A relatively young band still, their 2009 debut Burn was certainly an homage to the classic thrash albums they grew up listening to, but it was rife with a vision of originality and furious hunger that was hard not to be privy to. Their 2011 follow-up, Time Is Up, was a leap forward from the classic thrash styling of Burn and saw the band comfortably coming into their own as a ferociously technical and extremely adept group of musicians. 2013's Unnatural Selection was a healthy mix of both, combining their modern thrash sound with a fair amount of crossover appeal a la Municipal Waste, but still leaving plenty of room to grow. Now, four years later, Havok have taken their sweet time and unleashed their fourth full-length record, Conformicide, and man, was it worth the wait.
It may be beating a dead horse to say so at this point, but metal is so much more than just playing the meanest riff or the fastest blast beat. As with any musical genre, good songwriting is absolutely essential and will ultimately make or break a record. The guys in Havok are exceptionally good at their instruments, but they're even better at writing bona fide, legitimate, good 'ol fashioned songs. The songs are what made Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood and Rust in Peace classics, and the songs are what make Conformicide such a strong effort. Even more so than before, it's clear that Havok paid extra attention to crafting songs that are not only exciting from a musical standpoint, but stick long after the needle's been lifted. It's merely a bonus that the ten tracks that make up the record are jam-packed with technical flair, insane rhythmic flourishes, and bass lines and riffs that'll make you lick your lips.
The bass lines deserve special mentioning because Conformicide marks the first album new bassist Nick Schendzielos (Cephalic Carnage, Job For A Cowboy) lends his virtuoso talents to. His funky, slap-heavy style plays a prominent role throughout the entirety of Conformicide, and he delivers a top-notch performance that would make Les Claypool proud. In other corner of the rhythm section lies Pete Webber, who balances ferocity with tastefulness near perfectly behind the kit. He injects a fair amount of funk into his grooves as well (see: "INGSOC"), and when these two lock into each other, they're an unstoppable force. The intros to songs such as "Peace is in Pieces" and "Hang 'em High" are perfect examples of their ability to play off of each other's flawless rhythmic sensibilities. A crystal clear production job courtesy of Steve Evetts makes these moments stand out all the more.
So, too, does the exceptional guitar work of David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs. As cliche as it may be to say these two could very well be the next Hammett and Hetfield or Hanneman and King, it's absolutely warranted. Each song on Conformicide features a razor sharp riff that hooks the listener by the gullet, while the searing leads make it impossible to resist being reeled in. The best part is that no riff is recycled and no solo rehashed, giving each song its own identity and keeping the work as a whole akin to a perpetual shot of adrenaline. In the lyrical department, Sanchez sings about a gamut of topics – everything from politics to religion to decrying the politically correct culture we find ourselves in – and he does so fully utilizing those vocal signatures that only he can pull off. These songs demand to be screamed along to as much as they deserve have whiplash induced to.
At the risk of making a bold declaration, Conformicide will likely be remembered as a modern thrash classic. More than Havok's previous albums, it feels like their most complete and satisfying work to date – indeed, their Reign in Blood or Rust in Peace moment, if you will – and it sets a new bar for how modern thrash should be done. Few albums in recent memory capture the attitude and essence of thrash metal as flawlessly as Conformicide does, and it's high time that Havok be cemented as the honorable first of the torchbearers in the the Big Four of modern thrash.
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