Album Review: Havok | ‘Conformicide’

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The movement known as ‘re-thrash’ – i.e., new metal bands that are bringing, or attempting to bring, thrash metal back into popularity – was pronounced dead four years ago by Invisible Oranges. In the piece, it’s observed that Havok’s 2012 EP Point of No Return might be one of the then-last “notable piece[s] of work” to be on author Joseph Schafer’s iPod.

Interestingly, two months to the day after that column ran, Havok released their third (and, up to that point, best) record, 2013’s Unnatural Selection. It continued their mix of Metallica’s penchant for serpentine riffing and Slayer’s no-bullshit songwriting, the latter of which dominated their first two records and a good chunk of their third.

So here we are with their newest offering. That Conformicide is Havok’s fourth LP is fitting because it’s their …And Justice for All. Which is to say: Conformicide is their most ambitious, their most political, and their most self-indulgent work to date. It’s also the pinnacle of the entire re-thrash scene because Havok succeeded where many of their peers failed: striking a balance between being memorable and being ferocious. Thanks to riff after fantastic riff, surprisingly hook-y songwriting, and the most nimble rhythm section in modern metal, Havok crafted a 57-minute love letter to thrash’s heyday.

At least part of the credit goes to the fact that the band’s current lineup – vocalist and guitarist David Sanchez, lead guitarist Reece Scruggs, bassist Nick Schendzielos, and drummer Pete Webber – ellipses any past iteration. The quartet’s ability to interlock as a single unit throughout the record is a wonder. To wit, the space formed from the darting riff that opens album centerpiece “Ingsoc” is expertly filled in by Webber’s agile ride work, before doubling it on kick drums alongside Schendzielos. Or take “Circling the Drain,” where Sanchez and Scruggs defer to the galloping interplay between bass and drums to carry the song forward that includes a funky (!) middle section allowing Schendzielos to be the star for a few seconds. Even when Havok revs up to hyperloop speed (“Masterplan”) or slows down to ride a slick groove (the unfortunately named “Peace is in Pieces”), or when do both in the same song (“Intention to Deceive”), its members know when and where to accent every section of every song.

And as with many (metal) songs in 2017, these ten are often political in nature. Most of the topics covered are standard fodder for metal – political correctness, government corruption, war, societal manipulation by the media – but are nonetheless sold purely on the basis of Sanchez’s raging snarl. Despite being clichéd, a line like, “The fighting will never cease/ As long as it is still profits over peace” works because Sanchez’s cornered animal delivery feels honest and relatable. Even when he spends three (!) songs on religion, metal’s favorite punching bag, you can’t help but side with his blunt force lyricism: “It doesn’t matter to you/ That he’s a power-tripping maniac/ ‘Cause he’s got you convinced / People of other faiths should be attacked”.

Perhaps an autopsy on (re-)thrash is unnecessary, then. Much like Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic and Warbringer’s Woe to the Vanquished, Conformicide confirms thrash metal in 2017 can still offer superb records that can stand next to any other metal subgenre brethren. Hell, Havok even showed the Big Four how it’s done by making an album that’s an order of magnitude better than any recent release from those icons. Havok made not only the year’s premier thrash record, but one of the year’s high-water marks in all of heavy metal. It’s gonna be difficult to top something this impressive, but as long as Havok’s next effort doesn’t have a song called “Unforgiven” on it, there’s still hope.