I’ve had March 10th circled on my calendar for a while now. Since 2011’s Time Is Up, I’ve adored Denver rethrash act, Havok. Follow-up Unnatural Selection failed to live up to expectations, but I’m still playing Mr. Conductor on this episode of Thomas the Hype Engine. Though not devoid of blemishes, Conformicide successfully revives the fire of TIU and exploration of US without remaining shackled to either. The result propels Havok outside the norm and towards the peak of the growing modern thrash movement.

Helmed by the fleshed out bass of new addition Nick Schendzielos (Job for a Cowboy, Cephalic Carnage), “F.P.C.” immediately puts Havok‘s stylistic evolution on display. Initial returns combine Rage Against the Machine with Countdown to Extinction for a slow, uncharacteristic groove. Though teasing Mustainean vocal accents at first, David Sanchez bends back to his trademark hooks as the tempo picks up. “Hang ’em High” and “Dogmaniacal” return Havok to prime form, TIU holdovers with more teeth. Exodus, Warbringer, and Evile influence from years past remain, but MegadethTestament, and Vektor comparisons join a newfound emphasis on structural variety and exploration. Swinging neckbreakers like “Intention to Deceive” and “Ingsoc” keep the party going with gripping tempo shifts and Reece Scruggs’ superb leads and solos. While TIU struck one note perfectly, US failed to replicate that consistency across a more varietal offering. Conformicide finds a happy middle ground, still turning to the razor’s edge when necessary but relying more on mid-tempo throwback, consistently intriguing diversions, and oh so tasty riffs. When Havok gets rolling, they are as great as ever.

Yet musical dynamism, unfortunately, overlaps with a lack of focus and restraint. Tracks unfurl slowly across this 58-minute behemoth, sprawling in a myriad of directions. This lends a sense of exploration when it pays off, as highlights “Ingsoc” and “Circling the Drain” prove, but at the cost of length. While no track is truly bad, Havok seemingly make no effort to emphasize their better material by pruning the merely decent. It’s up to Schendzielos and drummer Pete Webber to hold down the long-to-develop “Masterplan,” though its gang shout hooks are more than worth the wait. “F.P.C.” and “Peace Is in Pieces” stand out as an easily excisable 11 minutes. Most tracks tend toward superlatives but meandering and unnecessary diversions hold them back from the rarefied air.

Of note is Sanchez’s abandonment of worthwhile lyricism. I have no qualm with the man’s politics; say what you want about his takes, but they’ve been consistent since TIU. However, these are the most painfully on-the-nose lyrics of Havok‘s career. Torching everything from political correctness and the media to the old faithful tandem of government and religion, Sanchez finds nary a gripe that he can’t bash over the head with a 50-pound tuna. Thrash might not be known for its eloquence, but try getting through ham-fisted lines like “Politicians and big business/The United Snakes of America” without snorting or rolling your eyes. Conformicide‘s lyrics are a far cry from the overstated but still tolerable “Waste of Life” or “Give Me Liberty… or Give Me Death,” let alone the nuance of “The Cleric” or the theatrics of “Covering Fire.”

Lyrics aside, Sanchez sounds revitalized, recalling TIU‘s top-notch blend of emphasis, timing, and panache. He registers higher and more extreme than previous entries, but his performances on adrenaline shots “Hang ’em High” and “Claiming Certainty” show he can pull it off. Very few thrash bands can touch the all-around talent of Havok‘s ensemble work. Steve Evetts (Sepultura, Warbringer) brings a master’s touch to the mix, yielding one of the best thrash productions I’ve heard since Time Is Up. The most obvious beneficiary of this is Schendzielos, who avoids the embarrassing neutering most bassists receive. To say the bass work is a boon for the band would be an understatement. Schendzielos’ five strings lend the band a full body, picking up down moments and earning his spotlights on “F.P.C.” and “Circling the Drain.” Likewise, Webber continues his run as one of the best drummers in the genre, selecting the perfect beat pairing with sommelier’s precision.

Havok‘s immediate rebound from Unnatural Selection is heartening, but their willingness to forcibly expand modern conventions in the process is downright exciting. Rather than backpedal into Time Is Up retreads, Havok carve out a new road to stardom. With some refinement, I anticipate more boundary pushing will bring even greater success. Contenders and pretenders alike should take notice.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: havokband.com | facebook.com/havokofficial
Releases Worldwide: March 10th, 2017


Written By: Alex-Fi

Let me tell you how this review is supposed to go: First, I tell you that Havok is a Denver-based collective whose main weapon of choice is the riff. I then explain how the band is one of the few that are still relevant today despite being unquestionably retro-thrash, then proceed to point out that 2011’s Time Is Up is probably one of the strongest records to come out of said retro movement. I follow-up with a brief overview of their latest, entitled Conformicide, pointing out its various high points to underscore the fact that David Sanchez and Co. really do know how to throw down. Finally, I disappointingly end with a Steely D “3.5” just to piss off all the Havok fans that know for a fact that Conformicide is probably their strongest effort to date. Cue album credits, DR score, throw in the obligatory unicorn somewhere ever so subtly and collect my check [There will be no check.Steely “3.5” D.].

Unfortunately for you, I’m not officially an AMG staff member even though I a) stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once and b) pretend to be. So this ain’t gonna be that kinda of review. Deal with it.

Riddle me this: When is the last time you could actually hear the bass player on a thrash record? How about the last time the kick drums had a real visceral impact on your ear drums? Frankly, when is the last time you heard a modern thrash record that sounds as good as it looks? Well, my friends, today is that day. Havok‘s new opus is one of the best sounding records of the year and absolutely destined to make our year-end list where we extol the production mighty and condemn the volume fiends.

I made, in fact, this exact observation to the record’s mastering engineer Alan Douches of West West Side Music who freely admitted to me that this was indeed a win for dynamics. Both the band and their very talented producer and mixing engineer Steve Evetts had one focus in mind when recording Conformicide and that was to make it sound as good as it possibly can. What’s ironic is that this was Havok‘s big label debut, signing on with Century Media after completing their three-album stint with Candlelight Records. So one would think that a Loudness War master would be the order of the day for Alan, perhaps going with yet another DR5 hyper-compressed master or worse. But not so as Sanchez knew how strong the source material is on this record and decided that it was more important to convey his sonic vision in its totality than to sacrifice it in the name of volume. So Alan was allowed to do his thing. The net result is an absolute production home run in every way where all stakeholders involved are on full display from the minute you press play till the second it ends. Put simply, you don’t need the vinyl master on this one, even the Spotify stream sounds fantastic, thrash you very much.

Musically, Conformicide is another win for the band on several fronts, chock full of all the usual thrash tropes one would expect out of the Sanchez camp. Tracks like “Hang ’em High” and “Intention to Deceive” come instantly roaring out the gate with riffs that are both instantly addictive and sear on contact. Both also include the proverbial mid-flight, neck-snapping breakdown into a blistering lead motif that one expects out of any high-quality thrash song.

But the band has also refined their prototypical retro-thrash sound by incorporating a lot more rhythmic shifts into the mix as well by playing off new bassist Nick Schendzielos (Job for Cowboy, Cephalic Carnage) with aplomb. For example, listen to the track “Ingsoc” where the band offers up a buffet of catchy riffs before settling on one that finally propels the song forward. Or how about how the little rhythmic accent to the main riff on “Claiming Certainty” first starts in the background, is then seamlessly brought to the fore, and then shoved to the background again for the band to introduce yet another neck snapper breakdown before finally finishing you off. Every track on this album is a scorcher and will keep you entertained all the way through.

If I had to nitpick, though, the record is a hair over an hour long, which like this review, is a bit more thrash than my ears can usually handle. Part of the problem is that added “refinement” I talked about earlier comes at the expense of the album’s immediacy. For example, although I like what the band does on tracks “Ingsoc” and the closer, “Circling the Drain,” they do overstay their welcome at over seven minutes long and could definitely use a decent edit. But overall, this record is rip-roaring fun and has the band firing on all cylinders pretty much all the way through.

I would be bereft if I did not mention Sanchez’s top-notch lyrics, which many might find over the top in their overt anti-government rhetoric and Orwellian imagery. Regardless of your political beliefs, I think you can agree that the lyrics on Conformicide are a) well written (read: not Mustaine bad) and b) work exceptionally well in the context of the songs they accompany. When Sanchez screams “The United Snakes of America” it’s hard not to put on your best anarchist’s smile and just jam to the breakdown that ensues. And the rest of the album pretty much follows suit.

In an interview, Sanchez once said, “The riff is the heart and soul of heavy metal in my eyes. If there’s not a good riff, then what the fuck are you doing playing metal?” Although Sanchez’s mantra is somewhat myopic, it has certainly served him and his cohorts well as Havok is one of the few bands to come out of the retro-thrash movement that still actually matter. Conformicide is a shining testament to that fact. Hang ’em high indeed.

Rating: Making Thrash Great Again!

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  • United Snakes of America? I bet Kerry “Americon”/”Consfearacy” King is sad he didn’t come up with that gem first.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Somewhere, Chuck Billy is muttering something about hating snakes.

      • That’s a good one!

      • Eli Valcik

        Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?

        • sir_c

          Once I had a German classmate who wondered why ‘German’ and ‘Germ’ were such similar words

  • schism70

    Like it you will

  • Norfair Legend

    I have to give this a re-listen. My first go round I wasn’t really blown away but I also did it while working around the house so it didn’t have my full attention…I’ll report back, these reveiws got the juices flowing.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Same here. Took a couple of spins and then it sunk in. Great album.

  • David D.

    While I love the style that Havok plays, the politicized lyrics are a pretty big turn off, especially on the bridge to the embedded track. That shriek is super impressive though

  • Eli Valcik

    Whoa, the rare double review

    • PotaD0s

      Indeed. It’s like a yeti sighting… Or a unicorn if you prefer.

  • Metal and Hockey

    Had this one preordered as I think Havok are the best of the newer thrash bands and it did not disappoint. Every track is a winner none are worthy of the skip button. The only negative to me would be the constant preachiness of the lyrics do get a tad annoying after an hour but still a solid 4.0 for me

  • Is it just me or is this the Megadeth to Power Trip’s Metallica?

    • Name’s Dalton

      I see where you’re going with this.

  • eloli

    As a huge Havok fanboy I wanted to love this one, but didn’t.
    My biggest problem with this album is that it simply lacks memorable tunes to mosh to, some can be pretty good at times, but none of them are in the same level as the ones in the first two albums… Hang ’em High sounds ok on my car stereo, and so does Intention to Deceive, but I can’t imagine myself drinking cheap vodka to the point of puking to them like every single track on Time is Up. Also, slap happy, funky bass in a thrash metal context really pisses me off… guys, lots of thrash bands went this route back when it was still a fresh idea, literally decades ago, and we all know how that turned out.
    I wouldn’t call this album a dud, but I think 3.5 is way too high… as much as I hate to say it, this is just another generic rethrash release that doesn’t deserve anything above 2.5… where’s that good ‘ol reviewing bias when you need it. :D

    • Bummer.

      • eloli

        I might not have liked as much as I expected, but I still bought it… gotta keep this thrash train rolling at all costs. :D
        Besides, this band really delivers the goods live, and in two or three years, when the legacy bands finally decide that their just embarrassing themselves, lifelong thrashers like me will have to depend on Municipal Waste, Havok, Warbringer and Gama Bomb for our nostalgic thrash fixes.

  • Alexandre Barata

    Heard it, not bad, not dying to buy it. Still listening to last ones from Crisix and Nervosa for a good Thrash fix.

  • Gave the album several spins already and it’s really a great one, way better than I expected. Far superior to its predecessors and refreshing as hell, plus that DR score is totally deserved. The bass on this album is magnificent and the riffs are truly addictive and entertaining. Was skeptical before checking this out and now I can’t stop playing it. Great reviews both of you! Something between a solid 3.5 and a 4.0 is a fair score imo.

  • themetalyears

    United Snakes of America is my new band name.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    How do you guys decide when to do a double review? Is it a matter of screwing up and assigning the same album to two reviewers and only realizing it once you get the reviews in? ;)

    • Actually, my review was unexpected since I”m not AMG staff proper. You can blame me.

      Dr. Wvrm was very generous to allow me to piggy back off of his review (read: I have dirty pictures of him, the album Time Is Up, and a big’ol roll of bubble warp).

      • Dr. Wvrm

        I do with my Tuesday nights what I will, thank you very much.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Yeah, that’s another thing, you’re not “AMG staff proper”, what is this review, you’re auditioning? ; )
        Besides, I highly doubt there’s such a thing as AMG staff proper, they might be staff, but they’re not proper ; )

  • Wilhelm

    Too-polished thrash metal with an annoying vocalist. The DR is good, but the music is average.

    • Reese Burns

      Finally! I’ve always hated the vocals, but everyone else seems to love them somehow.

      • Wilhelm

        He almost sounds like he’s trying to imitate Steve Souza and Mille (who I dig immensely) but without the impact of either.

    • Asral

      Never heard Havok before. My initial excitement pretty much died once the singing started, that voice just doesn’t work for me.

  • sir_c

    This is typically something I’d love to see live somewhere, but an album won’t make it into my collection. This really sounds like one of those bands that deliver very well when they play it live for an audience.

    • eloli

      Havok is great live.
      That said, Time is Up is their only album worth owning if you’re not really, really, really into thrash.

      • sir_c

        oh I like some thrash now and then. It’s just that some bands don’t work well on studio albums but totally rip it at live shows. And vice versa as well, but usually in other genres.

  • DrewMusic

    While not my cup of atmospheric black tea musically, this/these review/s made my inner AMG reader quite happy. Were it not for what I’d assume to be pretty much impossible logistic limitations, I’d definitely like to see more double reviews.

  • Thatguy

    Great bass playing. Great to hear the bass. Great to hear the playing of the bass.

    But it’s just an average thrash album.

    • Boo Wendy Testaburger! I say boo!

      • Thatguy

        Should I change my user name?

        • Yes. I recommend ThatOtherGuy.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            lol

    • I think I may agree with this Thatguy for once.

  • Nola Trash Talk

    Hate the busy, funk influenced basswork and jumbled arrangements tricking me into thinking this is tech thrash. “Time is Up” was awesome. This is not. Garbage.

    And the last time I heard bass on a thrash album? Overkill. A month ago. Thanks.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Thumbs up for the “And the last time I heard bass on a thrash album? Overkill. A month ago. ” bit.

    • James Hensler

      Here, Here. It sounds like Les Claypool joined Havok and it’s beyond annoying. The songs are very bloated, too – with a few exceptions.

  • Simon Howell

    Not all of the lyrics work for me but I’m always happy to hear a metal band with the stones to get political, even if it’s mostly sloganeering. Too many bands are too chickenshit to go beyond vague Satanic bullshit or generalized misanthropy.

  • WhamBamSam

    Being something of a political animal, I’m consistently in search of something that properly expresses my rage against the system, especially as Destruction kinda let me down lyrically on their last record. The lyrics here seem a bit too unwieldy for it to unseat The Antichrist as my go-to album for this sort of thing, but I’ll definitely be buying this.

    • Berit Dogg

      Off to check out The Antichrist then, thanks

  • Jeffrey Dean

    This is a really impressive album that is unfortunately taking one hell of a beating in the more ‘politically progressive’ metal forums and outlets. Metal Archives has reviews that give it a flat-out zero because they think the lyrics are ‘dangerous’. There’s 4 forum pages worth of comments about how much they hate the band’s politics. It’s gotten to the point in some places like you can’t even discuss an album that dares to have political lyrics anymore.

    • I remember the drama surrounding Coma Cluster Void of all bands on metal archives, like they wouldn’t even give them a listing because of the guitar player’s political views. I like the resource of metal archives as much as anyone but there are some hateful minded people who hang out there for sure.

      Ultimately the music is the thing. Havok haven’t done much for me in the past. But when the MetalFi folks recommend a “great sounding” album I usually check it out and will this one!

      • Please, give it a shot. It sounds great!

    • savafreak

      The irony is these forums gave megadeth’s Dystopia high mark although it is no less politically “dangerous”, but on the oppisite side of the fence! so that tells you the amount of division and hypocrisy out there

    • PanzerFistDominatrix

      Lyrics are dangerous? Really? To me they are utter cringe, super lame cliches one after the other. I mean, speaking out against censorship and having a song called wake up… If you do have something political on your mind AND a platform like a record, that’s the best you can do, seriously? Plus, I saw them at a festival in Copenhagen a few years ago and the singer spend at least 10 min of the 40 min set talking about how we should support music in this day and age by coming to shows and.buying their merch. Well, we’re here, fucking play already! Loved the music though, lost a flip-flop the pit :-)

      But I didn’t buy a t-shirt ’cause… Fuck you I won’t do what you me! (yes, Rage Against the Machine did angry-at-the-system-teenager lyrics much better 25 years ago).

    • SuzyC

      Old school thrash metal, in the US anyway, often had political lyrics. Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Sacred Reich, Megadeth all had clearly visible anarcho-streaks. Metallica had their excellent anti-war songs. (Slayer and Venom were extremely unPC, and even Ronnie James had an air of evil about him.) But that was in the 12-year era of Ronald Reagan + Papa Bush, and it was easy to rail against ’80’s conservatives as they tried to censor naughty lyrics to protect the children while simultaneously adopting a nuclear war-risking posture that could have murdered humanity. Remember that grindcore and its near-universal anti-corporate/state sentiments was birthed during this time as well. Now that leftism (or rather the self-parody that leftism mutated into during the state-worshiping BushObama period) rules the roost, Satanism is now banal subject matter and speaking ill of government (unless you’re hating on The Donald, of course) is too dangerous.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    This album hits a brick wall once Ingsoc starts and never gets back to the caliber of the first few tracks (which are excellent). The ambition is welcome but you can’t hit them all.

  • madhare

    I actually don’t care much for the music but wanted to comment on the lyrics. Though Simon Howell kind of made the point already.

    I think we need to discern two different things: choice of topic and crafting actually good lyrics about it.

    Too much metal is escapist teen-boy fantasy – be it satan, vikings and warriors, dragons, or sexploitation and misogyny. So it’s always great when metal is political. Unfortunately not everyone can turn that into good lyrics. (Swansong by Carcass is still one of my favourites exactly because it does manage express critical thoughts about society with good lyrics.)

    Besides, metallers always wanna dabble with eeeevil. You can’t get more evil than politics and oppressive consumerist mass society! Critical Metal Studies, anyone? :D

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I have mixed feelings about this album but i just want to point out something that really bothered me. In Hang Em’ High
    The break downs where he sings “The enemy is not from overseas” is just like Rage Again…tM’s “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” bit. Am i the only one that notices this?
    I can’t enjoy the song as a result.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Also Steel 3.5 Druhm … lol

    • Screw you all! 3.5 4 eva!

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Lets go GANGSTA tat!

  • Levly

    This record is in serious need of editing, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it if not for the great production. But man, it does sound really really good.

  • Bryan94

    Man what a fun to listen to, the production and the music really gives you warm ears :P^^

    To be the best Thrash Record for the last few years…

  • ssorg

    Am I crazy? I swear I saw this on bandcamp a few days ago, but now it’s nowhere to be found… ?

    • Jeffrey Dean

      I think it was a fake. That seems to happen sometimes. Someone uploads the album and pretends to be the band. They get taken down pretty quickly, but this wouldn’t be the first time it happened.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Not listened to lots of Havok(have 1 of their albums) but the embedded track sounds helluva lot like Death Angel(but not as good). The new Warbringer sounds better than this.

  • Weirwolfe

    The new album reminds me of Megadeth.

  • Treble Yell

    This is pretty darned good. Sounds tight and punchy on my STAX SR-009. Thanks, Dr Wvrm and Alex-Fi.

  • There’s a lot of good stuff here but the songs are too damn long!

  • Edoardo Origlia

    Why does the singer sings with a potato in his mouth?

  • I’m perhaps going to give this one a chance since I think the production is pretty nice.
    I’m almost never the “the only good album band x ever did was their debut” guy, but with Havok, I am.

  • James Hensler

    I loved T.I.U. and U.S. but this one doesn’t really impress me. I’ll take the new Dust Bolt over this any day. Maybe it just needs more spins, though. Only ten days until the new Warbringer!