A new year is here but the retro-thrash train keeps on rolling like it’s eternally 1988. Apparently it’s as unkillable as cockroaches and metalcore (same difference). At this point in the game, even a vintage, old school thrash enthusiast like myself is feeling the novelty wearing off and that’s saying something folks. Despite my increasing weariness with the second great wave of 80s thrash, I was unable to resist, deny or dislike the second album by Denver retro-heads Havok. Time is Up is an unapologetic ode to all things Bay Area style thrash and draws major influences from the legends of that scene like Exodus, Death Angel, Slayer and Testament. There’s no surprises and no innovation (you can’t innovate much when you’re trying to sound like your shit came out in 1988) but these youngins sound energetic, angry and full of piss, vinegar and cheap beer. Add to that the fact they can really play and this ends up being a pleasant surprise and shows massive improvement from their debut album Burn (which AMG actually liked way more than I did, go figure).
Time is Up is ten tracks of no-nonsense 80s thrash with all the key elements of the sound firmly rooted. Mile-a-minute riffing from Reece Scruggs and David Sanchez, Sanchez’s textbook thrash screaming, yipping and yelping and a pummeling rhythm section. They deal in short, three to four minute bursts of focused insanity and bring above average writing and performing ability to the party. On the title track, “Prepare For Attack,” “Fatal Intervention” and “No Amnesty” they deliver ass kicking, cutthroat thrash with razor sharp riffing and hyperactive solos. Other songs like “D.O.A.” and “Killing Tendencies” incorporate Iron Maiden styled leads and greater melody alongside Slayer-style speed riffing (Sanchez even tries his hand at semi-clean/almost kinda singing in “Killing Tendencies”). Throughout Time is Up, the most obvious point of reference would be Fabulous Disaster era Exodus although some of the riffing also reminded me of old Death Angel and Slayer too (special kudos for the Tom Araya style “Angel of Death” scream Sanchez pulls off during “D.O.A.”). The quality remains very consistent throughout and no song feels tacked on or undercooked (which was a problem at times on the debut).
After so much of this retro stuff has assailed us, you might ask why Havok stands out. Well, the easiest answer is the excellent guitar work from Scruggs and Sanchez. Scruggs in particular brings his A game here and every song features some wild soloing and interesting ideas (Check the solos in “Covering Fire,” “Killing Tendencies” and the title track). The man has chops. I shouldn’t leave out the bass-work of Jessie de los Santos who is both audible and impressive on many tracks (“The Cleric” for example). Also key is solid songwriting that harnesses all the technical ability into tight, enjoyably heavy compositions. Mercifully, the terrible, eighth-grade level lyrics from their debut are largely a thing of the past and this is a much more mature, sophisticated sounding release which doesn’t sacrifice any intensity.
If you never liked the retro-thrash thing or grew overly tired of it already, this may not be the release for you. However, if you have a little space left in your cold metal heart and music rotation for a talented young band paying effective homage to the 80’s, this is up your metal alley (that doesn’t sound right). It’s not original, you’ve heard it before but they still sound very good and highly convincing. Not bad for a bunch of guys who probably don’t even need to shave yet. Give this a listen and prepare to air guitar yourself into a stupor.