I couldn’t help it, I had to rescue this review from Mr. Fisting Himself and his mad, imperious rule of giving every rethrash album a 2.0. Why did I have to spare Havok from the dubious rating thrash heap you ask? Because these feisty youngsters strike me as the true vanguard of the rethrash movement and where they go, so goes the retro wave. While Havok brings little in the way of musical innovation to a static, fairly stale style, they’ve staved off tedium on prior albums like Time is Up through sheer youthful exuberance, grit and fancy musicianship. There’s no denying these boys can play the hell out of their instruments and have a knack for writing hooky, aggressive, slightly punky thrash of the Bay Area variety. They’ve generally sounded like early Exodus mixed with D.R.I. and possibly some Cryptic Slaughter and naturally, they’d drop occasional nods to Slayer and Metallica as they blitz through the well-worn thrash playbook. Unnatural Selection departs from the crazed speed of Time is Up and introduces a laid back, relaxed and casual thrash style, more like what Exodus did on albums like Impact is Imminent and Force of Habit. They also debut a new political slant to the lyrics decrying big government and urging defense of the almighty Constitution. Does this mean Havok penned a thrash Operation:Mindcrime? Hardly. Nor do they sound nutty like Mustaine and his various conspiracy hugger muggers. However, this is by far their weakest album to date and trades in power and punch for a more accessible, catchy sound. It isn’t a total loss, but it’s quite a comedown for a band I regard as the tip of the rethrash spear.
The old Havok sound is alive and well in opener “I Am the State” which rages with anger and thrashy precision. It sounds a bit punkier than prior material, but the riffs have heft and intensity and the simple chorus hits hard. Better still is album standout “Give Me Liberty…or Give Me Death” which kills with in-your-face, razor-sharp riffing, timely, ‘fuck the government’ lyrics and generally badass attitude (the popping, thumping bass also helps a lot). “Worse Than War” has a winning lead riff and channels a bit of The Dead Kennedys‘ “Holiday in Cambodia,” but could use a bit more speed.
Things even work when they depart from their usual thrash template in favor of groovy, swinging, mid-tempo forays like “It Is True,” where they replace the aggression with just enough catchy playing and fun ideas to make it enjoyable. However, they get stuck in a mid-tempo rut for the better part of the album and while most of the songs have interesting segments and slick playing, it starts to feel listless and dull after a while.
Songs like “Under the Gun” and “Waste of Life” misfire as Havok tries for a more commercial sound and the clean vocals on the latter are annoying as fuck. There are also too many basic, chugga-chugga riffs on the album. Worse yet, “Chasing the Edge” sounds like bad Annihilator. The inclusion of a cover of “Children of the Grave” is fun, but adds little to the album’s flow and the vocals aren’t 100% successful.
As musicians, the Havok boys are still first-rate. David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs play the hell out of their guitars and Scruggs can solo with the best of them. New bassist Michael Leon has a huge presence and his clicking, popping and rumbling lines channel Cliff Burton, Geezer Butler and even Robert Trujillo (Infectious Grooves, Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica). Pete Webber has another impressive outing behind the kit, but the pace of the new material requires much less of him. Sanchez is a good thrash vocalist, but his increasing attempts at cleaner styles are hit or miss and sadly, mostly miss.
About one half good, one half average, Unnatural Selection is undoubtedly a step back from the quality of Time is Up. Havok is still talented enough to make mediocre material sound fairly interesting, but I can’t see this having a lot of replay value for hardcore thrash fans due to it’s overly mellow, watered down style. Looks like I didn’t save these guys from that much ratings damage after all, but at least they keep churning out the shitty album art.