Havok – V Review

Earlier in Havok‘s career, I would have guided the tour bus past all the sights worth seeing on V. On the left, the Leaning Toutwer of le Monde, on the right, the (wait for it) And Justice for All Department, dead ahead, the famous Roots 66. However, those elements would be noteworthy only because they spiced up a paint-drying-by-the-numbers take on thrash.1 However, the appeal there wasn’t originality, but instead that it didn’t vacuum hemorrhoids like the previous decade of thrash. Warbringer, Lich King, Gama Bomb, they all fucking sounded the same. And each, in turn, developed a sound that was wholly their own, even within the thrashscape. V completes that evolution for Havok, producing a landmark in the career of these once and future thrash kings.

“Post-Truth Era” finds the Denverites in fine form, swinging from “Blackened” intro into pacy gallops and spiraling solos with ease. The songwriting is taut, playing the very best bits up and out before ripcording into “Fear Campaign” to do it all over again. Though the speed ramps into a scything thrash standard here, Havok plays to all thrash camps under their wide tent, intent to get you moshing no matter which brand of 80s Metallica you stan the most. That’s the best part of V: the genre’s worth of paces, weights, and ideas, beholden to none, master of all. The occasional track may dabble with one-dimensionality as a stomper (“Ritual of the Mind”) or ripper (“Merchants of Death”), sure. On the whole, though, most entries feature enough freewheeling frenetics and careful development to stave off predictability. The end product plays like a heavily polyurethaned version of 2017’s Conformicide: diverse in scope, sneering and sinister in attitude, and strapped to the teeth with riiiiiiiiiiffs.

The clearest mark of development is in the songwriting. Where Conformicide awkwardly ambled through off-kilter intros and too-long tracks, V never hesitates to annihilate. Havok now know when to open on a huge salvo and when to ease their way into the proceedings, resulting in a more natural, fluid experience. Rootsy interlude “Dab Tsog” may be the finest of these, a seventy-five-second launching pad that rockets “Phantom Force” into orbit. When combined with Havok‘s propensity for stop-start tempos and the lockstep of their timing, as on “Cosmetic Surgery” and “Merchants of Death,” life is a beautiful thing. The record runs fine, if maybe a bit long at 46 minutes, but only a pair of songs, “Interface with the Infinite” and “Panpsychism,” wear out their welcome. The former lacks in excitement, while the latter’s variety can’t shake a mediocre and overused chorus. Eight-minute closer “Don’t Do It” straddles that territory too, reading and playing like a darker “A Tout le Monde.” However, the five minutes of build simply need to cut a bit of fat for its red-line-to-finish-line finale to completely pay off.

The sublime production from Conformicide returns, this time with Mark Lewis (The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel) at the helm. The overall sound is slightly less spacious but more than capable of meeting the dynamism inherent in Havok‘s range. Everything else has stepped up: Pete Webber turns in the best drum performance of his career; Reece Scruggs’ axe cleaves more meat than ever as he ascends to Riffhalla; David Sanchez’s shrieks push coarser and shriller toward the extreme; rookie bassist Brandon Bruce’s steel-beam bass clangs around a battleship’s hull in the best of ways. In fact, Bruce so excellently fills the void left by the fantastic Nick Schendzielos that I didn’t realize the line-up had turned over before writing this review. Even the lyrics go down easier, though the flavor has only grown more bitter. Sanchez’s subjects span the rise of automation, perpetual military conflict, and the war on drugs (“but not the ones they sell”) with the same atom-bomb-meets-nail bluntness of stuff like “F.P.C.” Mentally separating those topics from the music, however, isn’t as easy three dark years on from Conformicide.

V still isn’t my favorite Havok album—not yet. But with a little time and a few thousand listens more, it very likely will be. It certainly features the band operating at their peak. They’ve managed to land on the holy trinity—mastery of their sound, mastery of their abilities, and mastery of their influences—all at the same time. The result is the best Havok record in a decade. All hail the flying V.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: havokband.com | facebook.com/havokofficial
Releases Worldwide: May 1st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Yes, save it, Time Is Up was one of my favorite records of the decade so preemptively shut up.
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