3/20/2017 - Review by: Eric Compton
Thinking person's thrash that utilizes prior blueprints to advance its cause
A lot has transpired since Havok's 2013 album 'Unnatural Selection'. The Colorado thrashers have hit their stride on the road, laboring heavily over Planet E with the likes of Testament, Children of Bodom, Megadeth, etc. Arguably the band's biggest years came on the back-end of supporting 'Unnatural Selection'. The band's dispute with the Mustaines, notably agent Justis Mustaine (although the always wise-crackin' Dave got his shots in too), was widely publicized in a he-said, he-said social media bout. The end result puts Havok in control of their own destiny, minding their own affairs. They are at a career peak, looking out over fertile ground that sees its members signed to Century Media after years with English label Candelight. With this new album, 'Conformicide', the peak may be a residential home. Havok have arrived.
'Conformicide' was produced by Steve Evetts, a guy who can punch a heavy bag. Evetts has recorded everyone from Hatebreed to Sepultura over a productive 25-year career. His emphasis on a polished sound is evident on these ten cuts. The bass is up-front and compliments the steady barrage of double-bass. While the mix is a little crowded, plenty of breathing room has been given for vocalist/guitarist David Sanchez to preach at the pulpit. Yeah, 'Conformicide' could be the most politically charged album I've heard since Warrior Soul's 'Drugs, God and the New Republic'.
"F.P.C." charges out of the gate with an attack on censorship. The Fu#k Political Correctness lyrics are spot on over music that could be the successor to 'Rust in Peace'. It's uber-quick with bass licks that are isolated in spots with a jazzy vibe (courtesy of new bassist Nick Schendzielos). Sanchez's snarl is reminiscent of Dave Mustaine, but I can hear the frequent comparisons to Death Angel's Mark Osegueda.
"Hang 'em High" was an early single that I heard last year. Its lyrical approach is around the influx of big business. Sanchez screams "the enemy is not coming from overseas" repeatedly. Percussion stays in the pocket throughout but gets a little loose around 2:30 mark with a tempo change and one of the coolest lyrics on record - "The United Snakes of America". The band is on fire.
"Dog Maniacal" is as dark as a hearse door. The beginning notes remind me of mid-90's Iced Earth before ripping into an electric groove that's set with just a cymbal beat. It's the perfect backdrop for Sanchez's preachy sermon on religion. Check out these lyrics:
You don't need to have a conscience, you're just following orders
From the man upstairs, the one who doesn't answer prayers
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
The lyrics could be universal depending on your own faith. It could target Islamic terrorists or the Catholic Church. The target is religious ideology that blinds. Around the 2:00 mark the song kicks in with a thunderous double-bass, busy hands and quick thrash chops. Musically, it isn't anything we haven't heard before. But Sanchez's vocals and energy level puts it miles above others in the now defunct "New Wave of Thrash Metal".
A mocked 5pm news telecast introduces "Intention to Deceive". The anchorman states, "In the news today we cover trivial stories that distracts you from what's really going on in the world today. It's 5 'O Clock and here's what we want you to think." I love it. This track has that Bay Area sound that isn't far removed from Exodus. Sanchez is more like Mark Osegueda here with the snarled vocals but by this point Sanchez is simply Sanchez. I love the 3:00 mark of "Bullshit" before the track hits high-speeds with riffs and solos. At the 3:50 mark is total Slayer worship with the fills trademark Lombardo. "Intention to Deceive" nails everything we love about thrash.
"Ingsoc" continues the political diatribe, this one set in Orwell's dystopian novel "1984". Ingsoc was the name given to English Socialism when they began to rule Oceania in the book. The track has some gallops and a little breakdown at the five-minute mark but overall it isn't one of my favorites. I like the trade-off solos to close the song's last two-minutes.
"Masterplan" weighs in at nearly seven-minutes long and once again tackles religion. This one has a build-up for two-minutes before a rigid bass line hits. You can hear the fast rhythm coming like a Helltrain down the tracks. Lyrically, really in the face:
Two hands hard at work accomplish more than a million
Clasped in prayer, for a God who simply doesn't care
How does all the misery fit into the master plan?
Could it be that the idea of a loving God was created by man?
He gang chants and quick tempo changes up at the 4:00 mark, settling into a mid-speed groove while Sanchez screams out a tirade of anti-religion. Fretwork is off the rails. "Masterplan" is one of the heavier tracks on the record both lyrically and musically.
You knew the question of war had to be brought in at some point. Havok lays it on thick with "Peace is in Pieces", a track that proclaims "war is a racket, paid for with your cooperation". This one seems a little one-dimensional with a simple mid-paced riff dominating most of the song. It has a stomp riffs at the 2:00 mark that adds a little change of pace. One of the weaker cuts of the second half.
I first heard "Claiming Certainty" last year on the band's live tour with Children of Bodom. Before the song started Sanchez took to the mic to ask why people always seem to know what happens when you die. He asked the crowd, "How do they know? They aren't fucking dead yet". The song is sort of the staple of the album in my opinion. It's another anti-religion song, but ties into the album artwork. The lyric "Blind faith, a mental prison cell" is pictured on the forehead of the skull that adorns the cover. Get it? The track is three-minutes of high-octane speed metal, ripping and galloping with electric riffage that is equaled by the double-bass. It's hard not to cite early Metallica and Slayer as influences at the 2:00 mark. Overall, the "go to" song on the album. It's a merciless beating.
"Wake Up" is sort of the life-lesson that Sanchez and the boys are getting at through the first eight songs. "Wake up, wake up and think, try thinking for yourself instead of accepting what you're told." Musically, it has a bit of punk infused with the short riffs. It's nearly six-minutes and doesn't change tempo much. Again, solos spread the song out and fit like a glove to close out the last couple of minutes.
Depending on your version, "Circling the Drain" or a cover of Pantera's "Slaughtered" ends the record. My copy has "Circling..." as the curtain jerker. I hear a riff from "...Punishment Due" in the first forty-seconds. This one is just over seven-minutes long and I think it's a little longer than needed. I like the cleaner, almost spoken-word vocals at 2:00. The song is a sprinkle of positivity, stating that "unless we fight for change, we'll be circling the drain." At 3:30 it's nearly a power metal presentation, a different approach than what we have heard thus far on record. The bass solo enhances the mid-section before the song progresses into a faster climax. Overall, one of the more-lively cuts on the album and a fitting closer.
Havok have achieved their greatest success with 'Conformicide'. It's only March, but this one could be my album of the year. It's already facing stiff competition with the likes of Warbringer, Kreator and Overkill, but thus far has controlled the majority of my time. It's mentally invigorating; the thinking person's thrash metal album that utilizes prior blueprints to advance its cause. With lyrics that are as energetic and forceful as the music, 'Conformicide' will have you conforming to its ideology.
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