Century Media Records
Reviewed By Simon Crawley
Havok is a band I only came to know at the time they unleashed 2011’s Time is Up upon modern day thrash. One cannot ask for a better introduction. Time is Up remains a personal favourite and go-to album when my mood lends itself to some serious speed, aggression, and groove – “Scumbag in Disguise”, classic! Just two years later and Unnatural Selection couldn’t come any sooner – I hadn’t been so amped for a follow-up album in quite some time. It was crushing (and not in the heavy metal sense, but in the proper emotional sense of the word). The album fell flat and was so underwhelming, cowering in the shadow of Time is Up. Double the time between albums and the Colorado thrashers are back with studio album number four. This was always going to be big moment for them.
When it comes to the groove factor in metal, Nick Schendzielos (of Job for a Cowboy and Cephalic Carnage) is without question an influential and nimble-fingered figure. He joined the Havok ranks following the departure of Mike Leon and not only is his individual contribution evident here, but the shift in the entire band’s approach to song writing is tremendous. The level of complexity to the song structures is intense and on the whole, Havok has never sounded better. Conformicide sounds fantastic and Steve Evetts (who has worked with the likes of Sepultura and The Dillinger Escape Plan) was behind it all and smashed it out the park in the recording studio.
The album opens with “F.P.C.” (which here stands for ‘fuck political correctness’) and there’s a gentle acoustic intro before Schendzielos’ presence is made well known with a heavy bass lead-in. That thick film of groove permeates throughout Conformicide and it is part of an overall shift in direction or variation of the foundation Havoks works off that becomes so apparent. It’s not that they have put on the breaks or that there is a dilution to the shredding riffs, but rather that there is a clarification to what makes up the parts to this thrash metal mass. David Sanchez’s venom-spitting vocals carry a reinforced intensity – almost as though there is more support around him allowing for that extra second or two to breathe and launch his political and social attacks with added purpose. Reece Scruggs partners Sanchez on guitar and the two of them boast ingenuity and creativity with their riffs, solos and rhythm sections. Drummer Pete Webber is brilliant on this entire album and tracks like “Ingsoc” and “Peace in Pieces” are examples of his skill set.
The last of the three tracks mentioned above is also Havok showing more aggression. Sanchez’s vocals are pumped up with rage and there is also the host of staccato riffs. “Circling the Drain” has a very Megadeth feel to it from a Rust in Peace era – very memorable and seeing Havok extend a song, along with “Ingsoc”, to over seven minutes in length. Conformicide closes out with a cover of Pantera’s “Slaughtered” which, brings out the beast in Sanchez’s vocals. As far as drawing a line in the sand post-Unnatural Selection, it would have been awesome to have the band finish off with a strong original song, but when taking a step back to consider Conformicide as a whole it’s mightily impressive. Havok is back in a big way.