May 1, 2020 Havok – V (Album Review)
Havok, the titans of Thrash perched atop the Rocky Mountains, are set to deliver V, their latest collection of Heavy Metal slabs, on Friday, May 1st, through Century Media.
First formed by high school friends David Sanchez (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Haakon Sjoegren (drums), Havok expanded to include the late Shawn Chavez on lead guitar and Marcus Corich on drums. Frequent lineup changes began almost immediately, starting with both Corich and co-founder Sjoegren a year later, though the disarray would eventually consume everyone except Sanchez.
Latest addition Brandon Bruce was recruited last year to solidify the cyclical bass position and provide backing vocals, joining Pete Webber on drums and Reece Alan Scruggs Pete Webber on lead guitar, both of whom joined in 2010, just after the release of the band’s 2009 Burn, but ahead of 2011’s Time is Up and 2013’s Unnatural Selection. The band released Conformicide, its debut for Century Media, three years ago, and now the aptly titled V is upon listeners. Adding to the excitement, Mark Lewis, who has worked with everyone from Trivium to DevilDriver, was tapped to engineer, mix, and master, and the impressive Eliran Kantor handled the artwork.
A towering monolith, V has everything expected from the deep drinks Havok takes from their ’80s Thrash influences. In terms of technical skill, there are crisp guitar solos, choral vocals during verses, and bright, punchy bass lines, while the subject material hits themes of encroaching technology and man-made post-apocalyptic misery; these last two are just as poignant today as they were in the seemingly simpler time of Megadeth’s 1990 classic Rust in Peace.
Bruce makes his presence known immediately; his clanging plods fit well within the ’80s Thrash style the band has long presented. That said, “Interface with the Infinite” has a nice Testament vibe to it, as Bruce seems to be a loyal student of both Testament Co-Founder Greg Christian and current low-ender Steve Di Giorgio. These nods to the Bay Area continue later with “Cosmetic Surgery.” The work of David Ellefson on the aforementioned Rust in Peace also finds its way here, particularly on “Betrayed by Technology.”
A few tracks swerve outside the confines of Thrash, starting with “Fear Campaign,” which starts with a breakneck that mixes equal parts Mötorhead and Hair Metal. In the following track, “Betrayed by Technology,” both the subject matter and the execution do well to evoke the height of Thrash Metal. This in mind, while the subject warns about the unwitting overhaul of daily life, as technology is granted more and more access and permission to decide the fate of humans, the execution is a mixture of, you guessed it, Rust in Peace, and an almost Doom-tinged melancholy during the chorus.
Then there is “Dab Tsog” which appears as a short, disconcerting interlude, as if to break the vinyl halves of an ’80s release. The title comes from the Hmong concept of sleep paralysis, specifically the name of the spirit believed to attack sleepers as they lie. Perhaps this is a clever wake-up call from the band, a warning that technology, distance, and automation will consume the last bits of humanity.
Those expecting sounds of classic Thrash Metal will not be disappointed by “Interface with the Infinite,” “Cosmetic Surgery,” or “Phantom Force,” while “Panpsychism” and “Ritual of the Mind” veer almost into Progressive Metal, in the vein of Pestilence and Atheist. Closer “Don’t Do It” adds some Slayer influences, particularly the cold, monotonous vocal chorus.
V finds Havok taking brief detours from their normal Thrash Metal vibe. As Sanchez describes it: “A lot of experimentation went into the writing and recording of V… the music is dense with lots of different intertwining parts.” Existing fans of the band will still find plenty of expected sounds to devour, while new followers will gather around as the band shows virtuosity and a willingness to move outside their known environs. Thus, Cryptic Rock proudly gives V 4 out of 5 stars.