Denver thrash revivalists, Havok, have had pulses racing since 2009, but the entire genre is now dependent on their latest release. With a new bassist and only three years since 2017’s Conformicide, the risk of disappointment is high. Can they deliver?
A sense of scepticism clouds the beginning as you plug in your headphones. Are they imitating Metallica’s ‘Blackened’ with the fade-in harmonized guitars at the intro to ‘Post-Truth Era’? Is track number two not lifted straight from Megadeth’s ‘502’? Does ‘Ritual of the Mind’ rip off Metallica’s ‘Eye of the Beholder’ at the start?
The good news is these are the only quibbles you’ll have throughout the 45 minutes of this magnificent opus. Havok take the edgiest and most energetic attributes of the Bay Area and coat them in the Teutonic aggression of Kreator. On top is the sophistication of classic Voivod. There is not one song wasted here as guitarist Reece Scruggs rips through some of the fastest and crunchiest thrash riffs this side of Rust In Peace. And in David Sanchez, Havok have the finest vocalist since Testament’s Chuck Billy. Every lyric is a fight against the conspiratorial forces holding back the freedom of the global citizenry. It’s not just a can of Budweiser you’ll raise to the chorus of each song. Clench your fist and unleash your righteous anger as the band tackle the disingenuous phenomenon of fake news on ‘Post-Truth Era’ and rally against the dark forces controlling and re-writing history on ‘Cosmetic Surgery.’
If you’re apolitical, no problem. Havok know how to connect through the language of music. ‘Betrayed by Technology’ is one of the finest starts to a thrash song since Prong’s ‘Beg to Differ’. Sanchez barks, ‘I can see the writing on the wall/ Our way of life is about to fall,’ over a dystopian riff that will remind you of Voivod’s Dimension Hatröss in its vibe. The influences might sometimes lack subtlety, but don’t mistake Havok for nostalgists. The guitar polyrhythms in the chorus of ‘Phantom Lord’ are as brutal as Meshuggah, while the finger-tapping guitar style on ‘Interface with the Infinite’ recalls Gojira at their most emphatic. They’ve also found a unique frequency for the bass in their studio mix. New boy, Brandon Bruce, tackles the four strings like a virtuoso as he weaves in and out of the guitar riffs with intricate precision. On ‘Panpsychism’ he carries the entire song with bubbling intensity.
But perhaps the biggest triumph is the closing track, ‘Don’t Do It’. Here the band offer one of the most poignant songs about the complexities of suicide. It finally lays to the rest the unrealised promise of Sacred Reich’s, ‘Who’s to Blame?’ and demonstrates to all that thrash is not just about head-banging and man-on-the-street politics. They keep you tuned in for good measure at the end with a riff as fast as a piranha munching on human flesh.
2020 has already given us the promise of English thrash sensations Must Kill and strong albums from Sepultura, Sylosis and Testament. But Havok have seized the thrash crown and look unlikely to relinquish it over the remaining seven months.
Release Date: 01/05/2020
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Betrayed by Technology, Phantom Force, Don’t Do It
Suggested Further Listening: Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988), Kreator – Extreme Aggression (1989), Metallica – And Justice for All (1988)