Superlatives are usually used to describe new albums. Great. Greater. Greatest. Thrash metal is full of superlative albums. From the golden gods in Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, and Anthrax to the new gods in Municipal Waste, Warbringer, Toxic Holocaust, and Lost Society, the battlejacket of thrash metal continues to rage loud and louder. The New Wave of Thrash Metal has had its moments, too. Warbringer awaited hell on 2013’s IV: Empires Collapse. Toxic Holocaust bonded blood on 2005’s Hell on Earth. And Municipal Waste annihilated principles on 2003’s Waste ‘Em All. Based on a decade’s worth of ruling hard in high tops, it would seem thrash metal’s younger generation is playing for keeps. But there’s always a superlative. A beacon among beacons. The next level up kind of thing. Well, thrashers, moshers, and circle pit maniacs the greatest of the great has arrived in Havok’s new full-length, Conformicide, their first for Century Media Records.
In the shop for almost three years, Havok’s Conformicide is undoubtedly their Master of Puppets or Rust in Peace moment. True, the Denver-based rippers have bled out guts, brains, and cash on previous albums Unnatural Selection (2013), Time is Up (2011), and Burn (2009), but none of them compare to ear-destroying, mind-flaying Conformicide. “Conformicide is faster and way angrier than Unnatural Selection,” says vocalist/guitarist/founding member David Sanchez. “On this album, the music is very layered and dynamic and the lyrics say a lot about the current state of the world.”
Faster, angrier, and burlier, Conformicide benefited significantly from more collaborative writing sessions, where guitarist Reece Scruggs, drummer Pete Webber, and newcomer bassist Nick Schendzielos (Job for a Cowboy, Cephalic Carnage) were instrumental in pushing Sanchez’s violent yet quick-witted songs over the proverbial edge. The result is a set of tunes that fume, spit, and storm high-end, pit-slaying thrash. “To us, a song is a collection of music that will get stuck in your head,” Sanchez says. “Where every musician gets to shine, and dynamics are utilized to add peaks and valleys to the music—to take the listener on a musical roller coaster ride. After that musical foundation is there, we like to throw meaningful, thought-provoking lyrics on the top of the riff mountain and that’s where the songwriting process usually starts... With the almighty riff—the lifeblood of a good metal song. We slap a couple riffs together, then put drums and bass to it, then begin experimenting with guitar harmonies and different lines that the second guitar can play. Vocal rhythms and melodies are usually the last things to be solidified.”
Now, more astute headbangers were paying attention. That’s right. Havok replaced former bassist Mike Leon with the finger-flying Schendzielos in 2015. The change, as Sanchez puts it, was necessary for Havok to continue to steamroll the competition. The addition of Schendzielos is immediately noticeable on Conformicide. The five-stringer from Evergreen, Colorado blows minds throughout. Bassists around the world are invited to wow at his quick-witted runs on “F.P.C.”, “Hang ‘Em High”, and “Circling the Drain” “Nick brings a fresh approach to the songwriting process,” says Sanchez. “And he lends a different perspective on the bass lines in our music. He’s a fantastic bass player and fun to watch on stage. Nick’s positive attitude, stellar musicianship, and passion for performing are huge assets to Havok. We’re all stoked to have him with us.”
Hardcore Havok fans need not worry, however. Conformicide isn’t a bass-driven show. There’s plenty—an insane amount, actually—of mosh-minded and cleverly crafted riffs to bite on, try out on YouTube, and play for fellow heshers on Havok’s newest. “Peace is in Pieces”, “Wake Up” “Intention to Deceive”, and the superlative “Dogmaniacal” are devilishly designed to make heads bang uncontrollably and fists pump vigorously. Conformicide is thrash metal personified. “To me, thrash is the purest form of metal,” Sanchez asserts. “Thrash metal is fast, heavy, adrenaline-fueled, aggressive, in-your-face, pissed off, and hits like a spiked sledgehammer when done properly!”
No doubt we’ve all been hit hard by thrash’s spiked sledgehammer. Whether it’s the way Rick Rubin man-handled Slayer’s Reign in Blood or how Alex Perialas caught Testament’s frustration on The New Order or what methods Michael Rosen used to capture Forbidden’s twin-guitar magic on Twisted into Form, Havok also has an ace producer at the helm. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Steve Evetts (Sepultura, The Dillinger Escape Plan, M.O.D., Warbringer) at his studio in Garden Grove, California, Conformicide sounds massive and angry yet crisp and intense. It’s the kind of production most bands of Havok’s origin dream of. “Steve did a killer job with the natural sound of the drums and accurately portrayed our live guitar tones and overall sound,” grins Sanchez. “We’re stoked on the sonic quality of the record and think it’s our best-sounding album so far.”
Lyrically speaking, Havok pull no punches—left and right—about the current state of society. Just as the greats in Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, and so on comment heavily on what was happening in the egregious ‘80s, so too is Havok ready to inform, via pointed words in a catchy chorus, in the terrible tensies. “Our current political climate is not much different than it has been for decades,” Sanchez insists. “Far too many politicians are corrupt, money rules everything, and the people work for the government; instead of the government working for the people. Everything is backwards and I find it disgusting. If you take a good look around—you’ll find the same endless supply of content that I draw from to write my lyrics! With this album, I’m trying to inspire listeners to think for themselves and break the trend of blindly following.”
Indeed, Havok has plenty to rail against. Whether it’s the government, the media, or organized religion, Sanchez and team don’t let them off easy on Conformicide. For example, “Hang 'Em High” has lines that read, ‘Traitors-selling us down the river to the big business’, “Intention to Deceive” is spot on with the line, ‘Keep you stupid, so you will not rebel’, while “Masterplan” posits the lines, ‘Two hands hard at work accomplish more than a million clasped in prayer for a god who simply doesn’t care’. “As long as there is corruption, unjustified war, threats to liberty, and a war on the minds of the masses, these topics will remain relevant,” reveals Sanchez. “Dissension and debate are crucial to progress and the awakening of the collective mind. I want Havok to be known as a warrior for positive change in this world. I want this band to be a leading voice in the global revolution of the mind.”
Make no mistake, Havok’s lyrics aren’t predicated on political leanings left or right. They’re actually observations of injustice, vociferations about the persuasive power of religion, and diatribes against greed. At their heart, they’re the expressions of Sanchez’s frustrations with the world. And they pair perfectly with Conformicide’s endless array of mind-boggling riffs, spiked runs, jagged turns, aggro thrusts, and clever motifs on songs such as “Ingsoc”, “Claiming Certainty”, and on opener “F.P.C.”
With Conformicide, Havok prove they’re undoubtedly thrash metal scions, ready for their time in the spotlight. “This band was essentially started as a nod to the old-school greats,” Sanchez says. “When they all retire, Havok will be there to fill the thrash metal void. That’s why this band exists.”
Horns up, thrashers! Havok’s ready to destroy on Conformicide.