Heaven Shall Burn
Colorado-based thrashers HAVOK are back! After a whirlwind yet rewarding cycle for 2017's Conformicide effort, the high-octane outfit have emerged from the studio victorious with their new album, V. A sucker punch to the gut and a heady challenge to the status quo, HAVOK's 11-song rager undeniably sets fresh standards.
V extols the virtues of HAVOK's past and yet celebrates with staccato brilliance where the group are at today. Indeed, the quartet are refining their craft, writing better, catchier songs, and pushing the sonic envelope without sacrificing the aggression, the attitude, the smarts, and the intensity that commanded Time Is Up (2011) and Unnatural Selection (2013) to circle-pit infamy. The same processes that informed the transformations of Slayer (South of Heaven), Testament (Practice What You Preach), and Death Angel's (Act III) is heavily at work on V.
From opener "Post-Truth Era" to closer "Don't Do It," HAVOK have in their midst a bonafide, modern-era thrash classic. "The band's sound has gradually gotten more diverse and layered," says HAVOK vocalist/guitarist David Sanchez. "These days, the two guitars are not playing the same parts together as much. We utilize our instruments more like a symphony today, intertwining different lines to create a multi-layered sonic fabric." "Musical growth goes hand-in-hand with our physical and mental growth," guitarist Reece Scruggs adds. "We're all in our 30s, so V will naturally sound different from Burn or Time Is Up." Written over much of 2019, V benefits from more time, intensified collaboration, and continued refinement.
Not only did Sanchez, Scruggs, drummer Pete Webber, and the group's new bassist Brandon Bruce compose HAVOK's most straightforward songs ("Fear Campaign" and "Merchants of Death") to date, they also wrote some of the group's most intricate songs ("Betrayed by Technology" and "Interface with the Infinite") in the band's storied oeuvre. Yes, what poured out of HAVOK early on had more in common with Exodus than Coroner, but as the writing sessions progressed, sophistication followed.
"A lot of material was purged from our brains in a very short time," posits Sanchez. "I think we had a lot of ideas swirling around that we couldn't wait to get out of our heads. I believe that V is more refined and musically dense than Conformicide. The lyrics on this record are more exploratory, and the music is more fleshed out and 'harmony conscious.' We have distilled our years of experience into this record, and I think the practice and knowledge are evident in the compositions."
"More than any time before, it was a collaborative effort," Scruggs says. "David and I painstakingly went over a lot of material, and we banded together to refine and really perfect every aspect of this new record. Everyone had a hand in really shaping this record into something special in a really difficult and uncertain time." Whereas Conformicide had its lyrical fingers in corruption, government power, and a populace easily swayed (one way or the other), V is more an alarm. Sanchez is using the force of riff, the vigor of drums, and the allure of truth to coax people out of their media-induced stupor. He's not screaming from the rooftops, but the HAVOK frontman is out in the open, urging all to think for themselves.
Songs like "Post-Truth Era," "Cosmetic Surgery," "Fear Campaign," and "Betrayed by Technology" are acute observations similar to the message that connected Metallica and Megadeth to their disenfranchised fanbases. To bridge (and complement) their music, lyrics, and imagery, HAVOK brought on famed cover artist Eliran Kantor (Testament, Iced Earth). Kantor provided the perfect cover for V. Detailed, nuanced yet as loud as HAVOK's previous covers, the Germany-based artist delivered in full.
"I told Eliran a rough idea of what I was seeing in my head," Sanchez says. "I asked him to run with it. I think this album cover is my favorite we've ever had. He did an amazing job of taking the concept and making it come to life. Lyrically, the main topics on V are urging people to 'wake up' and think for themselves, psychedelia, and social manipulation. The lyrics are not as angry as Conformicide, but more introspective."
For the recording of V, HAVOK took their new album to Mark Lewis (Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder) at his studio in Nashville, Tennessee. The group entrusted Lewis not only to produce but also to mix and master V. The initial recordings started in July and were wrapped up by September last year. According to Sanchez, the mix took a bit longer than anticipated, but the extra time spent on it was well worth it in the end. While most bands provide a mastering template for the sound, HAVOK threw caution to the wind and told Lewis to make it "bright with massive low end." That's precisely what they got, too. Full-bodied, clear, yet razor-sharp, HAVOK and Lewis made an absolute monster with V.
"Tracking the album was pretty straightforward once we hit record," relays Sanchez. "The most time-consuming part of the process was spending the time to capture the right tones for the drums, cymbals, bass, guitars, vocals. We did a lot of experimentation with tones and gear. It was a long process, but well worth the time. As far as the master, I think Mark nailed it. The end result sounds insane, and we're all stoked on how it sounds. We all agree it's the best sounding record we've ever made." "[The whole production] took a bit longer than anyone really anticipated," Scruggs says. "But at the end of the day, we're all glad it took a tad more time. The proof is in the pudding."
Certainly, thrash has often needed a proverbial shot in the arm. And in most cases throughout its storied history, it's received it. From Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power and Megadeth's Rust in Piece to Machine Head's The Blackening and Municipal Waste's The Art of Partying, the genre's has had its sonic saviors. Well, now that thrash is nearly four decades old, it's HAVOK's turn to amp it up with super-heavy, super-smart, and superbly-catchy songs on V. As for HAVOK's next moves? Continued logistics around V. Once the album hits store shelves and online vendors, it's off into the horizon, playing for diehards, newbies, and the curious thrasherby alike.
"We're going to drop this record and tour our asses off," promises Sanchez. "We hope to hit North America a couple of times, Europe a couple of times, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa on this album cycle." "[We'll be] supporting V," Scruggs says. "Any place, time, or opportunity we can. Pushing this record down the throats of anyone and everyone we can."