Havok – ‘V’

By Ash Bebbington

Over the last decade, Havok have earnt their place as one of the most prominent thrash revival bands. Instead of introducing new genres to the mix, they stick to the blueprint handed down by the titans of thrash, and they do it well.

With the exception of a couple of experimental tracks, their new record ‘V’ offers up more of the high-octane thrash sound that’s brought Havok such acclaim. If thrash metal is your thing, you’re going to have a lot of fun with this album.

Musically, each member of the band turns in a stellar performance on ‘V’. The guitars are relentless, mixing staccato bursts of machine gun fire with shredding lead parts. The interplay between guitarists David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs is superb, and it’s telling that they’ve been playing together for a decade. Meanwhile, drummer Pete Webber puts in a superb performance from behind the kit. His playing underpins the guitars and helps to drive the songs forward in a furious attack of double kick drums and crash cymbal hits.

‘V’ is Havok’s first release featuring new bassist Brandon Bruce, and he turns in a performance of the highest order. As with Havok’s previous record, ‘Conformicide’, bass parts fleetingly take a lead role in some tracks and Bruce steps up to the plate superbly. This is best shown on the track ‘Cosmetic Surgery’, where Bruce delivers stabs of slapped bass in between riotous guitar riffs. The dynamics between Bruce and the other three members are impressive, especially given that this is their first time recording as a unit.

As a vocalist, Sanchez delivers a shrieking, wailing performance, supported by Bruce, on backing vocal duty. The backing vocals are superb, and add in a number of lines that will no doubt be enthusiastically chanted back at the band in a live setting. As with previous Havok releases, the lyrical content of ‘V’ is politically charged, written about current affairs, but with a dystopic outlook. On ‘Post-Truth Era’ they tackle the state of political discourse in an era of fake news, ‘Cosmetic Surgery’ rails against the darker side of the beauty industry, while ‘Merchants of Death’ takes aim at those who profit from war. As a lyricist, subtlety is not Sanchez’s strong suit, but that’s far from being a dealbreaker on a record that sounds this good.

While the tone and production on ‘V’ sound modern, it has a traditional 80s thrash approach to songwriting that is brilliantly executed. The record comes sprinting out of the speakers at a cheetah’s pace with the first two tracks ‘Post-Truth Era’, and ‘Fear Campaign’. For the next few tracks, Havok take their foot off the accelerator, but no matter the tempo, the album always offers up riffs that make you want to bang your head.

Havok bring back the pace with ‘Phantom Force’, the record’s standout track. The song is a three minute burst of pure thrash joy that hurtles forward at breakneck speed. The guitars and drums are absolutely unrelenting, while the bass frenetically accentuates the guitar lines. This injection of pace continues into the next track ‘Cosmetic Surgery’, and later track ‘Merchants of Death’.

While the vast majority of ‘V’ sticks to a furious thrash sound, Havok do dip into more experimental sounds on ‘Panpsychism’ and ‘Don’t Do It’. The former starts with a finger picked acoustic guitar part, which moves into a slow thrash chug, and then into a riffy breakdown before catapulting into action and cranking up the pace. Of course, this is nothing that hasn’t been done in thrash before, but it adds a welcome change of pace to the previous half hour of non-stop headbanging riffs. The album closes with the 8 minute epic ‘Don’t Do It’, which again starts off slowly before exploding into life towards the end. The first five minutes are the most experimental on the record by some distance, before giving way to a pacy thrash section for around 90 seconds, and finally ending with a classical acoustic guitar piece. It would have been a bolder end to the record to not include this final thrash section, but as ever across ‘V’, it is perfectly executed.

If you’re looking for a classic sounding thrash record with minimal influence from other genres, Havok are one of the most reliable contemporary bands in the game. While they have used a couple of tracks on this record to experiment with more expansive soundscapes, for the most part ‘V’ sticks to the tried and tested formula. This is a great thrash metal album, and one that deserves your time.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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