Ever wished that Slayer’s pathological need to play at cokehead speed was combined with the earworm serpentine riffing of Metallica? Then you’d like Havok. The thrash quartet’s from Colorado, so of course their lyrics are as libertarian as can be. They’re a fascinating band, too. They burned through bassists early on like they’re making their own version of Spinal Tap—five in the first nine years. Gotta wonder if any of them exploded. And they have a penchant for fascinatingly cringeworthy titles—“Wreckquiem,” “Dogmaniacal,” etc. Then there’s vocalist/guitarist David Sanchez seething hatred of religion that would make Richard Dawkins scoff. But what’s important is the often-excellent music they’ve released. Let’s get to it, shall we?
5. Burn (2009)
Every band’s gotta start somewhere. Thrash bands don’t have a great track record with classic debuts. They’re usually cheaply made and the songwriting isn’t honed yet. (Except, of course, for Metallica. They nailed it on the first try and have been in steady decline since.) Naturally, Havok’s debut album is their weakest. It’s a promising effort, though, featuring some solid riffs and inspired playing. Additionally, Sanchez’s condescendingly indignant snarl is already fully formed. Same goes for his leave-me-the-fuck-alone alpha-libertarianism: (“Mess with me, I’ll mess you up / You’ve never seen a temper quite like this / Stay away from me right now / I got a pistol cocked and I’m pissed”) and his hatred of religion (“War with open arms / And open minds that fear / Freedom of religion / What is the final cost?”). Despite its flaws, “Burn” is still a more enjoyable listen than “Killing is My Business… and Business is Good!,” so there’s that.
Play it again: “Afterburner,” because any “metal fuck yeah!” song is automatically on repeat.
Skip it: “Melting,” although the band’s skipping the entire album on tour this year, so….
4. Unnatural Selection (2013)
Here, Havok experimented with groove and slower tempos, as well as some progressive songwriting. The result is a well-performed record of growing pains with multiple songs plodding along, saved only by longtime drummer Pete Webber’s slick playing (“Worse Than War”), or speeding up the song’s middle third to proper thrash tempo (“Chasing the Edge”). The other upsides are Terry Date’s superb mix and Sanchez once again denouncing religion. His libertarian (read: obliviousness) hits a new high this time with “Give Me Liberty… or Give Me Death,” which is exactly what you think it’s about. It ends with Sanchez reciting a quote about liberty from noted slaveholder Thomas Jefferson, which is like writing a song about racial harmony and then quoting David Duke.
Play it again: “Children of the Grave,” because Sabbath fuckin’ rulez
Skip it: “Under the Gun”
3. V (2020)
Calling it “5” woulda been too on-the-nose, amirite? I guess it’s better than a cringe-pun. Anyhow, with most of the progressive stuff from “Conformicide” cut out like a burst appendix, think of Havok’s fifth album as a sleeker and somewhat experimental version of “Time is Up.” It’s got some of their finest riffing to date, and, thanks to Mark Lewis, it’s also their best-sounding album. Sanchez sounds as pissed off as he ever has, employing his libertarian spittle-snarl to attack misinformation, transhumanism, the war on drugs, and the military-industrial complex (again). No diatribe against religion this time, however. I guess you can beat a crucified horse only so many times before it gets boring. Overall, “V” is a top-notch thrash record and proves the genre is still essential, even if recent records by the Big Four suggest otherwise.
Play it again: “Phantom Force”—just like sex, thrash is best when it’s fast and loud.
Skip it: “Panpsychism,” the one song that, while an interesting experiment, doesn’t fit with the rest. It’s more awkwardly shoehorned in than a vegan self-identifying as such.
2. Time is Up (2011)
Written mostly by Sanchez while the band’s lineup was in flux, Havok’s sophomore LP is a serious upgrade from “Burn.” This is the first one with Webber, who proves instantly that he’s one of the best in metal. His fluid technicality is a joy to listen to. The band also replaced their original lead guitarist with Reece Scruggs. He deserves a raise just for his punk-as-hell name. Seems like those additions allowed Sanchez to expand and fine-tune his songwriting because the riffing is sharper and the choruses are stronger. This time around, Sanchez shits on religion in two different songs, but those aren’t career-best numbers. Yet, the album’s main theme seems to be that life is short. The cliché’s more banal than “follow your dreams,” yes, but Sanchez used it to focus his talents into a superb thrash record. Consider this Havok’s true debut.
Play it again: “Covering Fire”
Skip it: “Time is Up”
1. Conformicide (2017)
Ignore the silly title, because this is Havok’s finest full-length. It’s their “…And Justice for All” (or “Rust in Peace,” if you prefer a lesser example). This is their only no-skips record, and has their catchiest riffing and best playing to date, with Webber’s drum arrangements being the most inventive in thrash. The interplay between all four members throughout is fantastic: they’re tighter than the grooves of your 180g vinyl of “Kill ’Em All” you bought years ago but never opened. Sanchez rises to the occasion with apoplectic vocals, railing against corrupt officials, mass media, and, that’s right, the military-industrial complex. His libertarianism goes Super Saiyan here, invoking “1984” and calling political correctness “a social disease.” He also berates religion in three (!) separate songs. That may seem like too many, but consider: anyone who calls God “a power-tripping maniac” is doing something right. “Conformicide” is a stunning achievement and the peak of 2010s thrash metal.
Play it again: the whole goddamn thing, even the unfortunately titled “Peace is in Pieces.”
Skip it: any other thrash record of 2017.