Album Title: Conformicide
Label: Century Media Records
Date Of Release: 10 March 2017
For someone who is continually going on record to say that he doesn’t, as a rule, prefer thrash metal, I seem to have been enjoying quite a lot of albums in this genre recently. First there was the new Testament disc that found itself in my top 30 for 2016. Then, more recently, there has been the new Kreator album that has made quite an impression on me. And now, here I am, about to wax lyrical about another thrash metal album. Maybe I like thrash metal more than I thought? Maybe I ought to re-evaluate my musical tastes?
The album at the centre of my current affections is ‘Conformicide’ from Havok, the fourth album from the Denver-based thrashers. I’ve never listened to Havok before, so what, I hear you ask, made me check out a band from a genre I’m not overly keen on that I’d never investigated before?
Well, it wasn’t the hyperbole-fuelled press release that brazenly refers to ‘Conformicide’ as Havok’s own ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ that’s for sure. I take these comments with a pinch of salt, quite frankly. No, it was the fact that this was a band that was consistently mentioned by friends, acquaintances and valued review sites when discussing their most anticipated albums of 2017. With such a swell of interest, I figured I must have missed out on something and so took the decision to check it out when it found its way into my inbox.
I was right. With ‘Conformicide’, Havok have delivered a really superb, muscular-sounding slab of properly caustic, savage and aggressive heavy metal that is delivered alongside a cutting and sobering commentary on the state of the world today. The riffs from David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs are multi-layered, razor-sharp and often complex as are the whirlwind lead breaks and solos. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Pete Webber and bassist Nick Schendzielos are powerful in the extreme, almost telepathic at times but more than that, they are truly inventive and don’t just make up the numbers. Then there are the vocals of Sanchez, which are some of the most vitriolic, snarling and venomous I’ve heard on a thrash album. They might not be to everyone’s taste, but they fit this music perfectly.
What I particularly like though, is when a band makes me raise an eyebrow or offer something different to what I was expecting. We get this immediately on ‘Conformicide’ thanks to the opening track ‘F.P.C’ which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar intro before a heavy, moody riff enters. It is short-lived though as the track becomes dominated by some funky, groovy slap-bass that hints at a progressive slant to the song writing that I simply wasn’t ready for. It is nevertheless rather great. I also really enjoy the drumming thanks to some really inventive fills and the mix of tempos gives the track an added dimension as it moves effortlessly from slow groove to all-out speed, topped by wailing and gnashing lead guitar breaks.
The slap bass returns to introduce what has to be one of the best tracks on the record, in the shape of ‘Hang ‘Em High’. The frantic riffs and urgent rhythm section are then topped off by some of the most confrontational and angry lyrics anywhere on ‘Conformicide’. ‘The enemy is not coming from overseas…the United Snakes of America’ gives you a truncated but illuminating example of the lyrical content that is positively spat out and later screamed venomously by vocalist Sanchez. And yet, for all this, the occasional flash of groove or subtle melody keeps the song interesting and accessible.
‘Dogmaniacal’ contains strong echoes of ‘Countdown To Extinction’-era Megadeth but ultimately marches to its own savage tune. Taking more than just a casual swipe at religion, it fizzes by in a blaze of violent aggression whilst somewhat contradictorily it displays some of the strongest melodic intent along the way. The fact that the content mirrors much of my own dislike of religion in general means that this is a song that makes its mark on me powerfully on all levels.
The news reader introduction to ‘Intention To Deceive’ is absolutely brilliant. ‘…and in the news today’, he says in that polished American manner, ‘we cover trivial stories to distract you from what’s really going on in the world. It’s five o’clock and here’s what we want you to think’. It is comedic on a superficial level but has the ring of dark truth about it. What then ensues is a strong and incisive groove-laden thrash workout preoccupied by the media’s stance on misinformation, lies and false news.
Elsewhere, the progressive nods return within ‘Ingsoc’, as it builds on a strange but compelling introduction and features some of the most frenetic drumming on the album, alongside some of the more ponderously-paced material in an oddly juxtaposing but utterly addictive manner. As a fan of prog, I can lap this sort of thing up all day long.
‘Peace Is In Pieces’ is another quirky track that has a shouty, hardcore/punk feel on top of a cheeky opening that catches the attention whilst ‘Claiming Certainty’ is a more standard breakneck and short-lived all-out thrash attack.
And then there’s another favourite in the form of ‘Wake Up’. It is once again a fast-paced and frenetic affair with really cool lead guitar embellishments but what I like most is the more overtly melodic intent of the song. It feels warm and rich as a result and grabs my attention from the very beginning, only getting stronger and more forceful with repeated listens.
Whether or not ‘Conformicide’ becomes an album muttered in the same breath as the likes of ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ remains to be seen and it will take many years before such a judgement can be made with any genuine justification. However, it is fair to say that from my point of view, this is one of the best ‘true’ thrash metal albums that I have heard in a very long time, certainly from a band within what is referred to as the ‘new wave of thrash’ movement. In true thrash style, it is angry, it is spiteful and it sticks two metaphorical fingers up at the establishment. But more than that, the rhetoric is backed up by some killer heavy music. It makes me bang my head and, more importantly, has forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of thrash metal in general. And I wasn’t expecting that when I first pressed play, I can tell you.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day