Album Title: V
Label: Century Media
Date of Release: 1 May 2020
I may be called ‘the Man of Much Metal’ but, like every metal head on planet Earth, I had my favourite genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. I also had those genres of metal that I didn’t like as much. Or at least, I thought I didn’t like them. Pre-2020, I’d have happily told you I wasn’t the greatest fan of doom metal or thrash metal for example. However, with a renewed vigour and love of listening to and writing about music, 2020 has been the year that I say ‘no’ to nothing. Thanks to a clutch of fantastic doom metal releases this year, I’ve well and truly dispelled my self-perpetuated myth that doom isn’t for me. And now, thanks to Testament’s recent release and this latest album from Havok, I’m also putting to bed the idiotic notion that thrash isn’t for me.
Hailing from my favourite skiing destination of Colorado, USA, Havok have been a band I have followed for a number of years, first through my work with Powerplay Magazine and now via my own website. In 2017, I was thoroughly impressed by the quartet’s work on ‘Conformicide’, granting it a lofty 9.25/10. And ‘V’, their unimaginatively-titled fifth full-length is, just as impressive. In fact, it might just be even better.
I get the distinct feeling as I listen to ‘V’, that the band have decided that this is the time to strike, and to strike hard. Theirs has always been a more irreverent and caustic form of thrash, just as the music was born to be. As such, the vocals of David Sanchez have always been delivered with a genuine venom and vitriol, whilst the generally pacey compositions carried with them a more punk-inspired attitude and dirty swagger. Whilst the same is still true of the eleven compositions on ‘V’, there is also a noticeable change to the music. It might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but the songs here are both catchier, but also more sophisticated and arguably more complex in places.
However, before delving into the music itself, I must mention both the artwork and the production of ‘V’. The cover art was created by Eliran Kantor, the guy responsible in the past for Testament, Mekong Delta and Iced Earth artwork. The result is a cover that’s both striking and disturbing in equal measure. In terms of the production, this was entrusted to Mark Lewis in Nashville, Tennessee, whose previous work includes Cannibal Corpse and The Black Dahlia Murder. Rarely have I heard such a rich production for a thrash record, with an equally impressive tonal separation. Or, to put it into my normal speak, it sounds heavy, full-bodied, vibrant, and is blessed by a clarity that allows all of the instruments to be distinguishable, however layered or tumultuous the music becomes. The biggest winner has to be the bass guitar of newcomer Brandon Bruce, which can be heard and enjoyed throughout.
Back to the music and on that score, Havok have certainly delivered. I mentioned that the material feels a little catchier than previous efforts and you have to look no further than the opening track, ‘Post-Truth Era’ for exidence to back up this statement. It opens with a ‘…And Justice For All’ Metallica-esque intro before ripping the speakers in half with sharp riffs, courtesy of Sanchez and Reece Scruggs, and a hungry, energetic rhythm section that drives the song forward. There’s no reduction in the force of the attack from Havok, but the chorus that emerges is one that is both instantly catchy, but which also grows stronger with every passing listen.
‘Fear Campaign’ delivers a delightfully up-tempo, almost hard-rock swagger before exploding with exuberant, lightning-fast leads and more addictive riffing. The chorus is a multi-layered affair, featuring more killer lead work, gang-style vocals and blistering rhythms from both Bruce and drummer Pete Webber. If you like lead guitar solos, this song is like manna from heaven.
Lyrically, ‘V’ takes a step away from previous outings that focussed more on corruption, politics and the like. Instead, Sanchez’s caustic words seek to confront the idea that the world’s populace need to be awakened from some kind of virtual slumber, caused by social media, AI and technology. And crucially, that we need to start thinking for ourselves rather than live like zombies.
This segues nicely into ‘Betrayed By Technology’, another cracking song that begins with a kind of call-and-answer riff sequence before opening up into a complex, swirling and multi-faceted track, complete with occasional blastbeats, incisive solos, minimalist sections where the bass maintains the song’s heartbeat. And yet, there’s a core of melody within the song that keeps it engaging and memorable.
‘Ritual Of The Mind’ is a stomping monster that again has the faint echoes of late-80s Metallica, but with it’s own definite stamp of originality. It is impossible to listen without banging your head, and has to be one of the most infectious Havok songs I’ve heard. The bass of Bruce really makes an impact on this track, as does the machine-gun drumming from Webber later on in the track.
Elsewhere, the quality keeps coming in the form of ‘Interface With The Infinite’, thanks to the mesmerising guitar work right from the beginning, but also from the whirlwind-like blitz of ‘Phantom Force’, which demonstrates if any demonstration was necessary, that Havok have lost none of their aggression or spite in their pursuit of world domination.
I find that for thrash to work at its best, variation is key and on that score, Havok come up trumps. ‘Panpsychism’ begins with a tense acoustic intro before it unleashes its full power in the form of a devastating, off-kilter riff and flamboyant drumming, vaguely Meshuggah-esque in intensity and sheer heaviness. Again, the bass of Bruce needs to be heard to be believed. Then, finally, there’s the eight-minute conclusion to ‘V’ in the form of ‘Don’t Do It’. The clean guitar intro is full of genuine suspense but as it develops, it increases the melodic sensibilities of the band, complete with more acoustic guitar work, clean sung vocals and a brooding menace for the most part until all hell breaks loose in the final third via an injection of pace and
In conclusion, Havok’s fifth album ‘V’ has to be my favourite within their catalogue. It looks incredible, it sounds incredible and the songs that find their way onto this album manage to blend immediacy, intricacy, aggression, and attitude, without any one of these elements suffering. In short, it is a more-than-impressive effort and one that should catapult the band into the highest possible echelons of thrash metal.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: