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U.S. thrash metal act, Havok, are back with their 4th full-length album entitled “Conformicide”. My initial thoughts are that that album is pretty good, while not necessarily reinventing the wheel in any fashion (which is totally fine by me). This is just another Havok record. So if you like Havok’s other records, chances are, you will like this one as well. They perhaps branch out a bit more in terms of progressiveness, but not across the album as a whole. No, Havok do what I think they do best, and what I generally come seeking when listening to thrash metal:riffs that make curl my nose as I consider how nasty they are and solos that totally rip. “Conformicide” gives me both.
Riffs riffs riffs. There are just so many riffs that really get my head cranking on this album. The song “Hang 'Em High” is a perfect example. There are some great riffs at the beginning of the song, which really gets the song going. I also really like the drum focused bridge that start at 2:18; it is a killer build up to what is my favorite riff in the song at 2:48 (which itself then builds up to the killer soloing section of the song at 3:08). I’m not going to lie to you, I am big sucker for the chug-chug-chug with flair thrown in around it style of riffs, and this album does a really good job of feeding the hunger I have for them. In fact, they just play a lot of riffs on this album, sometimes having sections where they just transition between a few different riffs without ever coming in to do any vocals - often eventually building to a guitar solo. I really like these extended musical sections. Not every riff hits, but for me a lot of them do. The cool riff in the middle of “Masterplan” starting at 4:04 is another cool example of a total head-bobber leading right into a solo. Speaking of solos, I love getting solos at the beginning of songs, especially when I still get soloing later in the song as well (1:41 into “Intention to Deceive”, thank you). All in all, there are some really killer guitar solos on this album, the ones in “Dogmaniacal”, “Intention to Deceive”, “Ingsoc”, and “Peace in Pieces” being my favorites. Riffing and soloing is surely a subjective experience, but Havok really satisfy me on “Conformicide”.
Another thing I really like about this album is the bass. It is super prominent in the mix, and it sounds awesome. Also, the bass does a lot more experimentation than it has on previous albums (as opposed to doing a lot of mirroring of the guitar). I don’t know if this is because of new bassist Nick Schendzielos, or just the direction that the band wanted to go, but regardless I think it works super well. There’s some really interesting things going on with the bass that you don’t necessarily hear too often in a lot of thrash. Approved!
The drumming wasn’t a standout. What it was though, was very complimentary. The drums kept the music driving. It also allowed the bass to do less rhythm , and do a lot more wild navigating. It caused the guitars to have a little more flair and pop. Nothing overly impressive, but pretty much exactly what I want from my drumming.
As for the Vocals, generally, I really like Sanchez’s snarl, and I think it adds to the aggressiveness of the riffs and the album overall. There are times where he up he ups his ferociousness, which I appreciate sonically (like in that section of “Masterplan” I mentioned earlier). If you’re into lyrics, Havok are back with their typical musings of government power, media control, and the like. Same old hat. I’ll admit the lyrics are perhaps more overt than they are usually with this band, but I think considering the current climate in the US coupled with Sanchez’s opinions (or, at least, what I assume Sanchez’s opinions are), that’s not so surprising. Again though, this is typical fare with Havok. Normally, I barely care about lyrics, if at all, and can do a really good job of mostly tuning them out. However, I will note that in the opening song, “F.P.C”, they are so overt, that they are hard to ignore (and lines like “Political correctness, is a social disease” are cringe-y to boot). Overall though, the lyrics don’t bother me at all, and don’t distract from the music for me.
I think my biggest complaint about the album is that the production is a little so-so. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is bad, but I think there are some really great riffs on this album, and the guitar sound could have used a lot more crunch. I will say that I love the bass tons on this album, and I think it sounds really great, so I will give the production its credit there. It’s a mixed bag. If I had a 2nd complaint, it would be that I think the album is a bit top heavy, and that combined with its run-time of nearly a full hour, I think this album might have benefited from cutting 2-3 songs. You could still offer them as bonus tracks or whatever, just don’t consider them part of the album. (Aside: Hmm, maybe that’s just a dumb semantics argument though; I’m not even totally sure myself.) I don’t necessarily think any of the songs are bad, but a couple of them (“Claiming Certainty” and “Wake Up” come to mind, though they are completely fine songs) just don’t have the same umpf that I get from the rest of the album. That one is a minor complaint though.
In the end, I feel that this is another solid release from Havok. I think it still doesn’t reach the heights of “Time is Up” but I think it kind of floats around about how I feel about both “Unnatural Selection” and “Burn”. I wouldn’t say it is album of the year material by any stretch, but it is a fun release with some rocking guitar work spread throughout. Plus it is nice to see the band trying some new things out. I’ll say again, that if you like previous work by Havok, then I think it is fair to say that this one will likely be up your alley as well; it was for me.