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Steering evolution towards the cliff's edge. - 89%

hells_unicorn, July 1st, 2013

Havok have been something of an upper tier proponent of the recent thrash metal revival, due in no small part because of their more eclectic take on things. Often times bands will try to become an outright tribute band to one or a small number of heavy hitters during the sub-genre's heyday in the 80s, sometimes even naming themselves after one of their iconic songs. But this Denver born vertebrae destroying team opted early on for a greater variety of influences and it has served them well since. Of course this eventually leads to creating your own little niche and subsequently sticking to a preferred sound, but even with a lot of similar ideas to past works going on in it, "Unnatural Selection" proves to be a fresh and exciting experience.

True to the Bay Area side of their influences, Havok opts for a high speed killer to kick things off in "I Am The State', kicking off a recurring theme in this album of government corruption and political discord that's somewhat reminiscent of Dave Mustaine, though a bit less brazen and in your face so to speak. Stylistically the song has a lot more to do with the busy riff monsters put forth by Vio-Lence and Death Angel during the late 80s, and David Sanchez's primal shouts are a dead ringer for the nasty punk-infused character of the latter, while the technical details definitely hint toward the former. The follow up song "Give Me Liberty...Or Give Me Death" functions more like octane answer to the last couple Overkill albums, but the lyrical appeals to political dissent remain consistent.

As the album progresses towards the center, the band decides not to stick to the speedy side of the Bay Area the way a number of recent Italian acts have tended to and takes time to let the listen cool down a little. The highlight point on this side of the coin is "Waste Of Life", which is all but full out Megadeth worship, complete with Sanchez doing a pretty competent Mustaine imitation during the verses before resorting back to his customary high-pitched shouts. Soon after things start to pick up again, but even amid the faster fury of "Living Nightmare" and "Chasing The Edge" the same elaborate, rhythmically intricate riffing style that Mustaine pioneered and later became a bit more widely imitated during the early 90s when bands started to slow down maintains its presence.

Towards the tail end of this mixture of thrills and slowed to a simmer spills things start to veer back into familiar territory before rushing towards a high-speed conclusion. The cover of "Children Of The Grave" is a tad bit faster than the original, but takes a pretty conventional approach to adopting an old school metal song into the thrash medium, much in the way that Evildead managed with Scorpion's "He's A Woman...She's A Man" back in 1991. But the zenith of this album comes in with the closing title song "Unnatural Selection" which rushes through like a tidal wave of metallic rage, taking a few breaks here and there, but mostly resembling the galloping piledriver approach to thrashing that Overkill resorted to on multiple occasions on "Ironbound".

Though at this juncture Havok hasn't quite managed to top the maddened glory of "Burn", they haven't shown any signs of becoming stale or contrived, continually offering up a nice, balanced blend of Bay Area and New York styled thrash that any fan of either Exodus or Anthrax could appreciate. This is probably the best alternative for anyone out there who wonders why the hell Megadeth (Mustaine) continually decides to avoid ripping out more consistent thrash albums like the 2009 hit "Endgame" and finds himself dithering somewhere between thrash metal and the same 80s cock rock that he would rip on back in the early 90s. Oh, and an added bonus is that despite being heavily influenced by Mustaine's riffing style, this band's albums are generally free of extended, corny spoken sections. It's little bonuses like these that ultimately make life worth living...though having superior musical content certainly helps too.