Havok's Orwellian Themes Put Political Punch in Classic Thrash

Havok's Orwellian Themes Put Political Punch in Classic Thrash
Courtesy of Century Media
If you're still unfamiliar with Havok, who play White Oak Music Hall on Wednesday with veterans Crowbar and Suicidal Tendencies, this is your chance to catch one of the key players in metal's current Thrash Renaissance. Over the phone, the Denver-based group's founder and vocalist, David Sanchez, sounds just as excited about the tour as we are. “The response has been really good so far. Every show has been really good for us. The fans really seem to love it," he laughs. "So, yeah, we’re having a great time.”

When asked about the new album, Sanchez admits Havok already has been playing new tunes for fans every night. Their latest album, Conformicide, is due for release March 10;  that show not only will culminate the tour, save one last stop in Salt Lake City, but will allow them to celebrate their record release in their hometown.

“We did that on purpose," says Sanchez. "We want to celebrate that at home." It’s no surprise the response has been positive for Havok, considering the musicality and level of professionalism they bring to each release, show and tour. Their music is an outstanding example of what a modern band can do with a genre that met its peak 30 years ago.

Think of everything you loved about '80s thrash: the intricate drum work, the epic guitar solos, the political, anti-establishment-themed lyrics, the imagery — Havok has all that and more without any awkward mimicry or posturing nostalgia. Like finding a band straight out of a time capsule, Havok performs the art of thrash without sounding like a cover band or worse, just a collection of rehashed riffs we’ve all heard before.

Why thrash? Thrash was paramount in metal evolution and the unholy grail of its peak era, combining elements of hardcore, punk and metal into a sound that quickly gained the attention of fans everywhere. It would make metal both famous and infamous, drawing boundaries with its anti-religious themes and violent imagery. And, in 2017, when Bro-Metal acts are likely to headline America's summer metal festival circuit again, we desperately need quality acts.

Havok picks up the political torch with ease. Its newest album, Conformicide, subjects American politics to intense lyrical scrutiny and judgment. Taking direct influence from George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the future, 1984, Havok compares the political climate of America to the themes in the novel. Their song “Ingsoc” is a reference to the Newspeak English Socialist Party that controls all of its citizens through intense surveillance and mind control via the media. Sound familiar? Havok thinks so, too.

Dismiss the literary references of "Ingsoc" if you must, but it's impossible to miss drummer Pete Webber’s skill on this track. In what sounds like an iconic instructional piece, Webber plays with the precision of a tightly wound clock in what sounds like a how-to audio clip of superior thrash technique. Young metalheads, listen up.

Another track, “Hang ’Em High,” begins with impressive rhythmic bass work by Nick Schendzielos (formerly of Denver-based grindcore band Cephalic Carnage) before ripping into an angry crescendo that will undoubtedly fuel circle pits everywhere. It's those little surprises that kept drawing my ear in, holding my attention and pleasantly restoring my faith in metal played by young guys in their thirties.

The few tracks released from Conformicide feel like Havok’s best work. With three years since their last release, they’ve had plenty of time to tweak the errors and rewrite the weak spots. The ending result is a thrash album full of surprising sonic variety. If the entire record is at the level of the pre-release tracks, Havok may be at the pinnacle of greatness. Not that their previous releases weren’t great, but these songs from Conformicide demonstrate a musical finesse unheard until now.

Havok performs with Suicidal Tendencies and Crowbar Wednesday, March 1, at White Oak Music Hall downstairs, 2915 North Main. Tickets $24.75-$30; doors open at 7 p.m.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.