Havok - Time is up 4/5

Reviewed: 8-1-11


1. Prepare for attack
2. Fatal intervention
3. No amnesty
4. D.O.A.
5. Covering fire
6. Killing tendencies
7. Scumbag in disguise
8. The cleric
9. Out of my way
10. Time is up

By all appearances, the retrothrash craze of the last few years is burning itself out. It’s the same old story, really: oversaturation of the scene, too many bands, too few ideas. But that doesn’t mean that every band who emerged from that scene is doomed to wither and decay. To the contrary, a few of those acts appear not only to be surviving, but thriving, and are poised to continue their artistic and commercial progression no matter what the fate of the bandwagoneers and clones may be. Ohio’s Vindicator - who performed a blistering set and damn near stole the show at the Warriors of Metal Festival earlier this summer - are one band with the potential to transcend the Thrash Wars. Colorado’s Havok are another.

I liked Havok’s 2009 debut CD, ‘Burn’, just fine. It was a competent, well-executed slab of old-school thrash metal that represented the style well, with appropriate nods to Testament, Exodus and so on. But Havok’s new CD, ‘Time is up’, represents a substantial improvement on all fronts and shows that Havok are ready to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the genre. In my mind, the #1 key to good thrash metal is the riffs, and Havok deliver monster riffs by the truckload on ‘Time is up’. Nearly every song is packed to the gills with old-fashioned, razor-sharp, face-melting thrash riffs that succeed in being not only viciously heavy but addictively catchy too. It’s that last adjective – catchy – that so many of today’s thrash acts seem to ignore. Sure, the riffs need to be blindingly fast and bludgeoningly heavy, but the trick is infusing just enough melody, character and catchiness in them to make them memorable. Axemen David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs have now mastered that art. In the vocal department, Sanchez has also progressed markedly. His performance on this CD is highly reminiscent of Schmier from Destruction, but he also manages to convey snarling emotion while enunciating the lyrics so clearly that most can be understood sans lyric sheet. And he lets out an early Araya-style scream in “D.O.A.” that will make fans of Slayer’s ‘Show no mercy’ era smile in appreciation. Only on “Out of my way” does Sanchez descend into a vocal style that’s too raw for his own good.

Another killer aspect of ‘Time is up’ is Havok’s addition of occasional classic metal touches. Check out, for example, the Iron Maiden-style harmony guitar part in “Killing tendencies”, which also boasts a shockingly melodic chorus, in the context of a ripping stomper of a tune that sounds like a distant cousin of Metallica’s “Seek and destroy” in spots. Or there’s the aforementioned “D.O.A.”, which kicks off with a melody-soaked guitar theme that could have come from the King Diamond playbook, before settling into traditional thrash metal. And “The cleric” likewise features a couple of short, shimmering harmony guitar flourishes in a song that is otherwise the aural equivalent of tackling a razorwire fence. And let’s not forget the awesome snake-charmer melody in the bridge of “Fatal intervention”. This kind of ear candy doesn’t dilute the overall impact of the CD, but it does shake things up just enough to avoid the one-dimensional “ear fatigue” factor that hampers so many noisy thrash CDs these days. I suppose that somewhere, someone could be put off by these nods to a metal world outside of old-school thrash, inviting cries of “sell-out” from the ever-vigilant poseur patrol. But that would be silly. The vast majority of ‘Time is up’ is uncompromising, neck-wrenching thrash of the highest order. “Prepare for attack”, “Time is up”, “No amnesty”, ... no one can dispute the sheer ferocity and thrash purity of those cuts or reasonably call into question Havok’s thrash cred.

The bottom line is that Havok have unleashed one of the finest thrash CDs to have emerged from any non-legacy, young band in the last few years. ‘Time is up’ has the energy, the intensity, the songs, the performances, and the riffs to hit the sweet spot of every old-school thrash aficionado who pines for the days when LPs like ‘Bonded by blood’ and ‘Eternal devastation’ ruled the world. If classic thrash floats your boat, but you’re weary of the new-school kids trying and failing to ape their idols, give Havok a shot. Also, I know they toured the U.S. extensively in support of ‘Burn’. Here’s hoping they do the same for ‘Time is up’. If they come tear up a stage near you, don’t miss ‘em.




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