Monday, 15 July 2013

Havok - Unnatural Selection Review

Havok - Unnatural Selection [Thrash Metal / Punk]

It's a given that thrash metal would not have existed if Slayer had not created a storm by bottling the lightning speeds of hard rock and the rebellious youth of punk together on their earlier records. Whilst the majority of the world will remain divided on whether the Metallica path or the Slayer path captures the essence of the genre better, there are a select few that have decided to go down the punk route (let's not forget that punk also gave way to d-beat and subsequently, and even more importantly, grindcore). It's therefore logical for Havok, as harbingers of the thrash metal resurgence (which I personally do not dig, but this is purely personal), to go even further back and establish themselves from their peers to embrace a more punk vibe on their latest, third offering.

However, fans of their masterpiece 'Time Is Up' may have to be more patient with this record. Where the former saw the band with rushed beats and a sense of urgent aggression, this album is a cruise on the road to 80s anarcho punk, with few heavy or aggressive moments. In fact, there's a strangely relaxed atmosphere on the album, with crooning, sung choruses (sung, not yelled), and mostly mid-temp drumming.

Very easily, the album is more or less homage to the older generations, without having to change the formula for the current generation (as opposed to Revocation's mix of thrash metal and technical death metal, or Vektor's progressive, psychedelic thrash). Songs like 'Waste Of Life' sound like they should be on a Megadeth album (and a pity, since Megadeth's latest is a comedy), whilst the speed of their previous offerings are all contained within opener 'I Am The State'. 'It Is True', on the other, shows the actual evolution of the band, with restrained riffing, allowing new bassist Michael Leon some showtime, though he seems content with staying behind Reece Scruggs' and David Sanchez's guitars. What is interesting to note, is the way the chorus is executed, with tempos slowing rather than intensifying. Strangely enough, this works to it's advantage in helping the band sound fresh and (gasp!) mature.

The sad thing however, is that the energy dies by the time the band hits the half-time mark. Not that there are no interesting moments, but the album starts to rest on these moments rather than the songs themselves, which doesn't run well with the strong songs in the beginning. 'Worse Than War' has an interesting opening riff that is barely used through the tired trudge of the verses. The bridge also doesn't deviate further from the actual riff and the tempo is barely changed. Ditto for 'Chasing The Edge', that flirts with pinch harmonics on it's intro, a surprisingly fresh feature on thrash metal, but the experimentation stops there. It barely peaks with a syncopated bridge, but nothing else is done to save the song. 'Living Nightmare' doesn't bring anything new, neither does it feel energetic.

The last two track, however, are interesting. There is the Black Sabbath cover 'Children Of The Grave', which is a surprisingly executed reimagination of the 70s classic. David Sanchez's vocals are also semi-decent, he is definitely not a master of singing but his lips pay homage to their influences and he is at least tolerable. On the other hand, the title track is a sudden return to the almost-there speed Havok captured on 'Time Is Up'. It is not the greatest song but compared to the middle tracks, it does remind you of the band that seemed like the clearest winner in the competition for thrash revival.

The album, in a nutshell, confirms my thoughts on Havok, that the band's talent rests on drummer Pete Webber. Not that the other members suck, no, they are excellent riff-writers and know their place in their music, but where the rest are content with putting meat on the bones, Webber is the force of the band. He plays with signature, conviction, speed and decent experimentation. His death metal fills and his pounding sense of urgency is what made me return to 'Time Is Up' so frequently. Where there was a mastery of dynamics between verses and chorus, here seems like a tired attempt at the more political message of thrash metal. My personal opinion? This should have  been an EP with less songs. It's definitely a grower though, and it sounds a lot better than when I first heard it a month ago.

★★★☆☆ Average - Half of album is listenable

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