Album Review: Havok - "Unnatural Selection"

In recent years, we’ve witness a real revival of thrash as we once knew it. Bullet belts, gallop riff and west coast snarling are back in fashion. The more shows I go to, the more I’m seeing the return of denim, patch covered jackets and other paraphernalia ‘rescued’ from the early ‘80s that was such a part of thrash’s iconic birth. The pages of this very site have become littered with the exploits of a thrash resurgence, the genre reborn through a new generation and new eyes.

Havok is different. Where all the new thrash acts have sought to either recreate the lost magic or establish and improve upon it, Havok and their new album “Unnatural Selection” are instead borne of it. They are not a revival; they are the living, breathing, real thing. “Unnatural Selection” sees Havok finally become one with the legacy of thrash as they’ve always wished, pumping out the gritty, anti-establishment surge of metal that their idols produced some thirty years ago. It’s like Havok somehow got access to Dr. Brown’s DeLorean and 1.21 gigawatts later returned to the present with the secrets of the past.

Axman Reece Scruggs is the star of “Unnatural Selection,” as he’s let loose to demonstrate his dedication to soloing in the traditional style. Scruggs, much in contrast to the music of the album, slows down his soloing for entire stretches, which lets his note selection show through with an accomplished performance. It’s too often forgotten in modern heavy metal of all types that it’s not always the quantity of notes but is very much the quality. Hearing Scruggs balance his arpeggios against the emptiness of his accents in “It Is True” is like rediscovering a lost art. Slayer proved years ago that open space can be just as effective a weapon as any other facet of music and it is a lesson not lost on Havok for their new album.

Furthermore, Havok proves with the chainsaw cranking of “Give me Liberty…Or Give me Death,” and the bouncy cadence of “Under the Gun” that they understand the duplicity of thrash at its root; that the genre can possess both gnashing teeth and a strong sense of the absurd. Proper balance of these elements has floated entire careers (looking at you, Exodus,) so for Havok to have a grip on it three albums in is a strong argument in their favor.

The only real issue with “Unnatural Selection” is the double-edged sword that comes with crafting a sound so close to a classic idiom. Nearly every track on this record can be traced directly to an influence – “Waste of Life” is anchored by a Slayer riff, “Chasing the Edge” sounds like a b-side to Megadeth’s “Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good,” and the title cut reminds of classic Overkill selections. So, it raises the question: is “Unnatural Selection” really a fantastic record, or do I like it because “Killing Is My Business…” and “The Years of Decay” are fantastic records?

So in the end, I really like “Unnatural Selection,” but it’s hard to escape the feeling that I like it because I like everything it sounds like. This is the uphill battle that Havok may face as they continue to forge their path, but they’ve already come an awful long way since 2009’s “Burn.” With any luck their lineup has stabilized and Havok can concentrate on writing more thrash as though it’s still 1987.

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