Havok have been wrecking necks for nearly a decade now, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. Having released three full-length albums in the last five years as well as a killer four-track EP (2012's Point of No Return), it is amazing that Havok have found the time to tour as much as they do: practically nonstop. These Colorado-based thrashers are set to be on the road for ten months this year alone! But with good reason- their music is outstanding, and their live shows are vicious, high-energy affairs.
Not to mention they have yet another beast of an album to promote.
2013's Unnatural Selection is the third full-length studio release from Havok, and it does not disappoint. While 2009's Burn gave the impression frontman David Sanchez's only real interest in life is breaking stuff at high speed and 2011's Time Is Up mostly carried the same torch (but with an added touch of political frustration/commentary), Unnatural Selection is an altogether more mature and diverse effort. The blistering riffs have taken a backseat to a more controlled, melodic approach. Not every solo attempts to break the sound barrier; not every riff seeks to induce the listener to smash things in the street. In line with these other changes, Sanchez drops some clean vocals for the first time ever on Unnatural Selection.
To some, these changes might be alarming. I have to admit, I was surprised when I first listened to Unnatural Selection. The thrash massacre I've grown accustomed to experiencing since discovering Havok in 2005 seemed to be missing. My mistake was expecting Unnatural Selection to slap me across the face like Burn did when its true aim is to lure the listener in so that it might wrap you up and strangle you slowly. In that regard, Unnatural Selection is a thrash boa: it convinces you to get close, and then it takes you. "I Am the State" leads the album off by whipping the listener around like the Havok of old, and a slew of solos midway through the song serve to showcase both Sanchez's and Scruggs's massive guitar chops. "Give Me Liberty..." is also more of a burner, but it is after the first two tracks that the boa effect occurs. Track three, "It Is True," is the catchiest track Havok have written to date; its main riff is pure filth, and Sanchez's clean vocals in the chorus are wicked. A tasty bass interlude later in the song reminds us that while it is sad former bassist Jesse De Los Santos took off last year, Sanchez is still the mastermind behind Havok- he hired Mike Leon to fill big shoes, and the man delivers.
Next up is "Under the Gun," a pretty standard track with subpar lyrics but catchy nonetheless. Anchoring the middle of the album are a handful of meaty tracks. "Waste of Life" showcases more demented clean vocals from Sanchez and mind-numbing melody from Scruggs; "Living Nightmare" is a playground for Pete Webber on the cans and features what is, in my opinion, the best solo on the album. Another chugger with an ultra-catchy chorus, "Chasing the Edge" warms us up for "Worse Than War," a fitting counterpart that channels both Megadeth and Sepultura. Havok's cover of Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave" is great, but it does not fit well in between two Havok originals. The title track closes out the album Havok-style: a drum onslaught, both melodic and blistering riffs, and a beast of a solo.
As usual, the mix is top-notch. All the bass lines are easily distinguished and the guitars and drums are crisp. Speaking of the drums, Pete Webber deserves an award for his work on this album. The man absolutely whales on the cans all album long, inserting fill after killer fill into all the right places. His discretion is profound; he knows when to get creative, when to take it easy and allow the guitars to take center stage, and when to unleash a furious barrage of double-bass beats. In short, the man does exceptional things.
While Unnatural Selection is marked by an overall more controlled, melodic approach than Havok's previous two efforts, no one needs to get too animated- there is still plenty of thrash on this album. By Havok's standard, "slower" is still pretty damn fast. A wide variety of speeds and Sanchez's clean vocals keep things interesting for the duration. Although Unnatural Selection is still plagued by some cheesy lyrics (which seems to be a recurring theme with Havok) and a handful of stock thrash riffs, there is no denying its overall quality. Havok are making the music they want to make, and it sounds great. Unnatural Selection is different from Havok's previous two releases, but it is a natural progression and maturation of the band's sound. You would do well to add it to your collection.