Sound — 8
It's safe to say thrash metal has seen a bit of a revival lately, with some really heavy hitting bands like Vektor, Skeletonwitch, and Municipal Waste helping to revive the genre in the past decade or so, and each of the Big Four bands (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax) releasing albums that are considered by many of their fans to be in the "return to form category". One of the bands leading the charge on the revival of thrash metal has been Havok, hailing from Denver, Colorado, and consisting of vocalist/guitarist David Sanchez, bassist Nick Schendzielos (formerly of Cephalic Carnage and Job for a Cowboy, and the most recent member to join, since 2015), drummer Pete Webber, and lead guitarist Reece Scruggs.
The sound on this album is about as bare-bones and classic as thrash metal gets, most of the time. The band does occasionally stretch its musical wings, though, and album opener "F.P.C." (which I'm guessing ironically stands for "Fuck Political Correctness", based on the lyrics) sees the band using classic thrash metal acoustic guitar sounds, and introducing the album's vocals (probably one of the few uses of totally clean vocals on the album) over one of the funkiest, grooviest bass lines this side of Primus. And Schendzielos' bass performance on this album is certainly worthy of mention, as nearly all of his bass lines are incredible. He revels in playing lead bass parts all over the album, but never getting in the way of the other performers on the album. But, if you're a fan of incredible bass playing, this album might just be for you.
Guitar riffs are in no short supply on this record, either, with every single song featuring many fist-pumping riffs, as well as some great solos from Scruggs. Sanchez even gets a few solos on the record, including the main solo in the song "Dogmaniacal". Pete's drumming is in the pocket for the most part, and he's probably the least stand-out member of the band, but his work is still great as it lays a perfect foundation for the band. There's not a lot of tempo variety throughout the album, with most of the tracks being on the upper end of the scale, but there's still enough to keep the album from getting boring or stale. There are a couple of interesting things on the album besides the music, such as the "news introduction" on "Intention to Deceive" and the sound collage that opens "Wake Up". The bonus tracks on this album include a very short, punky track called "String Break", and a cover of Pantera's "Slaughtered".
The production on this album is great. Very raw and barebones, with not a lot of extraneous layers clogging up the mix, and every instrument gets an impressive amount of breathing room. The mix is a little heavy toward the bass guitar, but given the style of bass playing on the album, this is more than welcome. The guitar and drum tones are also very organic and not so oversaturated that they lose definition.
Lyrics — 8
In keeping with thrash metal tradition, the lyrics on this album are often political and very pissed-off. Opening with "F.P.C.", the band makes its mission statement pretty clear and bold: "They want to shut you up/And put your mind in a cage/Dictate the words that you can use/Freedom of speech goes up in flames/When the censorship begins/They will come for you/Speaking your mind becomes a sin/Political correctness breaking through". Clearly, this is a sentiment that will cause some consternation among certain groups of people, but one can certainly understand where the rhetoric in these lyrics are coming from in this day and age, but it almost seems ironic that the title, which as mentioned above, likely stands for "Fuck Political Correctness", is abbreviated and censored.
Clearly, they're also not one to shy away from criticism of the US government, and they cut right to the chase on "Hang 'em High": "Selling out to the highest bidder/So spineless, so low/Politicians and big business/The United Snakes of America/Criminal/I think it's time for justice to be served/Punishment/I think it's time they get what they deserve/The enemy is not coming from overseas". "Dogmaniacal" also takes aim squarely at religious establishments: "God wants you you to obliterate your neighbor/If he does not think like you/Take a look at any holy book/And it's crystal clear it's true/You look with your eyes, but you fail to see/Because you're blinded/You're blinded/Blinded by religious ideology". The band also references George Orwell's "1984" in "Ingsoc", and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in "Masterplan". The band also proves they can be against both pervasive political correctnes and war at the same time with "Peace Is in Pieces". With so much anger and agression on the album, it's almost a bit jarring that the album closer "Circling the Drain" has what can almost be described as a positive ray of hope to its tone, in its calling for humanity to rise against all of its negative aspects to build a better tomorrow: "Humanity is at a vital point/On the cusp of greatness/Unless we start to fix the problems of the world/It could all be wasted now/We've got so many things/That cause misery and pain/Unless we fight for change/We are circling the drain".
Vocally, David Sanchez relies heavily on shouted and screamed vocals rather than clean vocals, though there are clean vocals occasionally on the album, such as the almost classic Mustaine snarl in the verses of "F.P.C." and the strong cleans in "Circling the Drain". Unlike a lot of vocalists that use harsher vocals, I don't find myself growing weary of Sanchez' voice after several listens, and his voice definitely suits the style well.
Overall Impression — 8
While it's nowhere near as sophisticated as Vektor's recent release "Terminal Redux", one of the few newer thrash metal albums to really make waves in the scene, "Conformicide" might be in the standings as one of the best recent thrash metal efforts to date, even including recent records from the Big Four (though personally, I still think Megadeth's "Dystopia" was an incredible record).
It's rare that an album that calls back so strongly to an era of music some may find "dated" can really bring you back to that era, but "Conformicide" does just that for me, and stands proudly and strongly against titles from the classic era of thrash metal. If you're still someone who believes anything after "...And Justice for All" was bad, or that Megadeth isn't Megadeth without Marty Friedman, or someone who still regularly spins albums from non-Big Four acts such as Testament, Exodus, and Forbidden, I can't recommend this album enough. Truly one of the strongest releases in the genre that I've heard in a long time. And it's a true testament to the quality of the record when it's hard to really pick a stand-out moment on the album, though I definitely like the variety in vocal styles on "Circling the Drain" and the absolutely insane bass playing throughout the record. And even if thrash metal is a scene you kind of missed out on, I'd still recommend giving this absolutely solid album a chance.