Twisted Into Form, A Q&A With Havok’s David Sanchez

Thrash metal’s new wave of ‘bangers are obviously cuing off benchmarks and milestones set in the ’80s and ’90s. To wit, Denver-based riff-slayers Havok originally formed as a nod to their favorite bands and records, but over time (or four full-length albums) they’ve come into their own. New album, Conformicide, represents Havok’s best and most memorable material to date, and is likely one of most singular neo-thrash albums in recent memory. Songs like “F.P.C.”, “Intention to Deceive”, and “Wake Up” are aggressive, hook-laden, pit-friendly, and delivered with the conviction of a band ready to take on the Big Four. Sit down, listen to frontman/guitarist David Sanchez school Decibel on the new school with Conformicide.

Havok has passed the decade mark. What’s different (or the same) about Havok all these years later?
David Sanchez: What’s different is the lineup of musicians and amount of experience and wisdom gained.  What remains the same is the aggression of the music and attention paid to tightness.  The riffs will never cease to be around as long as I have anything to say about the music…

How would you describe the songwriting sessions for Conformicide?
David Sanchez: Different songs come about in different ways. For this album, much of the songwriting was more collaborative than it had been on past records. The songwriting process usually starts with the almighty riff –- the lifeblood of a good metal song. We usually slap a couple riffs together, then put drums and bass to it, then begin experimenting with guitar harmonies and different lines that the second guitar can play. Vocal rhythms and melodies are usually the last things to be solidified.  

Was most of the material written between the three year span in releases, or did it all come through at the end? Crunch-time style innovation.
David Sanchez: Most of this album was written during our time off between 2014-2015. Only a couple of songs came about quickly toward the end of the break period.  

What defines a song to Havok? Obviously, different folk have different strokes, but usually there’s something red-line like that defines a song.
David Sanchez: To us, a song is a collection of music that will get stuck in your head, where every musician gets to shine, and dynamics are utilized to add peaks and valleys to the music — to take the listener on a musical roller coaster ride. After that musical foundation is there, we usually like to throw meaningful, thought-provoking lyrics on the top of the riff mountain.  

There’s a lot of thrash nods on Conformicide. Were you intentionally trying to give your influences and heroes a hearty circle pit hello from the younger generation?
David Sanchez: This band was essentially started as a nod to the old-school greats. When they all retire, Havok will be there to fill the thrash metal void — that’s why this band exists.

How did Shawn Tyler Chavez’s passing affect the band?
David Sanchez: If anything, it was a reminder that one’s life is ephemeral and we should make the most of it whenever and wherever possible. Any of us could go at any time, so live it up while you can.

Lyrically, what are Havok going for this time around?
David Sanchez: My main goal with the lyrics on this album is to wake people up. I am striving to snap people out of their television stupor and invigorate minds to question everything and pay more attention to what’s going on in this crazy world. With this album, I’m trying to inspire listeners to think for themselves and break the trend of blindly following.  

How would you compare what you guys sing about to the topics of the ‘80s thrash legends? Seems things, like politics, government, war, etc., are all cyclical. Or, are they eternal?
David Sanchez: In modern society, I would say that problems with politics, government, and war seem to be never-ending.  I would love to see a time where none of these topics create friction in our culture, but I won’t hold my breath!  These topics have been covered by bands in the past and will continue to be covered by bands in the future.  As long as there is corruption, unjustified war, threats to liberty, and a war on the minds of the masses, these topics will remain relevant.  Dissension and debate are crucial to progress and the awakening of the collective mind.  I want Havok to be known as a warrior for positive change in this world.  I want this band to be a leading voice in the global revolution of the mind.  

What were the studio sessions like?
David Sanchez: We began with drum tracks, then moved on to rhythm guitars, guitar layering, solos, vocals, and then bass.  We spread the vocal performances out over a couple weeks, so that I wouldn’t blow out my voice at the end of tracking.  It’s much better to spread the vocal recording over weeks than to cram it all into a short time at the end.  Normally, we would record takes, then Steve would either tell us that it was great, or that we could do it better.  He was very particular about the way we would hit drums or strings, and encourage us to be tighter wherever he could hear that improvement was possible.  It was a lot like being on a sports team and having a coach –- only we were playing music and our “coach” was a producer.  

Conformicide is your first for Century Media Records. Does the label change indicate a different path for Havok? You know, kids often think a label change means there’s somebody lording over the band and their music, trying to make them the next Billy Ocean.
David Sanchez: Being on Century Media is a cool step for us with a bigger label, but won’t change the sound of the band at all.  We have full creative control and will continue to make the music that we want to make –- not what what is dictated to us.  Fans have nothing to worry about in regard to the label “telling us what to do”…  It simply won’t happen.  We will make sure that Havok continues to sound like Havok.  That said, we are excited to work with Century Media over the next few years.

** Havok’s new album, Conformicide, is out now on Century Media Records. Order the album on CD and LP (HERE). Horns up and sore necks!