The visually arresting cover art for Colorado-based thrash titans Havok features a rather harrowing depiction of a man being consumed on the outside by rabid fungal growths, courtesy of artist Eliran Kantor. It’s eerily reminiscent of the terrifying creatures that flood the video game world in The Last of Us, though it’s clear that V, out now via Century Media Records, is more grounded in reality. For one, there are no pixels to be found. For another, vocalist and guitarist David Sanchez has built a career out of challenging groupthink amidst some of the best thrash riffs this side of the Bay Area.

His insightful lyrics push against the status quo and our elites – but it’s anti-political in a way that only discussions that get to the truth can be. As opposed to having one middle finger up in a certain direction, Sanchez and company have two middle fingers up, pointing at each side.

To have an independent thought is one of the weirdest and most liberating things you can do in 2020. The through line for this record is this reckoning with what truth and meaning is in a world that feels like it’s full of meaningless shit.

“I think our predicament in life in where we are culturally and in this point in history is unlike any other time,” Sanchez responds. “I mean, everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket that can be an assistant to their wisdom and their well-being, or it can be detrimental. It’s all about which path you decide to walk down and talking about truth, that’s something that’s always fascinated me ever since my adolescence. Socrates said, ‘the wisest man knows that he knows nothing.’ So there’s a lot left to interpretation throughout life, but we seem to live in a consensus reality, where we all kind of are on the same page about two plus two equals four. The sky is blue, water is wet, things like this. These are what we tend to call things that are true and that are facts.”

“Stoicism has been a big part of my life, personally and philosophically and lyrically. The main point of stoicism is essentially to play the hand that you’re dealt and take inventory of the things that you can control and the things in life that you cannot control. The idea is the things that you cannot control, you just cut them out of your life and let it just be what it is because there’s nothing you can do about it. With the things that you can control, do your very best with those things.”

He pauses.

“A giant part of stoicism is also gratitude. I believe that happiness is a choice, and gratitude and happiness are both hand-in-hand and walk in step with each other. The more grateful you are for what you have, the happier you’re going to be. The people that are not grateful for what they have and always want more and are never content, they’re never going to be happy. So I always say pretty often that gratitude equals happiness because I believe that to be true. I think if anyone actually thinks about that statement for a little bit, they’ll find there is truth to that phrase.”

If it’s not clear yet, one of the challenges with stoicism as it pertains to selling a philosophy, is that it isn’t sexy. It’s not fun or easy to say have more grateful appreciation for the world around you and don’t live in fear or pursuit of pleasure. However, while Sanchez didn’t predict a global pandemic that would force humanity inside their homes and minds, if there’s ever a time to be grateful for the shit we have around us, it’s now. Sanchez concurs.

“Stoicism is widely regarded as a practical philosophy because it can come in handy on a daily basis,” he says. “It’s not just thought experiments. It can actually be applied to real life, and when we’re talking about there’s a prophetic nature of some of the lyrics, obviously it wasn’t anticipating there to be some sort of a massive outbreak of a virus that makes everyone need to be quarantined and stuck in their house. I didn’t foresee that specifically coming, but I’ve been saying for a long time that there’s a lot of things that we could do differently, and the people really do have the power and a lot of it, even if you don’t have power politically or physically or intimidation-wise or anything like that, you do have power over your own mind. The big thing with stoicism, and I believe this to be true, is we can’t always control what happens, but we can always control how we react to what happens.”

We could always have it better but that doesn’t mean we have to be negative towards what we have, seems to be the idea here, right?

“Yeah, of course,” Sanchez acknowledges. “I mean good luck ever finding a true utopia. On a daily basis, our bodies are decomposing slowly, and we’re not going to live forever. There’s hardships in the world, and there are some shitheads out there that will make life difficult for good, honest, hardworking people indefinitely. These things are always going to exist even if things do get really, really great. So I think a big thing that’s needed these days is just perspective, especially in such a difficult time. Right now people need to take inventory of the things that they can be grateful for instead of looking at all the things that are terrible. Take inventory of the things that you do have that are good, and it’ll yield a lot more positivity and less stress, and just generally more happiness.”

And one of the truly great things that we have to be grateful for is a certain record called V. As with every album, subtle yet significant sonic shifts are evident. However, it’s very clear that Havok wanted to push things in a more progressive and funky direction.

“Well, every record we try to expand the box out a little bit further of what the band sounds like and try to incorporate some of our non-metal influences into the music a little bit more and more. That same kind of mentality struck a chord with this record when we were writing. It’s good for bands to take chances because that’s some of the stuff that makes them unique. We’re massively influenced by old ’70s progressive bands, funk, jazz, classical, bluegrass, old country, punk rock, ’80s new wave, and flamenco guitar. A lot of that stuff works its way into our music subliminally.”

Spotting those new musical clues will be a fun game for fans, as it’s not as if there is a two minute free jazz solo or saxophone interlude to scream at the listener, “Hey, look at this new thing!” It’s tastefully done and filtered through the Havok lens, as Sanchez notes.

“It’s fun to take influence from that but then work it into our sound. Inspiration and influence doesn’t mean super direct influence on things. You can take an idea from a funk song and apply it to heavy evil riffs and come out with something that’s super heavy. I mean, if you listen to a lot of the great funk bands from the ’70s, a lot of funk is very, very heavy. It’s just not evil. They’re using a lot of major notes and there’s not a lot of distortion on the guitars, and production’s not super heavy, but a lot of that music is very heavy. It’s just not evil. So we take that kind of inspiration and makes things heavy and funky and dirty, but we just choose to make it way more sinister in our note choice.”

Think of these influences and flourishes as the fungus that grows on the album’s gorgeous cover – adding texture, eeriness, and coming across as something uniquely beautiful. V is a masterclass in modern thrash from a band who keep growing with each album.

Purchase a copy of V here

Photo credit: Alan Snodgrass

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