Denver Colorado based thrash band Havok is back with their aptly titled fifth studio album, “V”. Perhaps the forerunner of the thrash resurgence of the late 2000s/early 2010s, Havok made a name for themselves early on, quickly gaining a following with their first two records, “Burn” and “Time is Up.” “V” has been a highly anticipated release for Havok, as it marks an important moment in their discography. Its no secret to the metal community that Havok has been somewhat in the shadow of their 2011 album “Time is Up.” By far their most popular record, their live set still consists of 3-5 songs from that album - almost 10 years and 2-3 releases later - with albums like “Burn” and “Unnatural Selection” at most seeing a single song of representation (which is a shame, “Burn” had a very distinct style, great song structures, and a plethora of unique moments; its a vastly underrated album). “Time is Up” was a brutally fast, tightly crafted, expertly performed thrash release that had a “Havok” flair. In roughly 40-45 minutes they covered a large amount of ground in the thrash territory, and had established their dominance in the scene as one of the tightest and most talented groups. However, it left little room for a follow up in that space - Havok needed to try new ideas and elements, and push more into their own voice. Unfortunately, “Unnatural Selection” featured very little experimentation, and “Conformicide” - while it did try new things on certain songs like “Ingsoc” - largely fell into the same space, with songs like “Claiming Certainty”, “Circling the Drain”, and “Wake Up.” Enter “V” - an album that both hits and misses the mark. The good news is that the band is trying many new ideas, while still delivering them in the Havok way. For starters, the song structures have been broken out of their typical formula, featuring a range from shorter, to longer and more narrative in format. David Sanchez’s vocals are simultaneously more shrill and more melodic, with sections of screams and singing being overlaid together. Songs have been extremely slowed down, featuring heavy grooves rather than intense speed. There are funky slap bass riffs again, and passages of melodic harmonies and acoustic guitars. Progressive elements - similar to those that, before, appeared solely on the track “Ingsoc” - are mixed in throughout. Some of the lyrics have moved towards a more thoughtful writing style, and are less “on the nose” as previous albums. The mix has is different as well; there is extra space between the instruments, and as a result each one now has more room to breathe, bringing the bass and drums to be the forefront. The musicianship as well is spot on. Reece Scruggs’ solos are fast, feature cleanly executed taps and picking runs, and are catchier than usual. And as always, Pete Webber’s drumming is fantastic; precise, powerful, and with lots of flair, Pete is one of the best drummers of our time. The fact that he doesn’t use triggers makes it all just that much more enjoyable. The biggest downside of the album, is that even though there are these great ideas bouncing around, the band just struggles to pull them together cohesively. Many ideas feel unpolished, as if they ran with the first draft of a song, not stopping to fully refine or polish it. And overall the majority of the tracks lack a hook; they fail to hit the moment that truly grabs you, that will get stuck in your head and keep you coming back. Then end result is a collection of songs that meld together rather than feeling distinct. If the riffs had been pushed further, and the song structures tweaked to deliver more clarity, the record could have been much more impactful. All that being said, there is still a strong and unique voice here. Elements are starting to feel unique to Havok; if you were to hear a song out of context you wouldn’t say, “that sounds like a Slayer riff”, you’d say “that sounds like a Havok riff.” Even if this isn’t their most polished release, it does indicate their footing is secure and that they intend to push themselves moving forward.