For guitars, Havok’s tag team keeps it simple. David Sanchez depends on his Framus Custom Shop WH-1 instrument, while Reece Scruggs digs into his Star-shaped, tricked-out Roehrs Custom RS.
Photo by Gabriella Rivera

How the guitar duo put a hammerlock on heavy for Conformicide, a metal manifesto packed with serpentine 6-string and screaming, mega-speed solos.

If Havok’s fourth album, Conformicide, is meant to be a wake-up call, the alarm is set for loud, hard, and intense. Songs like “F.P.C” (the last two letters refer to political correctness), “Peace Is in Pieces,” and “Wake Up” carry a clear message about living in a broken system where elites control people’s lives without being held accountable. The lyrics are designed to make you think, but it’s the music that delivers the message.

After years building a devoted fan base, the Denver-based band’s new album could well be its defining moment. With new bassist Nick Schendzielos (from Job for a Cowboy and Cephalic Carnage) combining with drummer Pete Webber in a powerful-yet-nimble rhythm section, Havok’s engine room is fierce and fluid. Then there’s the explosive and highly synchronized team of rhythm guitarist, lead singer, and band co-founder David Sanchez and lead guitarist Reece Scruggs, who replaced Shawn Chavez in 2010.

The minor key acoustic guitar motif that introduces the album’s opening cut, “F.P.C.,” sets a contemplative tone, but as the song amps up to high gear under Sanchez’s snarling vocals, it’s clear that all thinking will be done out loud. The sonic and emotional shift sets the tone for the rest of the album, where high-powered thrash metal meshes with progressive—and often subtle—ideas from other genres.

Sanchez and Scruggs are evangelists for the supremacy of the riff. And on songs like “Hang ’Em High,” “Intention to Deceive,” “Ingsoc,” and others, they practice what they preach. The riffs don’t just hit hard: they show imagination—building tension, releasing it, and unleashing a fury that would fit the soundtrack to a present-day version of George Orwell’s 1984.

Sanchez, who played both sides of the two-guitar rhythm attack on most cuts, provides a perfect bridge between his vocals, Scruggs’s lead guitar, and the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Scruggs stands out with smart fills, textures, and blistering solos. The lead work displays impressive physical technique, but it goes beyond finger gymnastics to serve—and often elevate—the songs.

When we connected by phone upon the album’s recent release, Sanchez and Scruggs were clearly stoked about Conformicide, their new bassist, and the message behind their music.

We live in a singles-driven world, but Conformicide is a unified album in the old-school sense, musically and lyrically. What were your goals going in?
David Sanchez: The idea for the record was doing something that wakes people up and actually says something. A lot of bands today aren’t talking about anything real. As for the music, we wanted to match the anger and seriousness of the lyrics, and we wanted it to really be layered and dynamic.

“The idea for the record was doing something that wakes people up and actually says something. A lot of bands today aren’t talking about anything real.”—David Sanchez

The album opens with “F.P.C,” and though it becomes a very heavy tune, the acoustic intro sounds almost classical. Did you plan that contrast from the beginning?
Sanchez: That intro actually came together very last minute. Reece was just hanging out playing in the studio lobby. I heard what he was doing and was like, “Dude, we have to include this on the record!” Then we worked out our parts together. That intro is what led to “F.P.C.” becoming the album opener.

So you were drawing from the arsenal?
The beginning of the song “Master Plan”—that kind of slow, marching heavy classical motif—I’ve had that since I was a teenager and it never wound up on a recording until now. So, it was kinda cool, 13 years later, to put it on an album. Everything else in that song is built around it. It was cool to take something off the bookshelf. The rest of the song is loosely based on the chords from that intro. Once that song kicks in—it really kicks in. It takes off hard and is relentless the whole time. That one’s going to be fun to play live.

Speaking of builds, “Peace Is in Pieces” has an interesting intro, with that skittering guitar. How did that evolve?
Reece Scruggs:
We basically had the whole record done and rehearsed. We were jamming on this idea and we started listening to these parts and were like, “We have to put this on the next record.”

Tidbit: The band arranged most of the songs for their fourth album on Pro Tools before honing them together in rehearsals for the recording sessions.

The music is clearly thrash metal, but it pushes to the edges of metal with other genres. What are your influences as players and songwriters?
I grew up in a house filled with music: Devo, Oingo Boingo, AC/DC, Elvis, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd. My early influences were Metallica, then Anthrax, Pantera, Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Death, Dimmu Borgir. Now I’m influenced by everything from jazz to classical to classic rock, new wave, prog, etc.—especially in terms of songwriting. And it all finds its way into the music. Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo are an especially important influence, along with Al Di Meola.

I started playing when I was 13. I took lessons for the first year-and-a-half, and got pretty good pretty quickly because I used to play along with old Metallica records. My right hand got tight early.

Scruggs: I started at 11 and played in bands from an early age. As a kid, I started playing with much older guys, and I was sort of a local sensation in Virginia—the kid playing with the adults. I developed my style by being made to learn cover songs to play in three-sets-a-night cover bands on the weekends. I learned a variety of styles, because the tunes we covered varied from the Eagles to Metallica, Hendrix to 3 Doors Down [laughs]! Anything to get people on the dance floor.

KISS is my favorite rock band. Pantera is my favorite heavy band of all time. My musical influences came from what my family was listening to. Everything from Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, SRV to KISS, Pantera, solo Ozzy and on. I started to get into heavier music after listening to Metallica, Testament, Death, and Decapitated. The lead players with those bands are among my most favorites as well. I started really leaning towards shred stuff when I got my hands on the instructional videos by Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore, and Greg Howe. I still reference those videos to this day.

Do you guys build the arrangements through jamming or in the studio?
For the majority, stuff was arranged in Pro Tools as we would rehearse.

Scruggs: We were sitting on a stockpile of really good riffs and ideas. We said, “This is some killer material. Let’s use this stuff that we’ve had for a while because it fits so well.”

Sanchez: But there were a couple of songs that came about organically out of thin air as we were jamming together in a room.

As a guitar team, you’re totally locked together rhythmically and your parts play off each another. Do you work on them together?
Reece came up with the majority of the solos by himself. But there were certain parts [where we worked together]. Like in the song “Wake Up,” there was a part I knew for sure that I wanted the lead to match, to harmonize with the rhythm underneath. So, every once in a while, I’ll throw in my two cents. But as far as solos go, that’s mostly all Reece.

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