Havoc Faction is a Los Angeles based rock band whose multi-disciplinary approach encourages participants to journey into a post-apocalyptic future where the landscape has been significantly damaged and humanity genetically altered, but where the human spirit rises valiantly to fight against tyranny and injustice.
The Havoc Faction project is the creation of artist and musician, Kyle Rutchland. Beginning with the first single, “Keyboard Warriors,” back in 2016, Rutchland has been revealing his vision of a dystopian future through songs, videos, and art. It’s a dazzling take on the classic world building so beloved by science fiction and fantasy authors. Instead of relying on elaborate descriptions, maps, and illustrations to lure the participant into the worldview, we are encouraged instead to feel our way in through carefully constructed visual images, poignant lyrics, and soaring music.
A brief video on Havoc Faction’s YouTube channel provides the necessary background information we need to understand the world we are about to visit.
A more detailed comic book version is available on Havoc Faction’s Instagram page:
Although the dystopian backstory is interesting, it’s not what makes Havoc Faction so unique. Ever since the late nineteenth century beginning with the works of Jules Verne, the genres of science fiction and fantasy have exploded exponentially. In fact, a prominent Tolkien scholar, Tom Shippey, once claimed that “the dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic.”1 And when one views the enormous output in novels, short stories, comics, films, and video games that are based in science fiction or fantasy, the obviousness of Shippey’s claim becomes ever more apparent.
In this regard, crafting a dystopian world is fairly common, but crafting that dystopian world as the backstory for a rock band is what makes Havoc Faction so intriguing. While rock musicians have long produced unique concept albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or molded themselves into specific sub-genres necessitating elaborate album art, specific instrumentation, or defined lyrics to conform to the genre, Havoc Faction, instead, uses its self-created backstory as the wellspring for its musical expression.
With Havoc Faction, each song, unveils more of the story. Thus far, we have 8 original lyrical songs, 1 collaborative piece with Whyel (“Dead to Me”), 1 cover of a Thrice song (“Firebreather”), 4 instrumentals, and 2 alternative presentations of songs, 1 a remix by The Anix. Beginning with “Keyboard Warriors,” through to the current, “Crossfire,” we’re led into the world that Backdraft, the story’s protagonist/singer inhabits.
It’s a harsh world, filled with sorrow—the world fashioned by psychopaths intent on a utopian society benefitting the few at the total expense of the many. Backdraft courses through the landscape singing about what he sees around him. Sometimes his anger is palpable; sometimes it’s his sorrow, but he’s always singing with fervor. As listeners, we’re carried along on the wave of his emotion. We’re furious with him as he questions the inhumanity of what led to the creation of Unity City and the desolate wasteland which surrounds it; we’re the ones he rallies to fight injustice; and we’re introspective with him as he ponders the meaning of it all.
Havoc Faction accomplishes this by varying the musical approach. Elements of punk, synthwave, thrash, metal, industrial, pop, and rock are all employed to make us feel what Backdraft is feeling. Rutchland’s vocals range from soft melancholy mourns to aggressive growls and convey so much passion and intensity that when matched with the always interesting musical changes, we’re left dazzled and wanting more. Fortunately, Havoc Faction delivers by offering multiple presentations of its material.
Case in point is the most recent single, “Crossfire.” It has three variations—the original song, the remix by The Anix, and a piano version without vocals. Moreover, it has 3 different video versions—1 official video and 2 animated visuals.
Precisely because Havoc Faction offers us multiple ways of looking at the world they’ve built, we’re also encouraged to view their song lyrics from multiple perspectives. Obviously, the first level is that of Backdraft’s narrative. Each song he sings is a first-person account of what he is experiencing. Sometimes questioning, often accusatory, Backdraft actively rails against the society that has failed him and itself.
No mere disgruntled youth, Backdraft truly wants some explanation for why his world is so fractured and flawed. “Why can’t you just see that /You’re the disease” he sings in “Keyboard Warriors,” damning those whose parasitical actions created the nightmare world in which he lives. Moreover, in “Homewrecked,” he tells us that “No matter how loud we scream/ They won’t see things the way we do / They’re stuck in the past and their old ways of life,” expressing his frustration with their inability to see how their actions have brought about such misery.
In this, Backdraft’s pleadings call to mind the notion of generational sin as evidenced in the Old Testament. Backdraft and his brethren have truly inherited the fruits of the “sins of their fathers”—a vast, polluted, barren wasteland, the classic post-apocalyptic landscape of characters like Mad Max. This is also Eliot’s wasteland:
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.” 2
It’s the place Arthur’s knights discover in their quest for the Holy Grail. But, unlike the Grail knights, Backdraft’s quest isn’t leading to the Holy Grail and the crucial question which will help Anfortas heal himself and the wasteland. Like Eliot’s wasteland, the Fisher King remains unhealed, and the land decimated. Instead, Backdraft and his companions will forge a new path by delivering vigilante justice. In this, his narrative evokes the great historical novels of the French Revolution by Dickens and Hugo. As such Backdraft is both the protagonist and the chronicler of the struggle against the forces which created the wasteland.
Beyond the literary allusions, Havoc Faction’s music also speaks to this now moment. The world of Havoc Faction contains a deadly pathogen, bioengineering, a ruined environment, corporate greed, and the utter hubris of individuals who believe they have the right to make the big decisions for all of humanity. No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, it’s difficult not to see reflections of Havoc Faction’s world all around us. It’s also not difficult to see the anguish of younger people toward their ancestors at being left with such devastation as Backdraft painfully reminds us when he sings, “when will you see/when will you see that we’re caught in your crossfire?”
For those of us who have already guided children to adulthood or are in the process of doing so, we need to take a long, hard look at what our actions (or lack thereof) have done and are doing to those who will follow us. Have we given them nothing more than a barren wasteland with no promise of restoration, or have we given them the tools they need to thrive, survive, and create something new and beautiful out of the wreckage?
Backdraft is still traveling through the wasteland and chronicling his thoughts in song. We don’t know how his story will end, just as we have no idea how our stories will end, but we owe it to Backdraft and his many companions to say mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and try to leave them with even a little bit of something that they can use to heal the wasteland and secure their future.
- Tom Shippey. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
- T. S. Eliot. “The Wasteland.” Poetry Foundation. January 29, 2022, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land .