Release Date: 23rd March 2018
Label: Minus Head Records
It’s always a shame when a great band who have created their own distinct sound and release consistently solid albums fail to receive the success they deserve. Alas, Will Haven are one of those bands. Several of their albums have received high acclaim, particularly their game-changing third album Carpe Diem released back in 2001, and the style they’ve developed is beyond difficult to categorise (sludge, noise rock, what is it?), but the band have been left behind as their peers – including Deftones – were elevated to the big leagues.
Several instances halted Will Haven’s progression; the band split after the promotional tour of Carpe Diem – a period that could have launched their career, and after reforming a few years later with plans for a new album, vocalist Grady Avenell quit the band, delaying the release of a fourth record until 2007. Despite Avenell returning in 2009, it was still a further two years until the release of a new album, potentially causing a waning interest from fans with shorter attention spans, and a further seven until the next full-length release.
Fortunately, Will Haven are sounding as strong as ever with Muerte. Despite being 23 years and six albums in, the Californian five-piece show no signs of relenting their signature heavy sound, boasting tracks as dirty as those found on Carpe Diem. ‘Hewed With The Brand’ serves as the most immediate opener in almost 20 years, demonstrating the band at their sludgy best, while third track ‘Kinney’ draws parallels to Meshuggah during their less ‘mathematical’ passages. Much like the Swedish metallers, Will Haven induce the listener into a hypnotic state with their music, but through murky soundscapes rather than relentless rhythmic attacks. Guitarist Jeff Irwin knows how to utilise a down-tuned guitar. Rather than tuning low as a shortcut to heavy, Irwin understands how lower strings resonate, and crafts his riffs around that, resulting in sustained low notes bellowing at the listener, rather than technical riffs that are too low for human ears to discern.
This album marks a first for the band, as Muerte includes guest appearances in the form of Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter and Yob’s Mike Scheidt. Album closer ‘El Sol’ begins with the inimitable sound of Carpenter’s riffing, while album midway point ‘No Escape’ descends into a doom-laden outro to support the operatic wailing of Scheidt. The band have also explored a variety of sounds with Muerte. ‘The Son’ venturing into eerie territory in the unusual clean interlude, while penultimate track ‘Now In The Ashes’ abandons the guitar-heavy album for an ethereal organ outro, providing a contrast to the gnarled darkness presented beforehand.
Yet despite being one their stronger releases, Will Haven are still yet to recapture the magic of Carpe Diem. All the songs presented dance around the same tempo, and while it isn’t typical of sludge/alternative metal albums, there aren’t really any songs that jump out more than others. Considering there aren’t any glaring highlights, the album feels too long. Perhaps these are things Will Haven should take into consideration if they wish to join their peers in the upper echelon of alternative metal?
But despite some criticisms, it is always exciting to hear new releases from seminal and truly inventive bands. With the unfortunate stop/start journey hopefully behind them, one hopes that this marks a new era of Will Haven, and that with more frequent releases the band will become one of the greats of their scene.
Recommended Track: Winds Of Change