23rd March 2018 – Minus Head Records
1. Hewed With the Brand
2. Winds of Change
4. The Son
6. No Escape (feat. Mike Scheidt of YOB)
7. Unit K
8. Ladwig No. 949
10. Now in the Ashes
11. El Sol
The goals of making brutal, uncompromising music and maintaining a long career as a band are usually in direct conflict with each other. But 21 years after Will Haven‘s debut, they are back and every bit as furious as they were in the late nineties, with sixth album, Muerte.
It’s possible that Will Haven have made it this far by pointedly not treating the band as a full-time concern – emerging from their regular lives every few years with some new material and a tour or two before hiding away again. The on-off-on relationship with vocalist Grady Avenell may also have helped to keep things fresh. Their last release, 2015 EP Open Your Mind To Discomfort was, at best, a perplexing listen, so existing fans would be forgiven for approaching Muerte with a degree of trepidation.
But they needn’t worry. The opening one-two hit of “Hewed With The Bone” and “Winds of Change” is pure, vintage Haven of the highest quality, full of jagged riffs and lurching grooves. The latter also neatly holds with the tradition of the strongest track on any one of their albums being the second full song (see also “I’ve Seen My Fate“, “If She Could Speak“, “Carpe Diem“, “Helena” and “When The Walls Close In” and tell me I’m wrong) and packs a vicious and predatory slow-down riff that shows just how gloomy an atmosphere can be created with just two notes. Oh, and a big wall of ominous synth noise.
Will Haven rarely stray far from their base formula – which will either be a positive or a negative depending on your view of that formula: A heavy reliance on the repetition of simple riffs and considerably more focus given to rhythm than melody, it is a primal affair – albeit one whose simplicity requires a deceptive amount of discipline to successfully achieve. Grady’s trademark and largely monotone vocals, in particular, are something of an acquired taste.
Progressing through Muerte, there are some striking moments where Will Haven do veer away from their familiar ground and into more uncharted territory. “No Escape” even features a burst of actual singing, provided by Mike Scheidt of YOB, which will be a particular surprise to long-term fans.
“Now In The Ashes” includes some particularly effectively double-tracked vocals, with one set screamed and the other spoken, as well as a crushing segue from spacious atmospherics into another doomy, crunchy riff. With the relative narrowness of Will Haven’s proposition, “Kinney” and “Ladwig No. 949” quickly feel surplus to requirements, but they’re far from unlistenable.
Stephen Carpenter of Deftones throws some meaty riffs at album closer “El Sol“, cementing and celebrating the long-standing connection between the bands that has included numerous joint tours and the occasional video appearance. There are also noticable similarities in how both bands employ atmospheric synths to fill out their sound. Another gut-churning slow riff, during “43“, is given the widescreen treatment by the addition of thoroughly apocalyptic choral tones.
However unlikely it may be for bands in general, it does feel like with Muerte, Will Haven have written their career-defining album after twenty years of threatening to do so. Overall, Muerte is more focused and more cohesive – and packs a greater number of truly memorable tracks – than anything they have released since Carpe Diem, at least.
Therefore, if you’re new to the Will Haven party, Muerte is an excellent place to start. And for older fans, it is a timely reminder of why you fell in love with the band in the first place.