I tend to get a little bit worried once an album gets the kind of smoke blown up its arse that Voir Dire seems to currently be receiving on a daily basis. A band like Will haven, who fans and reviewers (including myself) feel have never made the kind of dent they should have done, returning after a long absence, with their original vocalist intact. Throw in a follow up to a slightly disappointing last album and you have a perfect recipe for hyperbole.
It’s not surprising really, a band who mean as much as Will Haven to a lot of people, we all want them to do well, we will it into being. Fans are notoriously dreadful at remaining objective about the object of their affection, and Will Haven have always gathered a devoted fanbase. I myself have bitter memories of garnishing ‘The Heirophant’, their lacklustre last album, with lavish praise in a hastily written review, before realising a scant few listens later that it was all a bit emperor’s new clothes. As for this latest effort, it has been out for a few days and all the Will Haven fans I know are either garnishing their social media timelines with gushing praise, or rushing to their keyboards to offer winsome homilies. Possibly some of them are even taking to their rooftops to shout about it to passing strangers, or commandeering supermarket tannoys to scream ‘I love Will Haven and I don’t care who knows!’ with all the gusto their weed-addled lung capacities can allow.
As for myself, well the video for first song ‘Mida’s Secret’ hadn’t really whet my appetite hugely. It was good, but wasn’t the hefty beast I was hoping for, sounding more like something from their hometown friends Deftones. Oh, and there’s that rather cheap looking cover, which surely has to rank alongside Opeth’s dreadful recent effort as one of the more calamatious pieces of cover art this year.
As I waited for my Amazon download to complete, I was trying to maintain my composure, for here at Demon Pigeon we like to pretend
we’re cooler than frozen shit we take things seriously and calmly. I was not going to be sucked in by the hype, no matter how many mainstream magazines put up video blogs about it. I am going to set aside my own high hopes, and be a good objective reviewer.
This attitude lasts until about four seconds into second track ‘When The Walls Close In,’ whereupon the dribbling fanboy in me is roundly clumped in the head by a riff of such startling density that it sends me instantly back to when this band were to my mind the best band in the world. I can no longer be objective about this album because it represents absolutely everything I wanted it to. From the moment it starts hurling monolithic riffs around it delivers, Jeff Irwin’s ghostly razor sharp guitar tones entwining with the heftiest bass sound in existence and those mammoth sounding drums to produce something remarkable for Grady to wrap his turtured vocal chords round.
Oh how they missed Grady. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jeff Jaworski as a vocalist, but in Grady Avenell Will Haven had and have again a vocalist of staggering ability. Grady manages to elevate hardcore vocals into an expression of complete open-chested rage, hopelessness and anguish, like a man pouring his entire life into a microphone with such urgency that it can barely contain the result. Married to the rest of the band it is such a perfect fit, the likes of ‘Lives Left To Wither’ just so crushingly, emotionally heavy as to make the rest of the world seem like a pale photocopy of itself, with none of the urgency this band can manufacture from the simplest of riffs. In the context of the rest of the album ‘Mida’s Secret’ too is elevated from a good song to an atmospheric ice pick, demonstrating how well the band pays with dynamics, as in at times they are atmospheric, the rest of the time they are atmospheric and brutal.
By the time I reach the third and fourth listen to the album I can feel my heart rate rising throughout the album’s progression, the heft of the sound getting into my very core. It makes you feel so invincible to the extent that I would advise against driving while listening to it, lest you suddenly imagine yourself as Vin Diesel hurling muscle cars around corners with reckless glee. As soon as it ends with the bleak and somewhat apocalyptic ‘Lost’ I can only do one thing, hit play again.
It may be that I and everyone else are wrong yet again, but I sincerely doubt it. Three months to go I think the results are in.
Will Haven: Return of the Year, Album of the Year, Band of the Year. Sorry everyone else.