Will Haven fall into the category of metal bands that have been profoundly influential, yet have never reached the point of mainstream consciousness from being so. Despite being earmarked for their influence on Deftones and Far (as well as having Slipknot’s Chris Fehn amongst their ranks from 2010 to 2014), they themselves have remained deeply underground, a fact that’s probably not helped by a less-than-prolific release schedule. Still, the cult fanbase they’ve accumulated has help keep them afloat, to the point where a new album is always likely to cultivate that subsection of attention by virtue of being a Will Haven album.
It feels as though the band themselves know this too, as Muerte feels like what a Will Haven album is expected to be at this point. After the return of Grady Avenell on vocals on 2011’s Voir Dire and the proof that they could keep their current momentum going on their 2015 EP Open The Mind To Discomfort, Muerte is representative of a band finding a comfort zone and reworking the resources they’ve always had at their disposal. That’s not to say that Will Haven have become lazy or formulaic – aligning sonorous noise-rock and sludge-metal with vicious proto-metalcore still heralds particularly bracing results – but if there was an album to mark a point of relative stasis in Will Haven’s career, it’d probably be Muerte.
And yet, in terms of underground metal, there’s something so consistently visceral and bruising in the way that Will Haven operate here, even if there’s nothing particularly concrete when it comes to standout features. Opener Hewed With A Brand is a fine summary of what Muerte has to offer, namely seismic guitar rumblings coated in a pitch-black mist while Avenell’s corrosive screams break through. The sense of dense, oppressive atmosphere is fantastic, and with the dramatic, pounding drums of Kinney or the drop into gruesome post-metal on Now In The Ashes, it’s given a way of weaving through the album with tremendous potency. For a purely immersive, engulfing experience, Muerte does a whole lot right.
But that’s also pretty much all it’s good for. Of course highlighted moments are here, like the chaotic pummeling of Wind Of Change or the megaton stomp and searing guitar contributions from Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter on El Sol, but Muerte as a body of work doesn’t naturally present a whole lot that stands out. Even if that ultimately is the point (and with the focus on heft and darkness all the way through, there’s more than an inkling that it is), Muerte as a whole can’t help but bleed together, particularly in its back half where a track like Ladwig No. 949 doesn’t contribute much of interest besides another round of savagery.
All of that is totally fine, mind, and there’s bound to be an audience who’ll absolutely lap this up, but beyond some surface thrills, Muerte really isn’t stuffed with material to dig into. Even with the tone and instrumental proficiency that’s pretty much nailed here, there isn’t a great deal of songs behind it, rather a perfectly adequate collection of heavy-as-hell riffs that’ll still satisfy anyone looking to get their fix. As long as not too much rides on this one, Will Haven easily get the job done.
For fans of: Converge, Cave In, Burnt By The Sun
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Muerte’ by Will Haven is released on 23rd March on minus HEAD Records.