Album Review: Will Haven - VII

Album Review: Will Haven - VII

The Sacramento veterans return with their aptly-titled seventh album ‘VII’, bringing the same ferocious, atmospheric, sludgy noise we’ve come to expect from them over the last decade or so. With this release, the band continues to push their sound in new directions, building on the expansive soundscapes that complement the suffocating heaviness that's been present from day one.

Will Haven’s debut ‘El Diablo’ was unleashed in 1997 and had an instant impact. Their penchant for sludgy, noisy riffs, coupled with a charismatic and powerful frontman quickly established them as a band with a bright future in the metal/hardcore scene. Although likely to remain in the underground due to the aggressive and heavy nature of their sound, they had the potential to reach a wide audience, drawing in both metal and hardcore fans alike. Their third album ‘Carpe Diem’ had worldwide promotion and sparked a worldwide tour, with Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno appearing in the video for the lead single. After emerging from the same local scene as Deftones, and maintaining a close friendship with the band, their path could have taken a similar route to widespread appeal. However, in 2003, vocalist and key member Grady Avenell left to raise a family, and the band disbanded. After regrouping in 2005, and a series of stop-start attempts to produce new music, it was in 2010 when arguably the most influential original members (vocalist Grady Avenell and guitarist Jeff Irwin) were back recording music together. They embarked on a new era, with a more atmospheric and progressive sound in tow.

‘VII’ opens with a suitably disorientating introduction. Opening track ‘Luna’ begins with a simple drumbeat, with Grady Avenell’s strained screaming the only other presence. An industrial-sounding synth builds, before the track lurches into a muffled version of a thrash-tinged hardcore section that appears later in the song. This ends abruptly, and we get the first taste of guitarist Jeff Irwin’s trademark low-tuned, crisp, meaty riffs. Irwin’s quality as a guitarist may not be obvious to all, but to produce seven albums packed full of dangerously heavy riffs is no easy task. He’s a one-man riff factory.

With the opening track running short of the 2 minute mark there isn’t a lot of time for the listener to get a sense of the overall feel of the album. ‘5 of fire’, ‘For all future time’ and ‘Evolution of man’ that follow it all come in at around 3 minutes and we get to see how the band’s sound has evolved and progressed since the last album. One notable change is the eerie, layered synths that weave in-and-out of the soundscape. While present on previous releases, they are more prominent in the mix on this release, bringing a sinister atmosphere that alters the overall experience. The raw aggression that has been present since the band’s first album is still there, but shifting part of the focus to creating atmospheric melodies that permeate through the album, brings a new dynamic to Will Haven’s sound.

I’ll admit to being a bit put off by the synths being more dominant at first, but fifth track ‘Paloma’s blessing’ is where it all clicked into place. Featuring a crunchy riff, juxtaposed with dreamy, melodic synths and more expansive, open chord riffs, the overall feel is different to the first four tracks. These elements, when considered in conjunction with the song structure and ambient vocals, mean this track wouldn’t seem out of place on a Deftones album. After ‘Paloma’s blessing’, the album really opens up. The rest of the tracks have a similar dynamic: powerful riffs, expansive soundscapes and Avenell’s ever present, pained, ferocious vocals.

One thing that becomes evident after listening to the album a few times is the incredible production effort. The use of dynamics to create variation in the sound is impressive. There are times when the atmosphere created by the synth layers take precedence over the guitars, and vice-versa. The vocals effects and differing volumes at which they are mixed mean they contribute to the atmosphere. The overall effect is that the album feels cohesive, the tracks blend together, delivering not just a collection of songs, but also a considered experience for the listener.

My only slight criticism is the lack of memorable riffs or melodies. It’s a minor point, but going back to their much earlier work you can find more catchy grooves to take away with you. However, this might be a stylistic choice given that the band has progressed and evolved since then. It’s more of a personal grievance than an actual criticism. Overall, this feels like the album Will Haven have been building to since their reformation, and while it’s unlikely to bring them huge numbers of new fans, it demonstrates their ability to evolve, while remaining as devastatingly heavy as ever.

Rating: 8/10

Release Date: July 7th 2023

Released By: Minus Head

FFO: Deftones, Neurosis, Converge

Track Listing

1) Luna
2) 5 of Fire
3) For All of Future Time
4) Evolution of Man
5) Paloma's Blessing
6) Wings of Mariposa
7) Diablito
8) Diablito II
9) No Stars to Guide Me
10) Feeding the Soil
11) La Ultima Nota

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to This Day In Metal.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.