I’ve been following Will Haven since the release of their 1997 album El Diablo, when I encountered the song Ego’s Game on a Revelation Records sampler CD (back when those still were a thing). I saw them live the summer of that year and was hooked by the downtuned, sludgy riffs and hardcore intensity.
Though I did not find myself as engaged by their follow up WHVN, I was absolutely carried away by 2001’s Carpe Diem, the title track of which contains one of the heaviest riffs ever written, in my opinion. After that release, I’ve had an on/off relationship with their records, admittedly not paying enough attention to their post-first-breakup self-titled release from 2003 until recently, and totally not paying any attention at all to The Hierophant, their 2007 return record where frontman Grady Avernell was replaced (albeit temporarily) by longtime band friend Jeff Jaworski. 2011 saw the release of Voir Dire with Grady back on vocals, and I got back on board as well. That record had a cool, moody vibe to it that incorporated a little more of the Deftones-esque textures Will Haven had always kind of flirted with in brief moments on previous records, but without sacrificing any of the band’s essential personality. That brings us to 2015, and the band’s new release titled Open the Mind to Discomfort.
This EP only contains five full songs in spite of its nine tracks, with four of those being short instrumental interludes named A, B, C, and D which provide some soft, brooding atmosphere between the other compositions. The songs themselves are on the heavier, more aggressive side of the Will Haven catalog, at times occupying some similar ground to the first EP by WH side project The Abominable Iron Sloth. For me at least, this is a really good thing. The guitar tones are dense and oppressive and the riffs groove in that twangy, bent note way that has come to define Jeff Irwin’s playing over the years. The first proper track on Open the Mind to Discomfort; the appropriately titled Soul Leach starts with a massive mid-tempo sludge riff that is layered with a synth drone for some added haunting texture. Avernell’s vocals are still pitched somewhere between an angry hardcore shout and the caterwaul of noise rockers like Unsane. His voice rolls along the riffs with prickles of static and cracks of distress. The song continues through various mutations of this riff and tempo, with pounding drums and bestial low end just progressively accruing a sense of inevitable collapse and crush throughout its three and a half minutes.
The songs that follow unfold in a similar vein, highlighting Will Haven’s unique ability to produce a sound that melds atmospheres of stress, tension, and immediacy with slow, massive, often repetitive groove. Open the Mind to Discomfort is a quick record, delivering its payload and getting the fuck out of Dodge in less than 25 minutes. Standout songs like Do You Have a Light and Hermit indicate that the band has not lost step in the 20 years since their formation, and still have the ability to generate heavy and interesting material in a way that many of their younger peers should envy. Both songs punish the listener with an onslaught of truly nasty riffs that move back and forth between quicker sections of straightforward smash and areas of cliff-diving sludge. For a record that sees the band focusing more on the basics of their heavier tendencies, the short running time is about perfect, just enough to leave you feeling beat up, but not enough to feel like boredom is creeping in. This is absolutely another solid entry in the strong catalog of a band that remains one of the more unique and engaging players in heavy music.
Open the Mind to Discomfort is out now via Artery Recordings. Check out all things Will Haven at https://www.facebook.com/willhavenband