CD REVIEW Will Haven

Band : Will Haven
Album title : Voir Dire
Label : Bieler Bros Records
Distributor : /
Release date : 10/10/2011
Release : Digipak CD

Ooh...it would seem it's been since the critically acclaimed 2001 album Carpe Diem (which I had the good fortune to review), that we've heard about this band, here at Concrete Web. Hum...that being too long ago to be able to fall back on a previous history-of-the-band, I guess I will have to rake that all up again...perhaps in shortened version, eh? (huhuh...like as if...!!!)

Sacramento, California based Will Haven was founded in 1995 by members of Sock (which was formed with guitarist Shaun Lopez of Far), and at the beginning comprised guitarist Jeff Irwin, bassist Mike Martin, drummer Wayne Morse, and singer Grady Avenell. The quartet swiftly recorded a demo album, which they released during their formation year. In 1996, the band released their self-titled, 7-track debut EP, and in August 1997 had their official debut full-length out through Crisis Records. The band was subsequently signed to Revelation Records. Around that time Avenell contributed guest vocals to two Far recordings (the first being the track “9 Miles”, the second a cover of Band Aid's “Do They Know It's Christmas Time?”, which also guested Chino Moreno of Deftones).

The band's debut for Revelation, 1997's El Diablo, brought the band under increased media attention, resulting in an growing fanbase. In 1999, they released WHVN, which was to be my introduction to the band a year later. It is said to be the band's heaviest album to date. The band also recorded a track entitled “The Regulator”, their contribution to the Bad Brains tribute album Never Give In. WH was given a chance to promote their WHVN album across Europe, touring in support of Deftones. The year 2000 saw the band's first line-up change, as Morse left, to be replaced, eventually (because there were short interludes with Dave Hulse and Chris Robyn), by Mitch Wheeler. That same year Grady, alongside Chino Moreno, did guest vocals on the Soulfly song “Pain” (on Primitive album). 2001's Carpe Diem saw a world-wide live promotion by the band, which toured the US, UK, and Japan, and was featured on the Australian lap of the Vans Warped Tour. Not long after the tour, Avenell left WH, to raise a family and continue an interrupted college education. It led to the band's demise, and to commemorate their last gig together, a DVD entitled Foreign Films was released in 2003. Members of the band went on to form Ghostride (with additional members of Tinfed and Oddman), The Abominable Iron Sloth, and Death Valley High. Also, they founded their own label, Distruktor Records.

The split would eventually turn into an hiatus, the band regrouping in early October 2005 with the addition of second guitarist Cayle Hunter (of Ghostride and Oddman) to write songs for an intended 5-song EP with B-sides. However, during creation process they changed their minds, going for a full-length album instead. The band returned to the stage of their hometown in January 2006, and started out on a co-headlining tour of the UK in March. Avenell had to drop out on two of those shows, due to problems with his wife in Paris, and the band used Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro), Craig D (Audiogramme), Mikey Dee (Skindred), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and XsheepX (The Seventh Cross) to fall in on vocals for those shows. Avenell then rejoined the band to play the rest of the dates. There were more live plans, including tours in Europe, Australia, and a Summer tour with Deftones, but non of that happened.

What díd happen, is the band signing to their new and current label, Bieler Bros. Records in August 2006. Songs for which demos had already been put online were not used on their upcoming album, but one of the demos eventually made it to an Australian compilation album. Meanwhile, Hunter was ousted from the band. In the announcement for a free concert at the legendary Los Angeles venue Troubadour, on February 19, 2007, a message was included of big news to be told. The news would turn out to be that Avenell had again left the band in favour of his family, and been replaced by longtime friend Jeff Jaworski, who'd been Jeff Irwin's guitar tech during the '90s (and had gone on to become the singer for Sacramento Punk act Red Tape). During the ensuing Spring, the band spent time in Europe touring with Deftones. The band's prior album, The Hierophant, was released in June. Tour promotion for the album started only in November, the delay apparently used to train longtime friend Ray Osburn as a replacement for bassist Mike Martin on the  November UK tour. No official statement was made at the time. In September 2008 the band again crossed the Atlantic Ocean, this time to tour Europe, and again with Osburn replacing Martin, whom had taken to raising a family. But more line-up tribulations were underway!

In the Fall of 2009, Avenell was seen joining the band during a couple of of benefit shows for Deftones bassist Chi Cheng (whom had been seriously injured in a car accident in November 2008, and has had to undergo several surgeries while still in a coma – following special coma treatment since May 2011, he now  is in a partially conscious state where he can already move his legs on command, but still cannot move otherwize or speak). He also did a show with the band in San Francisco, and following that there were some discussions about the band's future, during which Avenell expressed his desire to be part of that. More discussions followed about the details, and eventually it was decided that Avenell would return to WH, with Jaworski still a big part of the band and helping in the writing process of he album. In April 2010, Chris Fehn (second percussionist for Slipknot) was announced as replacement for Martin, assuming the role as bassist for the album and upcoming tours. (story thus far based on and re-written from the band's page at Wikipedia, without copy-pasting) But that is nót the only new thing we can see about the album's line-up, because the band recruited one Anthony 'Pag' Paganeli for their second guitarist, and the sound has been expanded by the additional recruitment of keyboardist Adrien Contreras.

Does that change a lot to the new album's overall sound? Not really, because once past he very short atmospheric intro of album opener “Held To Answer”, a very familiar feeling crept onto me! Some have tried to typify WH music as “Noise Rock”, and other terminologies that have been dropped are “Sludge metal”, “Experimental Rock”, and “Alternative Metal”. Fact is, the band draws from Hardcore as well as Metal, slowing things down considerably to accomplish a moody darker sound, but always giving everything a strong rhythmic feel. Of course, the synth and keyboard passages (occasionally emulating Classic choir voices) are a new thing (as far as I know, of course, as I never heard the band's 2007 album), and I was very surprised with that Dutch vocal sample (a lady telling you that you cannot record a message, then thanking you for calling) at the beginning of third track “Urban Agoge” (I mean...why the Dutch version, eh?). But otherwise the style of the guitars and vocals are very much as I remembered 'em from the old days indeed!

If you're looking for spots on the Internet with some music off Voir Dire, you're best off with surfing to (www.) facebook.com/willhavenband, because that's where you can listen to full-length versions of the album's “When The Walls Close In” and “Midas Secret”, as well as view a video of the aforementioned album opener. For more insight into the album's material, you'll either have to make do with the 30-second samples usually provided by your trusted online sales sites, go to your local store and see if they have the album on hold to give it a listening session, or simply buy the album altogether! If what the band offered you on their facebook page is to your liking, I strongly recommend you do the latter! Hum...and since this album was actually released last year, I'll have to add Voir Dire to my year-lists retro-actively!

98/100

Tony.