Into the Pit: 111: Will Haven – Live at Islington – 11-November 2011

So, the looking backward in 2011 continues. I’ve said enough about that already, right? Let us talk about the headline band instead then, eh? Well, I also have to confess that I totally missed support band RSJ – but then, apparently they’ve been around for a while, and I’ve never come across them before. Maybe next time.

Will Haven
Live @ O2 Academy Islington
11 November 2011

I’ve seen Will Haven before – in fact, probably three or four times, including two memorable support slots at the (much-missed) Astoria. Supporting Deftones in 1997, and then Pitchshifter a year or two later – the latter of which was so fearsomely loud that many people fled to the upstairs bar for a while. It was a seething, rumbling wall of sound, and to be honest has remained in my mind since.

And since then, ten and more years have passed. The band recorded a third album, split up, reformed, took on a new singer, released a fourth album (The Hierophant), then reunited with original vocalist Grady Avenell in the past year or two, and have returned this year with a fifth album Voir Dire. And happily, the return of Avenell has meant a simple picking up of the baton and continuing from where they were before.

Will Haven are not an easy band to like, perhaps, or to get into in the first place. Melody is not their strong point – it is more that feeling of unstoppable emotional force that they unleash with track after track. So it was perhaps unsurprising that the sold-out venue was full of older fans, who in the main clearly knew most of the songs from the past, and made a pretty decent fist with the new ones, too.

And there were a lot of new ones. With well over an hour-and-a-half to play, a bit of a surprise was the choice of the band to open things with the whole of new album Voir Dire. Which showed something of an extraordinary level of confidence by the band, but this wasn’t misplaced. The new album is exceptionally strong, even if at points it is a little more mellowed out and slower than previous material. That isn’t to say it is all like that, though – as proven once opener Held To Answer‘s spacey tones subsided and the band launched into new album highlight When The Walls Close In, which as its savage, jagged riffage, and crushingly heavy bass rumble kicked off a monstrous moshpit, it kinda set the tone for the night. That is, both onstage and in the crowd, a feeling of emotional release.

One of the things I love about Will Haven is the sheer intensity of their music. It isn’t all rage, though, despite the heaviness of the music. There is emotional depth, love and loss, and indeed some positivity in there. But really, it is about the feel of the music. The basslines and drumming coalesce into a propulsive rhythmic force that it is difficult not to be swept along by.

I must confess that, aside from a couple of songs that have grabbed me so far, I’m not quite as au fait with the new album. It was intriguing hearing it all in the live environment, though, and I’ve gone back to it since with a better appreciation of it. However the crowd was there, more than anything, for the old stuff – and after a short break as the last notes of Lost rang out, it was straight into a run through the old stuff.

And how. With one notable exception (of which more in a moment), it was effectively a celebrationary “best of” set, covering all of the albums that Grady did with the band, interestingly meaning that The Hierophant was totally ignored. Not that any of us were complaining, particularly as the first ten minutes of this part were the first three tracks of Carpe Diem. Which was an astounding start – especially as Carpe Diem itself unleashed absolute and utter mayhem in the crowd, as the moshpit doubled in size and about quadrupled in numbers. But that riff…

It was also a pretty impressive reminder of the power that the band can unleash, but also of the bond between band and crowd. Will Haven kinda fall between a few stools in terms of genre, being sludgy, hardcore-esque metal with electronic touches. Never having been in fashion, they are never out of fashion either, and their outsider status means that there are no real pressures on the band to conform. Instead they have stuck to their brutal template and carved out a niche.

There were other moments where they connected to spectacular effect, too. The barked intro and cyclic riff to If She Could Speak was a gloriously cathartic three minutes, while old favourite I’ve Seen My Fate (the first song of theirs I ever heard), was like being stalked by a dodgy stranger in the dark, as that ominous bassline give hints of the terrors to come: not least the wall of metallic noise that this song unleashes, and that break in the chaos as Grady delivers the titular line, before the track crashes back in, even heavier and more crushing than before.

There was a fair bit of comment at the end that the one glaring omission of the night was Jaworski, although in hindsight I’m not sure that it would have fitted into things all that well – the hardcore punk pace of the track is totally different to almost everything the band have done, really. And anyway, I was perfectly happy with what we got. A brutal hour and a half from a band who take no prisoners, make no compromises with their sound and approach, and are loved for doing so. Oh for more bands that are willing to take their own route like this.

Another warm welcome back, then, and I’d suspect that many people there will be chomping at the bit to go see them again. Hows about a UK tour in 2012, guys?

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