Will Haven and the sound of stress.
I downloaded the first Will Haven EP a while back, at a point when I was downloading way more music than I had the time to listen to. It sat on my hard drive for months, and I didn't pay it any attention, even though I've been curious about them ever since their mid-90s beginnings. I finally listened to it for the first time last week, not really sure of what to expect. I knew that they were on a good label, and were often lumped in with other heavy post-hardcore bands of the same era, such as Quicksand. Really, though, I wasn't even sure that I'd like them.
As it turns out, my current emotional state seems to have made this the perfect time to discover Will Haven. Their music is similar to Quicksand in some ways, though not entirely so. For one thing, it has a more focused style, forsaking Quicksand's variance of tempo and overt melodic sections for a steady midtempo pound. For another, Will Haven is heavier than Quicksand ever wanted to be. The guitars are more distorted, and the riffs seem designed to get heads banging. The most obvious difference here, though, is the vocals. Singer Grady Avenell screams almost constantly, sounding not tough or angry but upset, as if he himself is about to come apart.
Truthfully, Will Haven seems like the kind of band that one would have to be in the mood for; their unrelenting pound seems hypnotically brutal to me in my current mental state, but might just seem monotonous if I'd first heard it on a sunny afternoon in May when I was happy with the state of my personal affairs. I'm sure I'd have respect for Grady Avenell's truly intense screamed vocals no matter when I heard them, but I'm not at all sure that the steady midtempo grinding of his backing band would keep my interest under other circumstances.
It's really doing it for me right now, though, and I think that probably has a lot to do with how bad I'm feeling right now. I don't know what stress feels like for other people, so I can't speak to the universality of my experience, but I do know that, for me, stress feels like a steady mental and emotional pressure coming from all aspects of my daily life. It feels like I'm being slowly but surely ground down by an uncaring world. And on the outside, I may seem stoic and unaffected by this feeling, but on the inside, I'm screaming.
Will Haven sounds like I feel right now. The way they play their midtempo riffs not only creates an ideal musical environment for moshing, it also generates a steadily building intensity, as on songs like "Choke", the opening track on this EP. None of the riffs have more than three or four chords, and all of them have the same form of head-nodding propulsion to them, but somehow the changes between them combine together to keep things building. Overtop of this musical background, Grady keeps screaming, managing to communicate volumes of anguish in each bloodcurdling howl. Finally, after several runs through variations of standard verse-chorus-bridge song structure, the volume drops as the rhythm section stops playing and the guitar player kills the distortion and strums a few quiet, ringing chords. It feels like a culmination of all of the tension built during the song thus far, but of course, once the band kicks back in, all of that tension comes back like it never went away. Moments like this are used rarely in Will Haven songs, but are one of the things they do best, using the breaks in the steady pounding to make that pounding hit all the harder when it does return. And it always returns.
"Veg" is probably the best song here. It's sorta weird for me, because this record is something I've been listening to as a reflection of my inner emotional state. This song, though, is pretty obviously about vegetarianism. The only lyrics on the whole record that I can understand come during a quiet part on this song, when I hear Grady mutter "...factory farms." That's cool, I guess, but it really doesn't have anything to do with the reasons I keep playing this EP over and over. I have been choosing to ignore this brief insight into Will Haven's lyrical subject matter. It doesn't matter, really. What matters is the visceral jolt this song gives me. The quiet parts that begin the song and occur about halfway through are the best tension-breakers on the entire album. The first heavy riff in this song sounds monstrous after the near-inaudible guitar intro. This song also has the best chorus on the album, mixing a standard three-chord intense midtempo riff with a chugging interlude that breaks up the pounding with an even more intense variation on the theme. The second quiet part here comes after the second chorus, and when the band kicks back in, it nearly blows your hair back. The band plays one more verse, Grady screaming over it all, then makes as if to go back into the chorus, only to have everything drop out except for the guitars, which strum a high chord slower and slower as the song fades away. It sounds like the song is a car, and it's just been driven off a cliff at 100 miles per hour. It feels sort of anticlimactic, but that feeling works here, somehow.
"Both Ways", which comes towards the end of the EP, is another of my favorite moments, mainly because it's Grady's most intense vocal performance. I mean, the whole album is intense, and he's screaming his head off pretty much the whole time, but he never sounds quite so fired up as he does towards the end of this song. At one point, there's a long instrumental break that trails off into just bass and drums carrying on the riff as the guitar first feeds back and then starts strumming single, undistorted chords. When the distortion finally kicks back in, Grady screams like every other scream on the album has just been a warmup. He sounds like his throat is going to explode into a million pieces while you're listening to the song. It's insane.
Considering how much I've been playing this EP lately, I'm almost glad that I haven't been hanging out with many people. I recognize that the monotony of tempo and the constant intense screaming might get old for some people after a while. Right now, though, I'm not one of those people. Right now, the more I hear this EP, the more I want to hear it. It just sounds right, somehow.
Will Haven - Choke
Will Haven - Veg