Review Summary: As metalcore slowly advances, Will Haven falls a few steps behind.
For a genre or an individual song to essentially progress somewhere, it must display a sort of change from beginning to end, be it tempo, tone, or otherwise. It’s like a train ride: to get from point A to point B, one must actually, well, get on board. Such an observation sounds too general and so easy to understand that no clarification is required, but it’s important to stress this when addressing a record like Will Haven’s Muerte
. On paper, the metalcore veterans have all the components arranged for a sure-fire success; the band combines subtle technicality with crushing, heavy guitars resembling a sludge-like intensity. Powerful vocals and the pounding bass enter the fray to transform every single tune into a veritable tidal wave crashing upon the listener. The overall experience is characterized by a dark, hefty atmosphere invading every corner of the record, permeating the space, taking hold wherever it can. Though that description is certainly enticing, it’s hard to individually single out examples of this really happening effectively. Whether due to a self-imposed complacency or simple ignorance, Will Haven miss their ticket to point B and stay put exactly where they are. When someone remains in one spot and plays the same similar-sounding notes over and over again, it starts to get frustrating. To make matters worse, there are moments where the group seems to put one foot on the platform, then promptly remove it like a perverse demonstration of a “Will They or Won’t They？” sitcom.
The most appropriate word to summarize Muerte
in its entirety would be ‘repetitive’. Initial criticisms notwithstanding, Will Haven spend the majority of the album stretching out and exhausting any of the good ideas they possess over the near-50-minute runtime. Given the current context of the metalcore scene, this is a curious error; groups that have existed since the genre’s formation—namely the fierce trio of Zao, Converge, and The Dillinger Escape Plan—have done their best to keep updated on trends, methodically altering their sound to suit new developments, yet never losing sight of their main identity. Having historically contributed a key disc to metalcore’s advancement in the form of Carpe Diem
, one would initially think Will Haven would follow through. For better or worse (spoiler: mostly for worse), the boys cling to the specific delivery aforementioned: heavy, down-tuned guitars, thundering bass, and vicious vocals, aiming for creating a hard-hitting endeavor. Quite correspondingly to Zao, the tracks in Muerte
tend to be dominating by a central riff throughout their duration. However, where Zao would normally erupt in melodic climaxes, Will Haven live and die by their pure-heaviness approach.
This formula is not without merit; a handful of songs demonstrate the potential of the style employed by the band. Predictably, it’s in such instances that a semblance of progression is displayed. These moments are elevated by an eerie ambiance supplied to the background, faintly creeping upon the listener, only stepping into the light when Will Haven commands it. Artful restraint is exercised exceptionally; “Now in the Ashes” and “El Sol” illustrate this vision the best, where the ambient noise bears directly upon the audience in a suffocating, threatening manner—one is truly pulled into the depths Muerte
strives to explore, melding sludge and post-metal elements into a cohesive assault. On the whole, it feels like the group is most comfortable inside this mix of categories rather than straightforward metalcore. All forces collide in the aggressive “Winds of Change,” whose opening instrumentals sound like a love letter to classic -core giants. Like fellow album highlight “The Son,” ambient sampling and sludge-focused heaviness merge in the sole exhibitions of thrilling, melodic climaxes on the release. Each injects copious amounts of adrenaline, turning headbanging into second nature, accentuating the collective's set of skills.
No positive remarks endure past these examples. Despite evidently showing their songwriting chops while utilizing their established characteristics, the remainder of Muerte
involves the by-the-numbers composing that unfortunately personifies the entire release. There are songs that never go anywhere and there are songs that are just plain boring. Generally, each track involves three distinguishable periods—the start, which launches the riff, then there’s a bridge sort of section; then the last section, where previous instrumental, vocal, etc. motifs are repeated ad nauseam. Stacked against the other entries on the album, “Kinney” stands out as the most emblematic of all encountered problems, featuring a riff that is bland in every sense of the word. Nothing is memorable whatsoever about the material presented on the track. On a broader scale, there is a stretch from “No Escape” (which includes out-of-place clean vocals) to “Bootstraps” that is so lamentably uninspired that the assembled tunes might as well be lumped together. Guitars repeat, chords repeat, vocals repeat—everything repeats over and over. It’s difficult to attach descriptions due to the unexciting state of affairs, leaving little to talk about. Further issues are manifested in a drum performance that, as time goes on, is revealed to be almost entirely lacking in dynamic. The rhythm hardly ever (if ever, mind) seems to be altered from the basic mid-to-low tempo beat; technicality is not a requirement, to be fair, but the obvious absence of variety is an immediate detraction to each song before it even gets a chance to express itself. Production is not any more kind to the percussion, having left a sort of snapping effect to the snare that is made annoyingly apparent on some occasions.
The reason why Muerte
can be considered so frustrating and so annoying is because, through concentrated cherry-picking, semblances of greatness are uncovered. When Will Haven are confident in their genre-blending, they hit a sort of sweet spot harkening back to Knut. Few artists capture the sonic output that cuts like “The Son” and “Winds of Change” demonstrate. As soon as the progression is shutdown and songs take on a linear classification, the songwriting suffers immeasurably. Where there could be a wonderful record to discuss, there rests in its place one that is consistent in sluggishness. Until the band buys themselves a train pass pronto, metalcore will continue to press forward and leave them behind at the station, selling the same notes at the same spot. Once those same notes are defined, there’s nothing further to say; no clumsy metaphors or tedious statements can be spared. Like the majority of Muetre
’s length, the content becomes nothing more or less than passable filler.