In 1997 things were different. I was 17, intense and always searching for new bands. Engaged in a constant, unending quest for the next band; abrasive enough to sooth my aching teenage soul.
But it wasn’t easy: the tape trading scene had fizzled out and the internet had yet to become the universal source of media it is today. So for a brief period, print journalism was both King and king-maker in the music industry.
Which is why in 1997, Wednesdays meant only one thing to me: Kerranng!. The weekly metal magazine was my window onto the musical world. I’d absorb every word, searching for those magic adjectives that would spark my interest enough in an artist to find their music.
Once a month Kerranng! would come with a free CD. Containing 15 glorious tracks, usually from up and coming artists, each one a clarion call to needy, adolescent ears. My first encounter with Will Haven was on one of those CD’s. The song in question was the inimitable I’ve seen my Fate; it stood out among the regular backdrop of thrash and Nu-Metal like lightning against a clear sky.
Sounding like Snapcase produced by Phil Spector, their mid tempo, droning stomp and wall of sound harmonics still sound fresh and distinctive. El Diablo, the album from which that song is taken, crackles with true sonic intensity. It is tremulously muscular, packed, from beginning to end with moments of sinuous creep and sledgehammer punch.
The key to the quality of this album is how it manages to represent both Metal and Hardcore without becoming Metalcore. Will Haven layer their stylistic choices from each genre artfully, cutting song shaped patterns in their cloth, making visible only the most essential elements. The pulsating low end and the febrile, serration of the high melodies coalesces into a distinctively heavy amalgam that is impossible to ignore. Like Neurosis playing with effects pedals stolen from Suno)))).
It wears its emotions overtly but never gazes shoewards; entwining rhythm, melody and anger in a way that couldn’t be more distilled. Stripped down without being lo-fi, direct without being simplistic, intimidating without indulging in theatrics; El Diablo basic feel exudes the impression that anyone can achieve music of this resonant power. But true testimony to the difficulty of this is the sheer number of failed Will Haven copyists that litter the Hard/Metal-Core path of the last 10 years.
After El Diablo Will Haven recorded 4 more albums, each exploring different facets of the jewel they had mined; but for me this will always be the document that sings their praises in fullest voice.
Thoughtful without intellectualism, aggression delivered without cloying bravado; 17 years on and it still convinces; compressing the lows of your fists and highs of your heart into a swirling tormented mist.
It’s now 2014 and things are different. Kerranng! Is no longer part of my weekly routine and hasn’t been for about 10 years. I’m no longer the intense, anxious creature that became enraptured with this record and its ability to sympathise and cajole with my directionless rage. I may have changed but El Diablo’s searing verisimilitude remains defiant and imposing, one of the common ancestors of the all modern hardcore music.
Be a Devil, check it out!
– John Whitmore