|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Doug Mann & Paul Krueger|
|Record Label: R.E.X./Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990/2012||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 46:59|
It’s tempting to dismiss Haven as another generic power metal band- another cookie-cutter-dime-a-dozen classic tenor front man wailing, nonsensical double bass driven and high fantasy lyrical themed act that have overpopulated the metal scene over the years. Tempting, that is until you listen to the groups 1990 R.E.X. full length debut Your Dying Day.
Haven can trace its inception to the mid-eighties jam sessions between drummer Tim Benton and guitarist Andy Bruner. Later recruiting bassist (and brother) Ed Bruner, the group rounded out its line-up in 1988 when a musician’s ad it placed in a local (New Jersey) Christian bookstore led them to vocalist Kevin Ayers. Haven joined the R.E.X. roster the first part of 1990 after giving its demo to label executive Doug Mann while attending a signing party for the thrash band Sacrament.
The main Haven calling card revolves around how it sidesteps the stereotypes most often associated with power metal. It starts with front man Ayers, who brings a decidedly mid-ranged presence as opposed to the high end and soaring style of contemporaries Geoff Tate (Queensryche) and Rey Parra (Sacred Warrior). Frankly, I find it a refreshing change of pace - keeping in mind I will always have a soft spot in my heart for high pitched vocalists - in that his passionate and gutsy delivery lends an emotional edge not always associated with the genre. One reviewer that suggested Ayers has a “flexible, acute voice” and that “though similarities do exist, (he) did not attend the Geoff Tate Vocal Academy” had the right idea.
It also cannot be understated the impact of timekeeper Tim Benton by abstaining from the redundant trappings of non-stop double bass. Yes, double bass has its place, but as the old saying goes, all things in moderation. In other words, it is possible to achieve the same results by taking a differing approach, as Benton aptly demonstrated with his technical and precise as it gets playing.
You will not encounter any of the symphonic keyboards, anthem-like choruses and medieval flavorings often inherit to power metal imbuing the Haven material either. Rather, Haven performs straightforward US power metal - rawer and heavier than some with guitars and drums the centerpiece of the mix - interlaced with occasional classic and melodic metal overtones. The upshot is a professionalism that belies the groups age (most of the Haven members at the time were a year or two out of high school) with each of the Your Dying Day tracks bringing the necessary hook, riff or melody certain to draw you in with repeat listen.
Many of my favorite tracks trend towards the mid-tempo, with “Judgment Day”, “The Calling” and “I Found Love” dark and weighty maulers distinguished by their forthright melody structures. Maintaining the slower trend but lighter in form are “Deliver Me” (one of the albums more accessible with its inviting chorus) and “Murder” (a haunting semi-ballad trending towards the bluesy).
Quality is maintained when Haven takes an upbeat heading. “Below The Grave” almost approaches speed metal, while “America” and “Escape” deliver every bit as much high energy fortitude (not to mention catchy hooks). “Help Me Follow” plays up some melodic elements in a spirited format and the albums incredible title track a creative merging of Spanish guitars with full-on intensity.
Of course, none of this happens without guitarist Andy Bruner. A varied performer, his engaging melodies and catchy riffs set the tone for the accessible Haven sound- all the while accenting things with a well timed acoustic guitar when need calls for it. He also exhibits more than above average ability in the soloing department, as his work on “On Judgment Day”, “Deliver Me” and the albums title track aptly attest.
I always felt that production to Your Dying Day was fine for its time but dated by today’s standards. That, however, changed in the summer of 2012 when the album was re-mastered (courtesy of J Powell at Steinhaus) and re-issued on Retroactive Records. The re-mastering cleans things up with the all around brighter and more cohesive sound in which bass stands out further, drums better maker their presence felt and guitars delivered added edged and bite. The Retroactive re-issue comes strongly recommended as a result.
Lone downgrade to the re-issue revolves around packaging, which due to limitations of the 4-panel digi-pak fails to make room for lyrics. Why not make it a 6-panel instead? Or better yet, include a mini-booklet (the industry standard) that would allow for not only lyrics but also extensive liner notes, retro band photos and detailed artist commentary.
Lyrically, Haven (mercifully) sidesteps the Dungeons & Dragons themes in favor of those boldly reflecting its faith. Bold being the key word at hand in that topics covered include abortion (“Murder”), the inevitability of death (“Your Dying Day”), Great White Throne Judgment (“On Judgment Day”) and source of salvation (“The Calling”).
I appreciate how Haven does not adhere to the all-too typical power metal trappings - at least in terms of vocals, timekeeping and songwriting - and stays true to its own sound in the process. Your Dying Day reflects this from how well it has held up over the years and still sounds refreshing to this day. The Retroactive re-issue, with its quality re-mastering, makes an already very good package even better.
Track By Track
“On Judgment Day” proves quintessential Haven, steadfast in capacity but also interweaving the needed poignant overtones with a melody on the distinct side of things. Ayers sets the tone with his soulful vocal proclivities and Benton the backbone as a result of his sharp timekeeping skills.
“Deliver Me” maintains the mid-paced leanings, but this time lighter (verses bring quieter guitars that drift in and out of the mix) and catchier (intricate aspects to the chorus rate with the albums best). It is guitarist Andy Bruner who stands out here, lacing a sweeping instrumental section with his focused lead guitar abilities. Lyric snippet:
I look around, I see this place, I can't relate
I want to talk, but I just hide in my self-hate
What can I do? What can I say? Can I escape?
From all this pain and all this shame and all this hate?
Deliver me from this reality
This guilt that is building inside of me
Deliver me from this reality
The sin that's inside is killing me
These nightmares are killing me
“Murder” comes across in the form of a semi-ballad. The song moves its first minute gently until blues driven rhythm guitars fade in, creating the more decisive momentum until the emotionally edged chorus is obtained. Soloing this time takes on a more moving tone.
After three straight mid-tempo pieces in the five minute range, we are treated to the upbeat three minutes that is “Below The Grave”. This one proves non-stop energy all the way, hooks galore (chorus is on the succinct side of things) but also playing up equally doses of unremitting heaviness. The band is on fire on this one.
Do you hurt? Do you bleed
For those cast to hell eternally?
Do you fear? Can't you see
The death that I spread
Because death is me
Welcome to hell, I've been expecting you
I don't care what life has put you through
I have your soul, now you'll never escape
You could have chosen love, but you sealed your fate
“The Calling” represents a return to a mid-paced heading but this time darker and weightier without forsaking melody in the process. Rhythm section paves the way here, as Benton and Ed Bruner lock into quite the low-end groove (the re-mastering really allows the technical drumming to stand out, particularly the drum solo at the start).
A change of pace to a high energy direction can be found in “America”. This one proves a non-stop slugger, heavy set in its muscular ways with guitars thick and driving and Ayers letter loose with the full range to his voice. Similar to “The Calling” melody is not overlooked despite the raucous scene. Interestingly, the song includes a voice over from Martin Luther King, Jr. at the halfway point. Lyric snippet:
America, the time will come to pass, doomed by our lust
Consumed by our love for cash.
But America, God will forgive those who ask.
He'll wipe away the tears and heal you of your wounded past.
Yes America, God will forgive those who ask.
He'll wipe away the tears and you'll be set free at last.
Time the illusion, delusion,
Conclusion, too late?
No! No! No! No!
Punch driven “Escape” represents reverberating metal at its best. The song proves soaring in capacity, upholding the high energy penchant but also intricately driven with a sweeping instrumental section allowing Haven to showcase its instrumental abilities. Chorus is fittingly engaging.
“Help Me Follow”, another upbeat track, interlaces acoustic guitars with crisper rhythm guitars to put in place the emotional edge that prevails over the song. A melodic hard rock feel comes to the forefront as well - this is the albums most commercial track - with Bloodgood’s Rock In A Hard Place coming to mind as a result. On other words, a piece that is heavy but accessible at the same time. Lyric snippet:
Lord there's many things I've done and said.
I want to follow, but I fall right down again.
I have the will and a strong desire.
I need your help to get me through the fire.
I need you, Lord, help, I need you near.
I need your love to help me through the fear.
I want to live for you; my love goes deep.
I know you'll help me follow in my times of need.
“I Found Love” showcases a return to a heavier form. The song starts in haunting fashion with a punchy bass helping to carry the minute and a half instrumental opening. Swarthy mid-paced sensibilities uphold things the rest of the way, with the groups trademark technical milieu and focus on the hook driven putting in place quite the stirring scene. Another defining drum performance from the amazing Tim Benton.
Haven saves its best for last with the albums immaculate title track. I appreciate how the group decorates “Your Dying Day” with Spanish guitar, including the first minute that gradually builds into a crescendo of heavier riffs and instrumental section that fades to a stretch of galloping lead guitar. In between the group brings the all-out intensity of Barren Cross in the form of its powerful chorus and lively low-end. In the end the albums best song. Lyric snippet:
You had the chance to turn around
And you were going to tomorrow
But you didn't make it to that day
Now there's no more time to borrow
And now it's too late to change your fate
Your only hope is gone now
You can't turn back or change the fact
That you rejected His love
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “On Judgment Day” (5:11), “Deliver Me” (4:43), “Murder” (4:49), “Below The Grave” (2:50), “The Calling” (5:37), “The Calling” (5:37), “America” (4:39), “Escape” (4:30), “Help Me Follow” (3:21), “I Found Love” (5:35), “Your Dying Day” (5:39)
Kevin Ayers - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Andy Bruner - Guitars
Ed Bruner - Bass
Tim Benton - Drums & Percussion