The release of a new Haken album has become a big event in the progressive genre. While their debut album Aquarius and its follow-up Visions have already saved the band a spot among their colleagues, their last two masterpieces The Mountain and Affinity have proved that fans can count on the band to release something that will cover new ground, yet is still unmistakably identifiable as Haken.
The band’s 2015 release Affinity offered a 1980s inspired theme and was the first Haken album to feature major compositional contributions by every member, while the previous albums were mainly efforts by guitarist Richard Henshall.
This resulted not only in a massive expansion of Haken’s sound palette, but also in a whole new rhythmical level. Haken are moving forward in a very subtle way and effortlessly skip every Prog-cliché. But after a run of four and a half fantastic albums one might wonder: Where are they going next? And how the hell are they gonna top this?
While Haken have always incorporated Metal into their music, they decided to release something heavier and more riff-oriented. Still, Vector seems like a logical step after Affinity.
The band starts off their new album with an intro named „Clear“, which sets the mood for the next 45 minutes.
During the first few seconds one might think that Nomacs are descending, but some of the following keyboard sounds manage to build a bridge to the 80s oriented Affinity, while still sounding new and fresh. The harmonies remind of those by Russian masters of Romantic Music by the likes of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev.
Suspense is built up and keyboardist Diego Tejeida gets to show that he’s one of today’s masters of his craft. His apocalyptic sounding organs and sound effects already give away the atmosphere of Vector: something dark, demonic and big is coming our way.
The problem with intros (as opposed to overtures) for me is always the „waste“ of ideas that would have had the potential to become so much more. „Clear’s“ motives will not appear again during the rest of the album.
Then again, Haken has been renouncing the Prog-typical style of revisiting and reprising melodies present on Aquarius and Visions, and instead narrowed it down to one or two motives reappearing throughout The Mountain and Affinity. Consequently, this was completely erased on Vector.
The album’s music is completely linear, doesn’t „end where it began“ and doesn’t make the impression of a concept album. The last point is proven wrong by Haken-guitarist Charlie Griffiths himself: „[…] lyrically it’s a bit more theatrical and about as „rock opera“ as Haken has ever got“.
Vector seems to be about a doctor and his sinister intentions for a certain patient, combined with several psychologic and psychoanalytic themes and influences from Stanley Kubrick movies. The Rohrschach inspired cover is presented with a classic Hakenunderstatement vibe and fits well into the psychological themes of the album. Not having read the lyrics completely, I can’t wait to check out the story Haken have come up with.
Opposed to the „theatrical“ concept, „Clear“ is followed by a series of songs that work perfectly as standalone tracks. The first time the whole band kicks in, a soothing feeling is spreading. Two and a half long years fans waited for this prescription of new Haken music. „The Good Doctor“ will see you now. The first „real“ song and lead single bursts in with one of Haken’s signature riffs, guitar arpeggios and a lot of crash cymbals.
The riff-oriented focus of the music is already audible, but it feels like a logical step from the more compact songs on Affinity. A bass imitating 8-string guitar and some 80s drum-sounds lead into the first verse. The band plays an unusually funky groove carried by a slapped bass guitar. Conner Green is more present on Vector than he was on Affinity and it benefits the album very much. „The Good Doctor“ continues with a big chorus based on the opening motif and a completely different second verse with somewhat banjo-like strumming guitars, before leading into the obligatory rollercoaster-middle section.
Guitars and bass play an unpredictable riff consisting of only three repeated notes, while drummer Ray Hearne makes the whole thing even more difficult to understand by adding several polyrhythmic layers.
A short cut with hospital noises and a deep laugh, as well as a jazzy, calm vocal interlude strangely don’t break the song’s flow and the whole section seems to build up for a reprise of the chorus.
However, the band knows how to surprise their listeners and slide in a reprise of the second verse, before the chorus closes the circle and finishes the song at 100% energy. Or so I thought. The following song has the ungrateful second and a half position that was previously occupied by „1985“ and „Cockroach King“, which both have become fan favourites and the equivalent of a „hit“ in the modern progressive genre. „Puzzle Box“ keeps the up energy of the album with a riff featuring Ray Hearne’s snare and portraying the fantastic drum mix that Adam „Nolly“ Getgood has come up with.
The intro riff is varied and reprised very cleverly throughout the song and is consequently kept in 4/4, although at many points it doesn’t sound like it. Reportedly, Ray Hearne is a big Meshuggah fan, so these polyrhythms over a 4/4 time signature might be an influence coming from them.
The verses once again benefit from Conner’s deep, awesome bass sound and kicks played in perfect unison with the drums. „Puzzle Box“ has a pretty interesting structure. The section that initially serves as a chorus is later revealed to be more of a bridge, as the whole track leads up to one final chorus that has never been heard before. I have noticed a similar approach in „The Architect“, except in that example, a theme from a previous song was reprised in the final chorus.
Of course, there is also a whacky instrumental section which leaves you both laughing and impressed. A following spheric passage with electronic beats, as well as the combination of hymnic melodies and deep guitar riffs in the final chorus once again makes „Puzzle Box“ seem like a little brother to „The Architect“. So, can „Puzzle Box“ live up to its predecessors „1985“ and „Cockroach King“? No need to. Haken don’t need to prove they can continue running gags or traditions because they are creative enough to create new ones every time they break new ground.
„Veil“ is the centerpiece of the album and a great follow up to songs of similar extend like „The Architect“, „Pareidolia“ and „Falling Back To Earth“. It starts off with a fragile piano and vocals presenting a chorus that would later reappear packed into a bombastic arrangement. Several rhythmic motifs are introduced that are being reprised and varied during the next 12 minutes.
In fact, the whole song is masterfully built around very few rhythmic ideas that makes it come across very concise. Despite all instrumental freak outs, most of „Veil“ once again stands in 4/4 or alternating 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures. The guys from Haken know how a song of these proportions is supposed to be composed.
They don’t introduce new motifs every 14 seconds, but rather let already heard ones reappear in a different harmonic, dynamic or rhythmic context. The two parts that hold the whole tune together are the catchy chorus and a post-chorus section underlined by the relentlessly pushing forward
16th-notes coming from Ray’s bass drum. I guess only time will tell if this monster of a song will be able to take „The Architect’s“ place as my favourite Haken song.
One might wonder why the band didn’t include a 23 monster track on Vector. „Veil“ is the ultimate answer. This composition is so round and finished that there can’t possibly be anything else to say.
So, what else is there to say? I guess, nothing for a while. That’s why „Nil By Mouth“ is seven minutes of absolute brutal instrumental insanity. Some electronic sounds introduce the first riff. And what a riff that is. No melody, no harmonies, just one and the same chord played by both Richard’s and Charlie’s guitars. The second rhythmical idea lays the foundation for most of the song’s following parts, before it’s interrupted by one of only two sections with an actual melody.
„Nil By Mouth“ once again reprises and varies motifs in a very clever way. There’s not too many ideas worked into this song, but those ideas are very well worked out. „Nil By Mouth“ is one of those instrumental tracks that have no need for a mindless shredding section over an extended
Blues vamp – nor does it have the need for any solos at all. Haken has become a unit, a well-oiled machine.
These guys know just how to compose arrangements for their lineup. I want to say that every member is on the same level here – but I just have to give a special mention to their beast of a drummer. Not only is Ray Hearne’s drumming incredibly well thought through, it’s also always
tasty, on spot, impeccable.
The whole album is pervaded by his complex polyrhythms, pushing grooves and at times brutal fills („Nil By Mouth“ at 5:09 – wow). I was already deeply impressed by the complete new rhythmical dimension he added to Affinity, but in my opinion, he has improved once again on Vector. The same, however, can be said about Conner Green. His thick bass lines are more present on this album and his playing is in perfect sync with Ray’s drums.
A quick return to previous Haken songs with a similarly heavy approach („Endless Knot“, „Drowning In The Flood“, „Darkest Light“) reveals the actual heaviness of the new songs. Vector’s mix and production are huge and loud in every way and the two guitars have never been more present. It seems like it’s time to take it down a notch. „Host“ is not a ballad per se, but a mellow song with a very morbid atmosphere.
Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if Vector had turned out to be heavy and riff-oriented from start to finish, without any exceptions. But then again, „Host“ is still a welcome change and an opportunity for Ross Jennings to shine. As much as I love the battling guitar riffs in the other songs, they don’t leave too much room for the vocals. This might be the only real point of criticism about this album. Ross’ fantastic performance on „Host“ (especially towards the end) compensates for that and confirms that at least one mellow song was needed on Vector.
Still, while it gives you a short break from heavy guitar riffs, it doesn’t give you a break from the sinister atmosphere of the album. This benefits the flow. A more uplifting song in the vein of Earthrise or Bound By Gravity would have completely fallen out of place here. Just when one might think the song is over, Ray’s deep toms lead into the dark finale of the song, which Ross finishes with a dramatic, high note.
Vector’s seventh and final song „A Cell Divides“ takes over where „Nil By Mouth“ left off. Another shattering riff is thrown towards the listener, before a clean guitar leads into the verse. Ray uses unconventional sounds for his drums and the whole section plays cleverly with its 7/8 time
signature. In contrast with the flowing verse, there is a chorus based on a slow staccato rhythm. „It’s the beauty in the flaw, the grace of imperfection“ – there’s something of this reflecting in the music. Not that there’s anything wrong with this last song, but it doesn’t follow the bombastic, vast finales of previous Haken albums.
There’s no big reprise of the album’s opener, no huge forgiving choral at the end. The chorus is melancholic, almost a little sad, and doesn’t give off the satisfying „Visions“ overkill vibe. Instead, some sustained vocal lines reminiscent of Affinity appear, while the opening riff evolves in the background (brilliant). The chorus returns and swells up, before Ross leads us back into the song’s intro. The album ends without any closing chord and leaves the listener on the edge of his chair. „The grace of imperfection“.
No matter if they develop into a more dark or complex direction; the melodies, hooks and atmosphere are all unmistakable Haken. The band seems to be on a quest to become more perfect with each effort. Their music has reached a stage of complexity which is almost unreachable for a normal human being, yet it’s still mysteriously melodic and not at all hard to listen to.
Similar to Affinity, some parts on Vector bring up the question how in the world the band will be able to perform this stuff on stage. But once again I’m sure that a visit to one of Haken’s upcoming concerts will prove this thought redundant.
Haken managed to once again develop their trademark sound into a new direction. Album number V and no sings of wear and tear on one of today’s greatest bands.
Haken’s “Vector” is set for release on October 26th 2018 via InsideOut, cover art and the tracklist can be seen below.
2.The Good Doctor (03:58)
3.Puzzle Box (07:45)
5.Nil By Mouth (07:11)
7.A Cell Divides (05:00)
Ross Jennings – Vocals
Charlie Griffiths – Guitar
Rich Henshall – guitar & keys
Diego Tejeida – keys
Conner Green – bass
Raymond Hearne – drums
Enter the 5th Dimension (2007 Demo)
The Mountain (2013)
Restoration (EP) (2014)
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