I’ve been trying to appreciate London’s critically acclaimed progressive metal band Haken ever since these young Englishmen hit the ground running with 2010’s debut “Aquarius” and the following year’s “Visions”. I’ve got friends who absolutely love “The Mountain” (2013) and their last album from 2016, “Affinity”, but I’ve personally been less impressed.
Self-produced and mixed by ex-Periphery bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood (Sikth, Devin Townsend), their fifth studio album comes in a red cover featuring a Rorschach test ink-blot pattern. Less is more, some might say (“It’s impossible”, I hear Yngwie shouting in the distance, “more is more!“), as this is also their shortest release to date at 45 minutes.
The sleeve design reflects the content of the album, being a ‘rock opera’ about a sinister doctor and his catatonic patient. As with the Rorschach tests themselves, it is left to the observer to interpret whether the patient’s mind is filled with memories or delusions brought on by the treatment. Psychoanalysis, Freudian theories, Milgram’s experiments, Pavlovian conditioning and operant conditioning experiments all form the background to the psychological concept, according to Haken’s keyboard player Diego Tejeida.
After the two minute instrumental mood piece “Clear”, the first single “The Good Doctor” gets the album going in an energetic fashion. There are moments here that wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Dream Theater album, as might be expected, not least the second single “Puzzle Box”. With that said, Haken seems to have found their own niche in the progressive spectrum. The 13 minute long “Veil” starts off with a beautiful piano melody before the heavy guitar riffs (think: Pain of Salvation around “The Perfect Element, part 1”) once more enters the picture along with Portnoy-esque drum patterns. Ross Jennings has a great voice, singing both clean and agressive. Shadow Gallery and Devin Townsend both come to mind as the keyboards soar with catchy melodies in a modern sounding production. “Nil By Mouth” is a heavy instrumental with some djent-like sections, though not as agressive nor as complex as Meshuggah. “Host” is initially softer but also fairly dark, not unlike latter day Porcupine Tree or something off a Steven Wilson solo album. As “A Cell Divides” draws the album to a close we’re once again in a musical landscape familiar to any fan of Dream Theater or Riverside. Not bad!
After a week of listening to their latest release I must admit that I’m starting to be won over by Haken, even though I’d personally love to hear them include more jazzy instrumental sections. Not to mention those vocal acrobatics reminiscent of Gentle Giant and Spock’s Beard, as could be heard on “Cockroach King” off of 2013’s “The Mountain”. Those who are even more into the metallic part of the progressive spectrum should definitely give the new album a listen, however. It’s the best I’ve heard in this style for quite a while. Pick it up!
The album is available on CD, double LP (w/ album on CD as bonus) and as 2CD with instrumental versions as bonus.
Label: Inside Out Music
Date of release: 2018-10-26
Stand out track: Puzzle Box