Few bands have made such an explosive impact on the prog rock/metal genres as the one made by the London band Haken. They have two releases in a mere three-plus years, their debut Aquarius and their highly acclaimed sophomore effort Visions. They have slotted time with some of the top names in the game, including Dream Theater, IQ, and Evergrey. The jaw dropping technical proficiency of their first two albums left most in shock and silence, wondering if they would have any tricks up already worn sleeves to lace their highly anticipated third album with. Could they take another step up the ladder of brilliance that they had been making their meteoric climb upon?
You bet your sweet ass they could, and with their third studio album The Mountain, they once again show that all the kudos and acclaim they have garnered is more than justified. Consisting of Tom Maclean on bass, Ross Jennings on vocals, Diego Tejeida on keys, Richard Henshall on guitar and keys, Ray Hearne on drums, and Charlie Griffiths on guitar, Haken takes a long hard look at that ever changing land that exist between prog rock and prog metal. Then through the nine tracks that make up The Mountain, they make that land their own, bridging the gap between the two sub-genres with surety and grace.
Conceptual in nature, The Mountain sears through so many styles and forms that it, at times, begs the listener to keep pace. It is so easy to get lost in this lush, musical scape. The first track, The Path, is a soft opener, setting a base from which to branch out of. It is reminiscent in tone, with Ross’s soft vocals and some ethereal keyboards. Lyrically, it introduces the concept bluntly, the path which we all struggle to take in Iife, and the struggles which then ensue. The next track, Atlas Stone, opens with a tinkling of the drums and keys, and then Haken takes off in aggressive style. For the next fifty nine minutes, we are led on a breathless and wonderful journey through so many stylings that even the most earnest and educated listener will struggle to keep pace. Don’t even try man, just enjoy the ride. Hard rock in nature, with some symphonic overtones, Atlas Stone uses those forms as a mere base. It jumps with brilliant instrumental work and stunning vocal harmonizations. It builds a certain thematic tension as well, hinting at the stresses and tensions felt in trying to keep pace with the world. So much is brought out in this track, and it’s just the beginning, Haken has barely begun.
Case in point is track two, Cockroach King. A mini-epic in length and scope, and the first of three such songs on the album, Cockroach King takes a turn to the almost comically absurd. There is a vaudevillian vibe to this song, an overly dramatic storytelling which works just wonderfully. It has a feel of a miniscule band playing the most epic music ever. Where a certain note or tone is needed, Haken shrinks it down, then overplays it to the fullest, I really can’t describe it any other way. Just brilliant. Not that it’s all comics and fun, there is some seriously awesome instrumental work, especially the middle part which left me drooling on myself, I tend to have trouble with complex mathematics, and their signatures here need an advanced degree for sure. Next follows two shorter tracks, In Memoriam and Because It’s There. In Memoriam has a reaching tone, strong and sure with an edgy cutting tone and a soaring chorus. Because It’s There opens with a reprise of the opening lyrics from The Path, done in a style similar to Gregorian chant. There are some electronic elements to this song which serves as a soft and lush transition to the second mini-epic, and to me the heart of the album, Falling Back to Earth.
Falling Back to Earth opens quick and harsh, and just tears off unhinged. It has such a desperate and earnest vibe to it, almost a musical cry for help. The fear and tension is so palpable, as Haken scrambles through thunderous instrumentals and wondrous vocals, telling a tale of a soul trying with every ounce to reach up to the sky, and failing, and falling. From a pure musical standpoint, it’s a near masterpiece, and I only say near because of the song that is soon to come. Another transitionary number, As Death Embraces, gives us a sorrowful and somber lead into Pareidolia, the third mini-epic and for me, a perfect song. Laced with Eastern ethnic tones, this one just blows it off the charts, period. Ten plus minutes of holy shit, yet another musical plateau is reached, breached and shattered here. Centered with a wondrous chorus that is infectious and soaring, it jumps from its Eastern base to so many different levels, a masterpiece. The album finishes off with Somebody, a nine minute closer that matches the epic scope and nature of the album itself.
Pareidolia is described as the psychological phenomenon of taking random stimuli and making order and sense out of them. That is kind of what Haken does with this album. They jump through so many styles and genres, but in the end we are left with a complete album that shines through and through. The conceptual nature of the album is rich, one I will be digging into for some time. Fortunately, the music matches the concept, there is nothing here that will become stale any time soon.