Album Reviews

Haken – Restoration EP

As a new reviewer here, I thought I’d ease in with a couple of albums I’m already familiar with. What better place to start than the Restoration EP that Haken released last year? For those who don’t know, firstly: shame on you. Secondly: Haken is a six-piece prog rock/metal band from London (well, mostly, although they now have a Mexican and American amongst their ranks). The first music they produced and distributed widely was their 2008 demo. This made a fairly small splash, but got the prog scene to take notice, got them signed, and they have now released three full-length albums, the latest of which was released by Inside Out Records.

“Why the history?” you may ask. As Haken’s popularity has grown, so more and more fans have gone back and discovered that original demo. It was full of great ideas, but the production was not as slick as their subsequent professional recordings. Some fans kept asking for it to be remixed and remastered, to which the band said “why stop there?!”

And so to 2014’s Restoration EP. The band is in a different place now, and has seen a handful of lineup changes in those six years. Rather than simply remix the demo, they decided to take the three songs they were most interested in, and give them a complete makeover. When I first heard the EP, I was quite taken aback by just how different the new songs were to the originals – to the point where I think of them as sequels, rather than re-makes. I’m not usually one to do track-by-track reviews, but as there are only three songs here, I feel they each deserve their own attention.

First, Darkest Light, which is ostensibly a remake of Blind from the demo. Blind was always my favourite song on the demo – it was dark and quirky, but had a great flow to it and some great melodies. What first struck me about Darkest Light was how much shorter it is. The band has done away with the quirky sections and extended jazzy instrumental, turning the song into something tighter and heavier. While this surprised me, always one to avoid pre-conceptions I found that this new song is, actually, absolutely fantastic. It is one of Haken’s most intense songs, but the stylistic tweaks they made have given it some real groove as well. For those into prog-metal, it’s the sort of song that can really get you on your feet and head-banging along. The more concise approach creates a brilliant little prog metal rocker, and of course I still have the original for all the extra material.

Track 2, Earthlings, is a remake of Black Seed, and is somewhat closer to the original in structure. What struck me here, though, is how much they changed the melodies themselves. It was clearly recognisable, yet at the same time quite different and a little unsettling. Again I gave it a chance, and discovered a beautiful, slow and brooding piece of music. The lyrics are refined, the melodies are more distinctive (the original arguably borrowed a little too much from King Crimson), and the whole production of the song is just wonderful.

The final track, Crystallised, is the obligatory epic and remake of fan-favourite Snow from the demo. Given the love that prog-heads have for long epics, this has unsurprisingly proved to be the most popular song on the EP. I will admit that this song is my least favourite, but given how much I love this EP, that doesn’t stop Crystallised being a fantastic song still. It’s taken the original but built on pretty much everything about it, another complete overhaul. The flow is smoother, and the individual sections themselves are great, ranging from ambience, classic prog (bordering on the cheesy) and a capella through to some pretty intense parts as well. Gone are the harsh vocals from the original, but they have been replaced by a new eerie, almost robotic sounding section that has ended up being one of my favourite things about the song. The only place the song falls down somewhat, for me, is an instrumental section roughly three quarters of the way in. It’s perfectly fine in itself, but it appears to come out of nowhere and not really relate to anything else in the song. This isn’t always a problem for me, but given how superbly the rest of the EP flows, I found (and still find) this section a little jarring. Still, that small section really is the only criticism I can level at this EP.

The band’s performance is excellent, as always, and Ross Jennings’ vocals continue to get stronger and more varied with each release. New bassist Conner Green also slots into the band with ease. There isn’t much in the way of standout bass sections on this EP, but it was his first contribution to the band and he does a fantastic job. I’d love to see him more at the forefront in future, as having seen them live with him, he’s a terrific player. The production is also top-notch, and very much follows from the style of 2013’s The Mountain. Jens Bogren again produced and mixed, and has a knack for creating a sound that is brilliantly modern and yet still very open and clear. All in all, the Restoration EP is wonderful. It is a fantastic homage to the band’s early days, but extensive modernisation means it also stands on its own as an exciting and powerful new release. I can’t wait to see what the band does next!

 [youtube QHlHs17dQY8 Haken – Darkest Light]

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