Haken - Aquarius Review
by Matt Hensch
I originally had no idea what to expect from Haken before I experienced "Aquarius." Here's what I did know: they are a progressive metal band and have ten-minute songs stashed like it's an ordinary chore, no biggie. More importantly, I really didn't have a good feeling about Haken because, if you ask me, progressive metal has turned into anti-progressive music: bands that first pioneered the sound are now copied by other "progressive" bands or simply regurgitate themselves, hence ruining the term, because you can't be progressive without progression! Ta-Da! But I had a paradoxical suspicion Haken would deliver based on the help from Tom MacLean and Richard Henshall from the complicated To-Mera – a massive faction from a handful of progressive metal bands that are, indeed, recent and wonderful – whom are fantastic composers and one of my favorite bands. With that being said, I had my standards pretty damn high for the taking; it is very different from To-Mera, yet holds the burning content I had hopes for.
What makes Haken so wonderful? Well, frankly everything. "Aquarius" is a seven-song conceptual piece that embodies a progressive rock/metal fan's ultimate fantasy. First and foremost, Haken's songs are long, structured pieces that feature multiple parts and changes to conceptualize the momentum of "Aquarius," and although the formula will be a little different to most listeners, it yields a masterful result. These seven songs are some of the best musical pieces I have ever heard; the overall chemistry of the band is absolutely outstanding.
The riff work reminds me of an unearthed vault Dream Theater didn't discover when they wrote "Images and Words" back in 1992: everything seems listenable and fun, yet oddly different and mathematically challenging. Tom MacLean's switch from To-Mera guitarist to bass player leaves no scant trace upon the album's presence as his bass playing is technical and forceful just as it should be. Ross Jennings is dangerously original compared to a lot of vocalists in the hard rock/metal field, yet his voice scores points by capturing emotion and power through Haken's musical journey and from wonderful vocal control that makes him an obvious A-grade singer. Besides all this stuff, the use of keyboards excel in creating a sense of atmosphere whether Haken sounds like a funeral doom band or a 70s rock project, and we also have harps, brass instruments, and banjos all contributing to an epic display of musical brilliance that is simply out of this world. If you enjoy progressive music to the slightest degree, you will lose your collective shit. I know what I'm trying to say sounds vague, but seriously, this is one of the most well-crafted albums released in a spacious amount of time, progressive metal or not.
The idea of blending genres is a well-explored theme throughout "Aquarius" too, although you won't hear it act better anywhere else. Haken bounces between 70s prog, 50s-inspired rock, doom/death metal, power metal, technical shredding, and epic progressive themes in unbelievably stellar antics that flow perfectly together. Obviously, the songs are very long, but in such a rare set of ideas, tracks running in the double-digits are needed to truly capture the various masks worn by Haken, and I will tell you they are great to look at. There can be a lot of potential problems emerging from a sound like such: repetition, excessive soloing/showboating/wanking, or redundancy, but "Aquarius" has no tolerance for these pessimistic qualities; instead, Haken shoots for the moon and lands with perfect precision.
"Aquarius" requires a different set of listening practices in order for the listener to appreciate it, however. The album's flow, length, style, and atmosphere is a giant web of several small details that hold an equal importance to how Haken operates as a band, but participating in the seventy-minute opus without obstruction will reveal an object that transcends the metaphysical realm of progressive music. Needless to say, "Aquarius" is one of the finest slabs of essential progressive metal I could ever recommend. In existential terms, Haken's equation is so unique and sophisticated it can hardly be explained in words; but through the meaningful and esoteric marshes of "Aquarius," I can fully assert it is a masterful work of art in every sense.
Haken's vast style produces seven tracks that are from the minds of gods; overall, I can't find the word to express how unbelievably strong the strike of "Aquarius" is upon the mind and musical soul. Likewise, Haken's unique flash develops over "Aquarius" like dancing spirits in a nightly sky from beginning to end; the collective effort is unspeakably superb within Haken's unique set of values, and leaves a strong impression that speaks a no-junk voice upon the progressive metal scene with unspeakable awe. This is an absolute monster of an album, and one that shouldn't be missed by progressive rock/metal philosophers, no excuses!
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