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Haken - Aquarius CD (album) cover

AQUARIUS

Haken

 

Heavy Prog

4.07 | 740 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
5 stars Haken presents a turbo-charged debut of metal pandemonium and jazz infested chaos; THIS is what makes Prog great!

Haken's debut is a knockout metal virtuoso rock jazzfest. The best debut I have heard in a long time. In fact it is not easy to break this album into songs as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. After listening to this, one may be forgiven for thinking the band are sending up the prog genre, such is the ferocity of eclectic jazz styles, however this is no doubt one of the most innovative slices of creativity I have had the pleasure to experience; heavenly headphone bliss.

The first track encompasses everything great about prog. Jazz infused insanity, with carnivalesque whimsy and all out instrumental prowess. Haken are among the fast growing prog soaked movers and shakers of today, alongside colossal titans Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree and Opeth.

The band capture a broad coverage of the genre, melancholia, psych prog, permeated with heavy metal chords and frenetic jazz blasts. Then there are the mellotron washes flowing lucidly over the soundscape, enhancing the ambience. It doesn't last long as around the corner is a maelstrom of chugging riffs or jazzy drumming to send everything off balance. It certainly isn't background music.

The band launch into frenzied machine gun riffing on guitars and at one point there are some brilliant razor edge lead breaks on the album that fly off the scale, with speed picking, high string bends and screams all played with precision and finesse.

The death metal Opeth growls are surprisingly out of place, like a fish out of water, but they present a level of dark intensity. They appear on two occasions only on the album and on both really darken the atmosphere. Overall, however there is a humorous light weight edge with light hearted flings where many different instruments are added to the syndrome, such as a banjo, accordion, xylophone and perhaps even a kazoo.

It is a fun romp getting through the album. Everything bar the kitchen sink is thrown in to the mix. I like the fact the band don't hold back in their energy and creativity and take massive risks. Not everything comes off but it doesn't matter as this is so enjoyable. You are never sure what is going to happen next. At the end of the first listen I could not recall a single melody and this is true prog in the "Tales Of Topographic Oceans" vein. You know you have heard a prog album when afterwards not one melody springs to mind. However, on the second listen a lot of pieces come flooding back. I was waiting for the death metal growls and they really infiltrate the soundscape, like another song wanting to burst through the music. Surprisingly, although the band are not focussed on death metal, they certainly are able to measure up to the likes of stalwarts such as Opeth.

At times though it may appear the band are sending up the genre, injecting so many styles into one album, but that's like Mohavishnu Orchestra meets Dream Theater with a smattering of Opeth and Spock's Beard for me, and I can't complain. The weird bass lines are totally off the scale at times even sounding like a different time sig to the guitars. The drums are chaotic in places and downright fracturing the rhythms and I love that the song is driven in different directions by off beat sporadic drumming. I was reminded of Pain of Salvation's 'Fandango' drumming style at one point. The time sigs are interchanging constantly and just when you latch onto one sig, another breaks through without remorse. It is quite amusing listening to how the time sigs shatter into one another in a tongue in cheek fashion. The bursts of xylophone are particularly funny and the accordion actually made me laugh, like a bizarre theme park ride with that jaunty rhythm you hear on a merry go round; perhaps that was the band's intention, to create a side show of prog. The music is allowed to breathe though in the ballad sections with straight rhythm patterns and a nice vocal style, so it's all not all jazz disorder.

The Neal Morse-ian reflective vocal performances are well ordered and bring the intensity down. Indeed the voice has a nice range from high octave to straight balladic. There are moments that are curiously light hearted and sound more like an amusement park side show alley than a rock song. These moments are strange and the bizarre riffs with off kilter drumming show the band are into high voltage jazz fusion styles. You might think of King Crimson in these sections or even Triumvirat, though the Hammond sounds are used at a minimum.

Favourite tracks? Well, without looking at the tracklist, I loved the first 2 songs and the last epic in particular but I really don't want to split this into sections as it's so enjoyable from start to end. And the quieter ballad songs in the middle are great to break up the pandemonium, and I quickly got used to the vocal style of Jennings.

A word about the booklet; wonderful art work throughout, and very nice colours that are consistent and thematic of the mermaid carried by the shrouded figure. It works as an iconic image for the band and of course has adorned magazines and forums to herald the entrance of Haken onto the scene. I only want to say that this is the start of something very special. It could have been a masterpiece from a band who had been producing albums for years, and rightly sounds like it too, however this is a debut! It buries a lot of new albums from bands that have become tired and devoid of creative energy. Here, Haken have created a compelling dynamic listen; a stunning debut that should be given credit where it is due. If I were to be involved in a debut, this is the type of album I would dream of. Make no mistake, this album is packed with some of the most awesome innovative prog on the planet.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |

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