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Haken - Aquarius CD (album) cover

AQUARIUS

Haken

 

Heavy Prog

4.07 | 771 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

J-Man
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The Celestial Elixir of Modern Prog

Throughout 2010 I've been searching for a masterpiece. An album I could confidently give 5 stars without any hesitation or doubt. I'd found plenty of good ole 4.5's this year, but nothing that I could rank up there with the best of the best. That has changed with Haken's Aquarius. This is an album shining with originality, bursting with power and energy, and filled with emotion and passion. Similarly to a band like Mr. Bungle or Pain of Salvation, Haken is absolutely impossible to categorize. Just when you think that this is a progressive rock album, you'll be greeted with a jazz rock riff followed by a doom metal passage. Also like the aforementioned bands, Haken manages to transcend genre labels while still maintaining a high level of coherence and consistency. This is precisely what makes this album a masterpiece. Not only have these talented five lads created some great tunes, they manage to perform them with a stunning amount of originality and distinction. Like all debuts, there are a couple (albeit small) things that could be slightly tweaked, but I still don't hesitate in calling this album of the year 2010 and one of the best debuts to come out in the last few years. If you like your progressive rock with metal, jazz, ambient, and even the occasional ragtime influence, we have a winner here!

Haken's adventurous sound is really special in modern prog metal. Partially because calling this band "prog metal" is misleading, and partially because these guys really do have something special about them. There are a few slightly awkward transitions on the album, but they are few and far between. Aquarius can transition from progressive rock to be-bop jazz in the blink of an eye without any penalty. The closest band comparisons I can give to these guys are Dream Theater, Kansas, and Pain of Salvation. However, these comparisons are also slightly misleading. Just listen to their music and you'll understand why tagging this band is a waste of energy.

Aquarius is a seven-song, 72:43 album. Surprisingly enough, the album doesn't tire once throughout its gargantuan playing time. I couldn't pick a favorite song from the seven, but I will especially mention Streams, which is an incredibly unique track. There's neo prog tendencies, jazz sections, and Dream Theater-level virtuosity mixed with even a short death metal-like section. Before you turn away because of the short growling section, keep in mind that it's extremely infrequent and it's used more as an effect than a vocal style. It's also worth noting the ending epic, Celestial Elixir. This has some truly beautiful sections in it, mixed with that unique "Haken sound". Drowning in the Flood has an especially Dream Theater-feel to it, especially during the vocal harmonies. I could actually mistake that for James LaBrie singing in harmony with John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy if I weren't paying attention.

The musicianship is some of the best I've heard in a long time. These guys are complete virtuosos, but they also know how to be melodic and beautiful at the same time. They play as a very tight unit, and no musician ever lags behind in terms of quality. Seriously, when I talk about great musicians, these guys fit everything. The vocals are incredible, and every musician is so far above average that words fail. To think that this is only a debut album is shocking. I can't wait to hear what types of things Haken will be doing in 10 years.

The production is terrific as well. It has the right mix of atmosphere, power, and emotion, without being over-produced. This isn't the cheesy-sounding type of production we're used to from modern prog metal, I can assure you that.

Conclusion:

Aquarius has left me speechless. I've been searching for an album from 2010 to confidently call a masterpiece, and this is definitely it. If you like progressive rock, progressive metal, or just about anything else, this is absolutely essential. This is one of those cases where you have to believe the hype. It's really that good. Although I rarely give debut albums 5 stars, I'm going to make a huge exception here. I have a pretty good feeling that this is an album that we will be looking back on 30 years from now and calling it the definitive debut album from this era. This is an essential masterpiece that you don't want to miss!

J-Man | 5/5 |

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