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Haken - Visions CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.13 | 1109 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars Masterful prog that encapsulates on every listen.

Haken's 'Visions' is the followup to their 'Aquarius' masterpiece, and since then they have been busy, not only recording this triumphant release, but also touring the prog circuits around UK, headlining many prog bands

The musicians are all virtuoso including Richard Henshall, on guitar and who also plays keyboards and composes the tracks. The other guitarist Charlie Griffiths indulges in soaring lead solo work. He had been in the band Linear Sphere who supported Dream Theater and Cynic. The drummer Ray Hearne is excellent at keeping the time signature changes in sync with all the complex musicianship. Diego Tejeida is a maestro on piano and keyboards, who also composes, arranges, and engineers the sound of the band. Thomas MacLean is the bassist who is part of the rhythm machine of Hearne. Ross Jennings is the vocalist and is very audible with an impressive vocal range, at times aggressive, at other times melancholy. They are an impressive force making an impact on the prog community worldwide, and this album will cement their reputation as one of the most dynamic new prog bands of recent years.

The album is conceptual and I had no idea what it all meant until I read the lyrics in the booklet. The actual packaging of the album is well worth seeking out as it features vibrant art work that seems to be based around dreamlike imagery. The iconic mind's eye is everywhere, even on the CD itself, and is a key to the the book are some chilling art such as a three-eyed statuesque creature, a ghostly apparition following a man in a lonely deserted street, and a man with his hands tied facing a judge in a dilapidated court room. The art resembles some nightmarish apocalyptic vision, and may even be inside the head of the protagonist who is experiencing a hellish existence. The themes of paranoia, being hunted, hearing voices in the head, dark secrets revealed, and conspiracies are prevalent on the album.

'Visions' begins with the dynamic 'Premonition' and 2 minutes into it I am already impressed with the excellent metal riffing and swathes of keyboards. This is a very heavy track at first with a dark metal feel. Then the time sig changes into an odd metrical pattern, and a rather ethereal keyboard motif with spacey overtones is heard, like 'The X-Files'. I am reminded of Dream Theater immediately with the focus on melody and keyboard with applied guitar trade offs. The instrumental is a tremendous start to this album.

'Nocturnal Conspiracy', one of the mini epics, begins with howling wind and ominous atmospheric guitar. The vocals of Ross Jennings are clean and very well-performed. I must admit, unlike the debut 'Aquarius' album, this release does not feature any aggressive death metal vocals, and seems to concentrate on the type of vocal technique heard by James Labrie, Pain of Salvation or Riverside. Having said that, the music is still aggressive, particularly the distorted killer riffs of Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths. The melodic section toward the end has a melancholy feel and overall the music is majestic and flows seamlessly from one passage to the next. The lyrics are bold, declaring some kind of revelation of a dark secret, reminding me of either a clandestine Illuminati secret or some other furtive worldwide cult; 'I believe your conspiracy, when they're after me, for what I revealed will change your life.' The protagonist has seen through someone else's eyes an alternative reality, a terrible dark future, and it is a surreptitious conspiracy with monstrous consequences. He seems to want to relive the vision, to make it clearer and determine what it is all about, in an effort to decipher the images experienced. He will find out at the end of the album what the visions mean and he will not like it.

'Insomnia' is a very good track with some innovative structures and heavy-duty guitar blasts. The quirky computer game melody at 2:50 is humorous, reminding me of a Mario Nintendo game from the retro years. Then it locks into an odd time sig guitar riff and a fantastic trade off solo section with lead guitar and keyboards taking turns, similar to Dream Theater. The lead solo features speed sweeps, high string bends, and hammering to perfection. There is a dark atmosphere with low end chord changes and a very precise rhythm drives it along. The chorus is rather infectious; 'dying to get back to sleep again, I lie in my bed but I've seen the end, my days are numbered in death I discover insomnia.' It ends with massive orchestrated string sweeps. At this point in the album the concept of one seeing in a vision a terrible future and feeling helpless to prevent it is perhaps the overriding aspect.

'The Mind's Eye' continues this theme, the protagonist is lost inside someone's mind, while they sleep he experiences the vision; 'lost inside your mind, I am wide awake, nowhere else to hide, in the mind's eye I wait.' This track musically speaking has a powerful effective riff, and spacey keyboard swells. It is a very solid metal rocker, with melodic vocals. It seems more like a single, if any, from the album, quite short, structured more like a commercial radio song and it ends quite abruptly.

The instrumental 'Portals' to follow is a terrific progressive explosion of idiosyncratic guitars and keyboards. The drums are sporadic and keep a syncopated rhythm. It is a wonderful track with some inspirational keyboard soloing over the relentless metal chords. Definitely this is one of the best instrumentals I have heard in a long time. It features incredible fret melting lead guitar solos and detonates into powerful metal resonances. The band is irresistible when they are in full flight on these instrumentals.

This segues straight into 'Shapeshifter' seamlessly. The metal turns into familiar chugging textures, but the commanding vocals in the verse are filtered as though spoken through a megaphone. There is a strong melody with a pronounced chorus that stays with you after a few listens. The music is quite measured and slow with some outbreaks of prominent fast guitar chomping out unusual time sigs. The lyrics are eerie, drawing on imagery of a clandestine society where the protagonist sees his sister as almost unrecognizable, as she has shapeshifted. At this point I was pondering over the weird conspiracy of shapeshiting reptilians supposedly taking over various authority figures. People actually believe that reptilians are slowly taking over the human race and of course it is a conspiracy theory, similar to the themes on the album. A clue to the conspiracy is found in the lyrics; 'lost in a city where vampires are guarding the gates, and you vanish with no trace, warped and distorted my fear is escorted away, pleasure I mistake for pain, my demons and angels are playing a dangerous game, inside the vessels of my friends, I'm haunted by strangers they're craving a thirst for revenge.' It is apparent that the visionary thinks he has stumbled across images of a secret society that has malevolent purposes for the human race and the protagonist has toppled headlong over his head in depth onto something he simply cannot understand; a secret vision experienced in someone else's mind. The lyrics, 'one God to whom I seldom pray created the science you work in mysterious ways,' is an intriguing thought as it is speculated that perhaps it was the protagonist's sister that has turned away from God and is now reaping the rewards trapped in some satanic cult. It is certainly open to interpretation. Even at the end of the album these sections are creditable in the sense that many interpretations can be ascertained, each with equal validity.

'Deathless' is one of my favourite Haken tracks, a slow peaceful ballad at first with gentle piano and a sustained keyboard pad. Jennings' vocals are exquisite here, emotional and reflective. The lyrics are about the protagonist wanting death in order to escape and stop the pain of the vision he has experienced; 'to the afterlife I will never know, with a fixed blade knife held up to my throat, on immortality I will overdose, all this you can read in my suicide notes.' Despite the bleak content, the song has a mesmirising beauty, constantly remaining melancholy and serene. The music breaks from the straight forward 4/4 feel at 4:30 and there is an effective time sig with variations. The song is reminiscent of a quieter Pain of Salvation or Opeth track. The sadness conveyed in the music and lyrics is similar to anything from Pain of Salvation's 'Remedy Lane', focusing on suicide but according to the songs to follow, the protagonist does not go through with it.

'Visions' ends the album on a masterful epic 22 minute multi-movement suite of metal and symphonic textures. It is an amazing track to close on, taking up the same kind of element found on classic prog albums of the 70s with those tracks that took up an entire side of vinyl. The song begins with ethereal ominous keyboards and footstep effects. A spoken narration ponders on the thought of what is life but a dream within a dream. This idea has been tackled by poets of the past, the idea that we are not living but are simply inside someone else's dream. The lyrics continue this idea; 'as I see the way I die and I try to change it, I am running short of time, I'll just sit here waiting.' The protagonist is experiencing a kind of d'j' vu and wants to harness the power of having visions to see into the future. He is seeing how people around him will die but can he prevent it, or is he causing it? His vision begins to become real as he sees faces of people from the past that he has seen in the vision, 'stumbling across traces of my visions'. He sees his killer, he knows it is the same person he had seen in past visions and now he wants to take revenge, but will he be able to pull the trigger? I won't state what happens next but it ends on a satisfying note and a Twilight Zone like twist!.

The music is once again full of innovative rhythms and stunning solos. The keyboard shines 6 minutes in with awesome flourishes. The jazz feel at 7:30 is a nice touch, then it breaks into incredible lead breaks, and many time sig changes. There is even an Eastern Oriental sound with a mystical atmosphere. The music is captivating and resonates the type of changes going on in the protagonist's mind as he comes to terms with the climax of his visions. At 10 minutes, the next verse begins with a completely different time sig and overall style. It almost feels like a Twilight Zone episode, the music is strange and the lyrics focus on a man meeting up with a man he has seen in his recurring dreams that have haunted him for years. At 11:40 the effects of preternatural foreboding grinding sounds over a crunching metal riff are remarkable, and are perhaps the darkest point of the album. It finally breaks into a gentle clean acoustic ballad style for the next verse. Jennings' vocals are once again tender, 'this is the part where I wake up with blood on my hands, travelling back to where it all began.' I like the lead solo that follows, sounding similar to Dave Gilmour, soaring and emotive over a steady bass and drum rhythm with guitar picking. There are some great lead guitar hammer-ons in the next section and an odd vocal that keeps perfect sync with the off kilter time sig. This section will really stay with you long after the album ends, it has a hook that just locks into your brain with the ironic taunting lyrics; 'I bet you don't remember me'' The song eventually returns to the main motif finale and then ends on a majestic orchestrated section until a final violin and cello solo at the very end, closes on a very strong atmosphere. This is as good as prog gets!

On first listen the album delivered as well, if not better, as the first Haken album. This one is not as heavy but is nevertheless energetic and never fails to please. It features multitudes of instrumental sections always played virtuoso and some incredible metal riffs to appease any metal fan. The songs vary in time measure and cadence throughout with multifaceted shifts from dark to light and memorable melodies. On second listen, I was mesmerised by the enchanting storyline and drawn into the intricate conceptual framework. On third listen, it is like encountering an old friend, the melodies lock in and captivate on each track. I am still finding out more about the concept on each listen, but the main drawcard is the overall atmosphere. It is a triumphant album with emotion, power and solid gold innovation. It captivates from beginning to end and is definitely worth seeking out for those who not only like heavy prog, but also opaque music that has light textures, and lashings of dark, thought-provoking themes.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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