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Haken - Visions CD (album) cover

VISIONS

Haken

 

Heavy Prog

4.12 | 731 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Miguel Pereira
5 stars Haken is rampantly gaining reputation among the prog scene. But is it just groundless hype or are they really a step above all other up-and-coming prog metal bands? Let's find out what the new album Visions is all about.

Following 2010 well received debut concept album Aquarius, Haken tried to further evolve with yet another concept album. Premonition sets the tone for the record with heavy and bombastic riffs with profuse orchestrations. This song serves as the typical instrumental overture, presenting the main motifs for all the coming songs. The various layered keyboard arrangements and orchestrations from Diego Tejeida and Richard Henshall are absolutely spot-on.

The song then segues into Nocturnal Conspiracy, the first epic song. Here you are welcomed by the distinctive timbre of Ross Jennings' voice. The vocal melody at start is doubled by guitar (and piano later), and very seldom that sort of thing works out, but when used sparingly it really makes the voice shine. The arrangements in the first verses are very spacious but at the same time extremely rich. You could easily focus your listening on the simple and beautiful bass line and all of a sudden you'll notice some utterly inspired piano line in the background. The dark heavy chorus gives balance to the song. The instrumental section has an insane amount of great riffs. The first (of many) Zappa moments comes around 6:47, an almost-funny riff and keyboard sound serves as ground floor for an intricate instrumental section. Also a highlight is the tasteful fretless bass solo by Thomas MacLean at 8:48 (it always reminds me of Jonas Reingold's work with The Flower Kings). Until the end of the song you have the pleasure of indulging in one brilliant sonic landscape masterfully composed by a tight bass line, precise drumming, haunting vocals, sweet-as-hell guitar licks and cinematic keyboard scenery.

Insomnia continues with another set of amazing vocal melodies and enormous bass lines. You can really notice the virtues of having a fretless bass so prominent in the mix in a prog metal album. At 2:45 it feels like a song from a SNES video game. That sort of humor is really welcomed, as it gives a breather to all the complexness and deepness of the album. The mighty Malmsteen- like guitar solo by Charlie Griffiths on this one sure is a head turner.

The Mind's Eye, Portals and Shapeshifter are separate songs on the CD, but they sort-of belong to each other, so you should take the three as a big 17+ minutes epic. Another long and fruitful journey wait for you, starting with an awesome guitar piece filled with goose-bumping harmonics and perfect vocal harmonies. The drums by Raymond Hearne are always very well placed and rarely over-the-top. Great cymbal work on Mind's Eye. The instrumental Portals is the song that better portraits the technical commitment of these Londoners. Notice the Derek-Sherininan-inspired keyboard work at 3:42. You can feel some Dream Theater moments through-out the songs, but a band can't really stray too far from what they really care and inspires them. Shapeshifter starts with a circus-like theme but rapidly segues into more heavy ground with low-key riffs, followed by probably the best chorus in the album. It's spine- tinglingly good. You should pay attention to the lovely guitar solo at 4:00 over a syncopated rhythm. The song slowly builds up until the touching outro, reprising The Mind's Eye main theme, sums everything up.

Deathless is my favorite song in the album. It gets everything done the way it should be done. Soft piano intro, strong bass lines tightly tied to the drums and frontal vocal melody drive the verses. If you think everything is perfect so far, wait until you hear the chorus. It boasts one of those bass lines that make me, as a bass player, wish I would have came up with it myself. Damn you Thomas MacLean. The attention to detail is well documented in the second chorus, when apparently everything sounds the same, but actually the bass melody gets a tad different each time. There's only so many ways you can embellish a simple chord progression, but when you hear something like this it proves that is possible to create something touching and unique without a lot of notes or crazy techniques. But? talking about technique, you can also experience some mind-twisting melodies and rhythms in the second half of the song. Again Thomas MacLean takes the front stage with some delicious two-handed-tapping bass work. Changing between 5/8, 7/8 and 6/8, you'll need your GPS not to get lost here. The final heavy crescendo rounds up the voyage on this one.

Closing the album you have the 22 minute colossal epic that gives name to it. Visions, in a way, confirms everything that the rest of the album brought so far. It starts with an orchestration clearly inspired by the brilliant movie Inception (it even talks about dreams). The song develops in a heavy fashion until the voice enters around 2:50. A soothing landscape goes along with the firm rhythm section. Note the superbly done legato arpeggios at 4:48 by Thomas MacLean. That sort of melodic approach is not very common for the bass guitar (I can only think of Protest The Hero, as an example of something similar). In this song you can feel that having two keyboard players gives the band a lot of choices when it comes to arranging the same melodies in different ways. This song has so many memorable moments that would be a chore to fully describe it. Please take your time to properly appreciate it. As some examples, I can point to you the middle-eastern moment at 7:46, later completed with similarly evocative chants, the long and soulful guitar solo at 13:41 and the Zappa moment at 15:22, with a clever interconnection of unison melody, lyrics and eerie keyboards. An epic song demands an epic ending, and you sure got one (20:19). Heavy guitars, layered keyboards and choir-like voices. At you first listening you'll get the feeling that your album experience is about to end with all guns blazing, instead the song ends with an intimate string quartet arrangement.

Sound

The production is outstanding, each instrument is clearly displayed. The guitar tone is very diversified, most of the times it's just perfect, but there are some moments where it becomes a little muddy. The drums are very tight with a lot of punch, but not boomy at all. The voice is not overproduced, so you can notice a lot of small interesting details in the way that Ross Jennings sings. The bass is definitely a standout. A lot of definition with the right amount of low-end. The use of fretless is one of the aspects that differentiate the sound of Haken from so many other prog metal bands. The sound design and keyboard usage is the other aspect. A lot of attention was given to all the background sounds and to the way the keyboards and pianos connect with the rest of the instruments.

Concept

The story revolves around a boy who apparently witnesses his own death in his dreams. Some clever twists are reserved for you to analyze, so I won't spoil you with any further details. It's dark, intelligent and maybe a little bit too reminiscent of the Inception movie, but still a good story that will surely please the listener interested in concepts and lyrics.

Artwork

The cover is way too similar to Three's Revisions (actually both are from the same artist Dennis Sibeijn), but serves the purpose of the concept. Some artwork reminds me of Frameshift's An Absence of Empathy. Nothing too fancy.

Overall

Few bands manage to create such a rich sonic experience while maintaining the technical edge and progressive aspects. Considering the average age on the members, this album is certainly a solid statement of a bunch of inspired composers and technically honed musicians. There are no filler songs, the album it's flawlessly paced from beginning to end. Because of such rich sonic landscapes, so many complex riffs and clever concept, the replay-value is really high. There are a lot of bands trying to reach higher ground in the prog metal scene but you will not easily find a better prog metal release in 2011. (4,5/5).

I've yet to experience Haken live, but I will have that pleasure in some days from now, and I can't wait to see what these guys can come up with.

Miguel Pereira | 5/5 |

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