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Haken - Visions CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.11 | 1116 ratings

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3 stars (6/10)

Big improvement! Haken's second album "Visions", whilst seeing the band often continuing to be the bad kind of silly, is vastly superior to their debut, "Aquarius". The 'wow, look at how zany we are!' moments are fewer and better done (actually pulled off well in the title track even!). The horrendously executed death growls are mercifully absent, and the songwriting has matured. Even the concept is interesting: a child having premonitions of his own death, as opposed to the uninteresting story of some moistened bint (mermaid).

I'll talk about what I liked first. In terms of the actual songs, we have (mostly) shorter songs (compared to "Aquarius"), followed by a decent epic. Shorter in this case meaning feels less like a cobbled together combination of musical pieces stretched out for too long. It stops the songs getting too meandering and directionless. I particularly like "Visions", the title track, which is actually pretty good. There are some really enjoyable musical moments in it (especially the epic start), even if Haken still haven't quite got the hang of transitioning naturally between them. It manages to be epic and quirky, which is what I think Haken have been striving for a lot of the time. Jennings also experiments successfully with the timbre of his voice a bit, which I wish he would do more often.

The keyboards seem like they've got more inventive too, which is nice. It's important too, given that a lot of Haken's sound is driven by the creativity of the use of keyboards. There are also some pretty good guitar melodies in some of the songs, and nice interplay of instruments. The sections of music that sound like they are straight out of a (maybe slightly less technical) Dream Theater song are still present, but they are handled competently, and I generally think they are okay. Certainly not worthy of all of the criticism they have attracted. There are far worse bands to rip off, and it's not like it's the entirety of Haken's sound. I'm impressed with the band's musical skill, as I always was, but I now think they are putting it to better use. As an album, "Visions" is a bit more symphonic than "Aquarius", and feels like a purposeful work, rather than just a patchwork of musical bits and pieces.

I'll try not to go too in depth with what I didn't like, as it's mostly mistakes repeated from "Aquarius", albeit usually not so bad ("Nocturnal Conspiracy" in particular can drift into the same kind of boring plodding territory at times). What I most of all want to emphasise again though, is that Ross Jennings is still a bit cliché and lifeless by comparison to other singers. Although he has improved since "Aquarius", Jennings still doesn't quite deliver enough with his performance, and it is difficult not to notice how the vocals struggle to match up to the bombastic instrumental side of what the band is doing. I mean, just listen to the chorus from "Insomnia" - it's really quite dull and repetitive. Actually, that's a criticism I could level at a lot of the choruses, they are often just a series of medium pitch, medium length notes sung in a slightly off accent.

These are all non-trivial flaws, but I will say that all the songs have at least something cool in them. All apart from one track, which I feel deserves to be singled out for special criticism: "Deathless", which is a truly feeble ballad if ever I heard one, and easily the weakest song Haken has ever produced. I really can't think of anything good to say about it. Cutting this song from the album would have made "Visions" more consistent and a more appropriate length. This would help with the flow of the album too, as some of the songs can get a little samey over the course of the over seventy minutes of music. It's definitely not enough to ruin the album though.

With "Visions" Haken lost a bit of their original sound, but in this case that's a good thing. It feels like something new is emerging, even if a lot of "Visions" is just a (vastly superior) rehash of "Aquarius", so I am still not giving up hope. A lot of great prog bands started out not so impressively, and I get the feeling that this is going to be the case with Haken. Maybe I'm just being naïve though. Only time will tell.

I'm going to continue keeping an eye on Haken. It will be interesting to see where they go with their next album ("The Mountain"). Personally I'm hoping they try something new next time, as opposed to just remaking the same album again. "Visions" is good, but I still don't think we've seen what Haken are truly capable of as a band.

ScorchedFirth | 3/5 |


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