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5 stars (CD was obtained from ProgPower USA!)

Haken burst onto the progressive metal scene with 2010's Aquarius, to near universal praise. The album was a superbly varied, technical, emotional journey that told the captivating story of a mermaid born to a human couple. It was, for lack of a better description, one of the greatest debut albums of the last decade.

So how on earth do you possibly follow that up? I approached Visions with a certain degree of caution, as I was certain there was no possible way they could top their entry into the music world. I was very happily proven wrong, as Visions is not only a superb album, it's the best follow-up imaginable to Aquarius. To draw a parallel, Visions is to Aquarius, what Awake is to Images & Words. Darker and more aggressive, yet losing none of the charm and musical integrity that made the previous album so strong.

The pacing of Visions is absolutely spot-on. Not a single moment of the album descends into pointless instrumental masturbation. Every solo, every note and nuance of the music feels right, feels carved and sculpted, then polished to a marvellous sheen. The composition on display here is amongst the best that the progressive metal scene has to offer, and puts the titans of the genre to shame, making them feel stale and outdated in comparison.

The album opens with "Premonition", and Haken's first venture into the world of instrumental tracks (of which there are two on the album). It perfectly sets the tone for what is to come for the rest of the album, and not since Dream Theater's Overture 1928, has an instrumental been used to such excellent scene-setting effect. The gentle violin intro slides effortlessly into a crunching, heavy, infectious guitar riff. From there on, we're treated to four minutes of music that constantly swings back and forth, up and down, side to side and everywhere inbetween.

The problem with writing a review about this album is that there's simply too much to say about everything. There are some true standout moments throughout that deserve mentioning though; "Nocturnal Conspiracy", "Insomnia" "Shapeshifter" and the titular "Visions" are doubtless the strongest tracks on the album. Each of which present a different side to the band. Ranging from the catchiest metal, to soft jazzy tones, to orchestral highs and melancholy lows. There's even an 8-bit videogame inspired solo thrown in for good measure.

To be blunt, Visions is worth the entry price for the title track alone, which can easily stand toe-to-toe with the 25 minute epics from the greats, like A Change of Seasons, The Odyssey, Milliontown, Black Rose Immortal, and so on. It is a truly remarkable achievement, and if the astonishing outro doesn't leave you breathless and lost for words, then I doubt if anything else this year will.

So, verdict then. Visions is a triumph. A brilliant success from a band who came out of nowhere last year, and in the span of two years have released two modern classics of the genre. Top-drawer stuff that anyone who considers themselves a fan of progressive music needs to indulge in.


Report this review (#527864)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken is back and bigger! Amazing!

While Aquarius did me well last year (kept me listening exclusively for like a month), Haken 2nd release, Visions, is doing me great. For those who loves Aquarius, I must warn you, Visions will bump you right out of your seat. So great the melody, musicianship, engineering and mixing. Everything is top notch. The music theme is somewhat a continuation of Aquarius. Great writing, powerful, highly technical, melodic and soulful. With Aquarius received raving reviews last year, I think Visions is likely to receive the same , if not better, acclamation.

4.5 stars well deserved

PS. Haken is a Heavy Prog band? Really?

Report this review (#528779)
Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Expected sophomore perfection

The sophomore Haken's work is as I said expected perfection, because of the debut, of course. The professionalism stream from Visions! It's much more flexible album than the debut in terms of subgenres use, musicianship and especially songwriting. The musicianship is just... indescribable... full of progressions and developing the album main's idea... heavy riffs are one of the fundamental expressions into the album. The experimentation is quite lesser, than on Aquarius and the sound is absolutely confident. There are some genuine keyboards electronic ideas.

What to say about the strange choice of type of the band's line-up? Six members with one regular keyboard player and one regular guitar player, and a band leader - Richard Henshall - with keyboard/guitar performance - just amazing, wonderful... That specifies and determines the album altogether, as a unity. The vocals made by Ross Jennings are so gentle and exciting - magnificent. Visions, as Aquarius is still heavy prog album with prog metal influences, but here you can find strong jazz fusion, psychedelic and symphonic influences.

The execution and production of the album are superb. The logical links between the themes are completed in exceptional manner. Some of the ideas are very dark and heavy, but others - agant-garde and boundless. The structure of Visions is precise, catchy and full of surprises and great moments. As a conclusion: masterpiece, highly recommended for all prog fans, that will stands the test of time!

Report this review (#539211)
Posted Saturday, October 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
5 stars 'Visions' - Haken (9/10)

Note: This review is based upon a promotional copy.

Although I tend to listen to alot of new albums and bands, there are admittedly few that really stick with me. There are legions of bands out there that I have some measure of respect for, but only a few that still resonate with me long after I discover them. It is rare that I find more than a few bands each year that I really get excited about, and last year, Haken was the newcomer that really took my attention by storm. With nothing more than a debut to steal my heart, I was eagerly anticipating to see where this band would go, and now consider the debut 'Aquarius' to be a modern classic of progressive metal. Now, a band coming out with a sophomore the year right after taking their first big steps is pretty unheard of in the music industry nowadays, but when I heard that Haken were coming out with a 2011 follow-up, I got pretty eager to hear what they were cooking up, expecting nothing less than a second serving of gold. Haken's second album 'Visions' is a very appropriate sophomore after 'Aquarius'. Their sound is a little more distinct, a tad more mature, and just as impressive as the debut. With 'Visions', Haken has proven that they are far from a one-album wonder, and indeed have a very promising future ahead of them.

Musically, little has changed from 'Aquarius'. The band still plays a style of technically accomplished, stirring blend of Dream Theater-inspired prog metal, with each member achieving technical perfection. What has always set this band apart however is their wonderful draw for melodies and emotion in the music, something that much progressive metal seems to lose in favour of complexity. Like 'Aquarius', 'Visions' is a complex concept album, a meticulous album that gives the listener every sign that the band is attempting to make a masterpiece. And indeed, one thing that Haken has had down from square one is the craft of album-making. On 'Visions', we hear a theatrical spectacle of progressive metal that goes from bombastic technical metal to inspiring passages of heartfelt prog rock. A new emphasis in Haken's sound are recurring motifs, or ideas throughout the album; dramatic themes to get the feelings in the story across.

The concept of 'Aquarius' was revolved around mermaids and wanting to become one with the fish-people, or something. To be honest, I was never attracted much to the concept that tied together Haken's debut, and that is no different for 'Visions'. The narrative of Haken's music has always been its weakest aspect, and although 'Visions' does seem to take a more mature step in its storytelling, this is still no 'Operation: Mindcrime' or 'The Human Equation', conceptually. From what I can tell, this album tells the story of a character who is psychic, and I'm almost certain that people die in it, and I think the dramatic tension here revolves around the character trying to change the future. It's not a bad story, and it works well for prog rock, but its certainly not a tale of such originality to inspire much in a listener besides glancing through the album booklet a few times.

While the lyrics are certainly not the greatest, the singer who delivers them is excellent. Ross Jennings has a very distinctive timbre to his voice, and I think he is a very definitive part of Haken's sound. Especially when it comes to the more mellow parts of the album (being the latter half of 'Nocturnal Conspiracy', or the beautiful track 'Deathless') he sings these gorgeous melodic lines that have me going back again and again to it. Instrumentally, Haken is top-notch, always interesting, playing loops around people twice their age. A gripe I would still have with 'Visions' is one I had moreso with 'Aquarius'; although Haken plays their music to absolute perfection, the style feels too derived from the music of Dream Theater, and there are even moments in the technical instrumental sections where I felt as if I could almost pinpoint the Dream Theater song that inspired them to write a riff. With this being their second album though, I do notice aspects of their sound that are uniquely theirs; the vocals being first and foremost, but also a very epic depth to their keyboards. Reaching their peak with the grand title track of this album, Haken proves that even if they haven't yet established themselves aside from the unfortunate 'Dream Theater clone' label, they are still making music that is both astounding in its sense of beauty and intelligence, and for what small flaws that are here, I would not hesitate in saying that Haken have made another killer record with 'Visions'.

Report this review (#539672)
Posted Saturday, October 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars -A musical journey of pure brilliance, technical mastery, genius composition and outstanding conceptuality.

Here in ProgArchives, when you are about to rate an album and choose 5 (or 1) stars, it warns you and tells you to use these ratings sparingly, as most poor albums have some positive qualities, and not all good albums are masterpieces.

This is just the case: a real masterpiece.

Starting from Premonitions, minute 0.00, you enter a world of .... how can I put it? A complex trip throughout deep strings, crushing heavy riffs, crazy technical passages, epic choruses and top-notch Haken magic. --- Going a bit into detail:

Premonitions: Instrumental, will live you breathless. Non-stop musical sickness. Many themes played in this song are reprised throughout the album. (9/10)

Nocturnal Conspiracy: Starts with a sweet build up, into one of the most notable choruses of the album, both epic and haunting at the same time, featuring excellent singing and guitars. (10/10)

Insomnia: A proggy, catchy song with heavy riffs and some crazy time signatures. (8/10)

The Mind's Eye: One of my favourite songs, reminiscent of nu-prog-metal (Linkin Park? Dream Theater? Leprous?) It's weird, this song reminds me of so many bands, but its so unique at the same time... Notable singing and keyboards, Short, epic and sweet. (10/10)

Portals: Another instrumental, as the title says, a Portal between what would be the first and the second half of the album. Unique, eclectic (King Crimson with 8-string guitars maybe?) and full of prog madness, that flows naturally into.... (8/10)

Shapeshifter: Heavy, powerful, circus-ish at times (Celestial Elixir?). Another peak of the album, incredible, shiver-inducing chorus, and (once again) crazy instrumental passages. (10/10)

Deathless: A kind of rest, maybe quieter than the other songs. Profound lyrics, moody keyboards, and a really interesting build-up that spans the whole song, to climax at the end, typical of post rock/metal, but not post at all. (10/10)

Visions: The final epic, 22 minutes long. I won't talk about this song, I think it's actually illegal for a mere mortal to mention an art piece of this magnitude. (11/10) --- All in all, it's beautiful how Haken made a step forward, found a lot of new things to add to their style without risking too much or getting repetitive, and at the same time, create a wonderful conceptual album that deserves more than 5 stars. How songs merge into each other, the vocals, the keyboards, the string arrangements, the instrumental passages, the epic choruses.

Report this review (#544632)
Posted Friday, October 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken faced a very difficult obstacle in making this album: beating their outstanding debut. With Aquarius, Haken plunged themselves right into the forefront of progressive metal. And boy did they deserve it; Aquarius was without doubt one of the best progressive albums of 2010. So, here they are with a sophomore release, only a year and a half later (a little earlier than the official release date for the lucky few who attended ProgPower USA), a relatively short time for any progressive artist.

Listening to the album though, proves that you don't always have to wait for a masterpiece. With Visions, Haken have outdone themselves; they have taken the essence and sound that they displayed in Aquarius, removed the excess, and poured style, grace and improved production values into the mix, as well as a few surprising new ideas. The band manages to flow seamlessly between styles and levels, displaying aptitude in an eclectic range while remaining unmistakable and unique in their own sound. There really is never a dull moment in this album - if you want progressive metal/rock that displays incredibly technical virtuosity, but never sacrifices compositional prowess for the sake of it, this is for you. The beautiful, full, sometimes (literally) orchestral sound can be aggressive and exciting, or melancholy and sweet, and is carried forward by Ross Jennings' brilliant understated vocals. These I must compliment emphatically; Jennings' vocals are smooth and emotional; you won't find any disasterous operatic warblings that many progressive metal singers have a horrific propensity for, but he can certainly belt it out with gusto when the situation calls for it. The Mind's eye and the very pretty "soft" track (every prog metal album has to have one, right?) Deathless, are examples of his versatility.

My current highlights include the undeniably epic title track, the relentless and intricate riffing of the instrumental track Portals (constantly moving, but also a prime example of Haken's playful transitions between styles - there are jazz chords, choral moments, even some comedic moments that remind me of a clown-show at the circus), and the many facets of the second (and first full length) track, Nocturnal Conspiracy.

If you liked the last album, if you like progressive rock or metal, if you like music... Listen to this.

Report this review (#547520)
Posted Monday, October 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars 9/10

"Visions" is the album for which Haken will be remembered as the paladins of prog rock/metal to come.

With "Aquarius" Haken had been recognized by many as one of the next legends of progressive music. With "Visions", their sophomore LP released a year after (I got the promo version of this a month earlier than the official release) was this prediction seems to be certain: the band has reached a level of maturity and songwriting that make their music sound always unpredictable and open to new horizons. Yes, this is the very basic definition of progressive.

On "Aquarius" everything sounded so expensive and gorgeously arranged, with tons of eclecticism in their sound. Here, the members are a little more focused, they are more concentrated on the melody and musicianship more than the little things surrounding them, those little details that seemed to be absolutely necessary and essential in the debut. It is obvious that the band has taken a step forward and truly learned what progressive music is, improving their style in every way. However, the style itself hasn't changed much; it's still that blend of prog rock and metal that we loved so much a year ago, but there's a somewhat more straight-forward approach to "Visions", a direct consequence of the above mentioned new characteristics it has.

"Visions" is also a conceptually more complex and darker album than the debut: instead of a little corny water concept, the sophomore puts in front of you a lot of existentialism, meaning of life and death, and focusing more on man's emotions, strengths and weaknesses. While this kind of album isn't exactly new, it feels new, as a matter of fact, it feels like the future. However the lyrics make this concept a little cheesier than what it is, and this is surely not something new for prog metal lyrics.

The albums is another beast lengthwise, like "Aquarius", having more than 70 minutes of music, but it honestly feels like time flies by pretty quickly. It's not a hard listen, and it's an absolute delight as well. "Nocturnal Conspiracy" is a magnificently structured song, containing some great haunting moments that are certain highlights. There's also the amazing trilogy in the middle of the album, starting with the pretty-straight forward and melodic piece "The Mind's Eye", continuing with the instrumental "Portals" easily the "Dance Of Eternity" of the band, and finishing with "Shapeshifter" the longest and most complex one of the trilogy, a fabulous song that borrows some electronic and some circus music as well. "Deathless" is a moving and very experimental sounding ballad, very long as well, but very deep and a little dreamy too. But the best song of the album, which is also of the band, and one of the finest pieces in prog metal history, is the twenty two minute title track. Everything about this song is flawless, amazing hook(s), great musicianship, it is the very essence of what modern prog is.

"Visions" has topped pretty much every single prog album this year. This is the first LP for which Haken will be remembered as the paladins of prog rock/metal to come. A masterpiece.

Report this review (#552138)
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars In 2010 Haken took the Prog Metal scene by storm with their acclaimed 'Acquarius' debut but I wasn't much impressed actually. I disliked the band's tendency to show off all their chops and tricks all the time, as well as their urge to impress the listener constantly. It suffocated their songwriting, but they trimmed that down now, let in more breath in their compositions, and remained focused on the strength of the songs. They also ditched most of their AOR influences. Thanks again for that!

The band is often compared to Dream Theater but I don't see much of that on this album. Their riffing is rarely trash metal based and they don't rely as heavily on shredding and pyroclastics. They often use long instrumental passages for developing melodic themes and shifting moods, reminding me sometimes of Threshold, with a similar atmosphere and melodic qualities. Also, Haken is proggier and more modern then those two bands.

They also try their hands on a 22 minute piece. The main vocal theme lets me down here (too balladry and mellow for my taste) and the track isn't as much to the point as their shorter songs are, but around minute 6 it takes off for real with a roller-coaster of ideas and styles that doesn't let down for most of it's duration. The end section reprises the opening vocal a couple of times and ultimately leaves me with a disappointed taste. Too typical and formulaic. Also the ballad 'Deathless' is a turn-off.

Haken showed a lot of promise on 'Acquarius' and now they delivered. I must say that the first half of this lengthy album works a lot better for me then the second half, which is simply too mellow and sticks too much to trodden prog paths. Anyway, good album and I'm sure real proggers will love this a lot more then me. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#557000)
Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
3 stars After the excellent Aquarius first cd, Haken is back with their second. Could they achieve the same level quality on this one? First, the band start with a instrumental track with a classical intro and symphonic arrangements. The rest of the cd contains vocals, the usual Haken prog metal's sound, who got a lot of Dream Theater's and Magellan's influence. Nice keyboards, complex guitar parts, a good rhythm section, and vocals that give more emotion to the melody. The band add to this metal sound, some jazzy tones, a little techno beat in the middle of a song. All this, around many tempo changes that are all culminated in the incredible epic song at the end. On this epic, the band display all the tricks by going in many different styles of music, without losing the melody, and keeping the concept of the song intact by repeating the theme, from the beginning, at the end. With this strong finish, the band has surpassed his previous effort. There is a little bit more variety in this cd and their last epic is at this time, the best thing they have done.
Report this review (#557555)
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Great music, outstanding production - mediocre lyrics. Haken's 2nd album is better than the debut, which was too slow (tempo-wise) to excite. This effort rocks harder, moves faster, and is more persuasive.

However, the concept does not work. Every great album needs a great lyrical base, and "Visions" does not have this. The story about the nightmare haunting the little boy is not very interesting. The band members were so focused on the musical side, they forgot about the concept.

So although this is a lot of fun, and the solos are great - even the mermaid story on "Aquarius" was more convincing. So we're left with a great prog-metal album, perfect hooks and outstanding studio work, but not enough meat to make this a true progressive masterpiece.

If the Haken guys want to top that, they should put more effort on the concept, storyline and better lyrics. They're all brilliant musicians, they need a poet to work for them (or with them).

Report this review (#560293)
Posted Monday, October 31, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken should have released an EP of the epic song Visions instead of a full length album. Oh yeah, Visions "the song" is dangerous and unneutered. But the rest of the album? To quote Hank Williams, "Move over skinny dog, cause the fat dogs moving in". There's only one pony in that pile... Speaking of moving on over, I'll move on to the album straightway.

I read the wonderful reviews. I listened to the album eight times. I thought I was listening to a band named "Dream Theater Lite". This album reminded me of my mothers paint by numbers, "The Last Supper." Likewise Haken released a paint by numbers "Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory." Dream Theater without the punch and stratospheric "awe factor." And another thing. When I listen to prog rock, I don't count it as a good thing to know where the song is going to go before it gets there, "Shampoo, rinse, repeat." "Conditioner, rinse repeat." That's what pop music is for.

That being said, I am looking forward to future releases from Haken. These guys can play, and the singer has a gifted voice. Perhaps Haken will jell and leave Dream Theater behind. I hope they take some risks with their next album. If the rest of the album would have been as good as the last song Visions, this reviewer would be lauding Haken for giving the world a new prog rock masterpiece. As it is I give the song Visions an 8/10 rating and the Visions album 3/10. For Collectors and fans only. So if your a fan, by all means dig right in.

Report this review (#560932)
Posted Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Haken seems to have taken the prog community by storm once again. Released only a year after the bands triumphant debut album, Visions gives us another piece the puzzle known as Haken. But is this just a continuation of the previous themes or an even bigger triumph that we, the fans, have got on our hands with this release? Let's listen and find out!

Let me start by introducing my Haken story to everyone who has yet to read my in detail review of Aquarius. I heard that album around Christmas 2010 and, just like many others, became intrigued by this collectives mature style and a clear sense of direction that shined through on each and every track on Aquarius. Unfortunately, this initial enthusiasm began to fade over time and this is why I consider my review of that album to be a mature statement of my recollections after my initial honeymoon with the album faded to obscurity.

Visions was a slightly different beast in nature since my initial spin didn't really make my senses tingle as much as I wanted them to, but I carried on playing the album for two weeks straight and the results have definitely began to turn for the better, and in this case, even excellent. The biggest difference for me between Aquarius and Vision is the more thematic approach to music making. All of the compositions here have some sort of a connection with one another which is why this album's biggest highlights didn't struck me as hard the first time that I've heard them. Aquarius had a more eclectic approach where almost every track introduced some new elements which ultimately didn't make the final result glue together as well as I would have wanted it to.

The similarities between the two albums are very striking with both releases are comprised essentially of the same type of track listing with a few ballads, instrumentals and one lengthy album closer to finish the story off with a bang. Silly of me, did I forget to mention that this is another concept album? Well it least sort of. You see, my biggest grudge with Aquarius was the fact that it was labeled as concept album without Haken making a single effort of making it a coherent one. I'm not going to repeat my thoughts on the issue here since we have a new concept album to tackle on Visions and what an issue it is!

Even though English is not my native language, I've never had the problem of at least following the otherwise rather confusing lyrical content of Peter Gabriel or Peter Hammill, but the work of Ross Jennings is just beyond my comprehension. I can definitely make out words and sometimes even complete sentences, but that apparently doesn't guarantee that one would understand what is actually happening on this album. I get the feeling that it has something to do with ripping off Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, but other than that it completely looses me along the way.

So why the slightly higher rating than last time you might ask? Well, it's not that I completely hated Aquarius, in fact it was quite an enjoyable journey even considering all of it's flaws and I could easily round my rating to 3,5 stars in that case. Visions makes a few improvements on the same basic formula, thus making the overall experience slightly more enjoyable than the last time. Therefore I can't see a reason why this release wouldn't be rounded up to a full 4 star rating. But mind you, it's still somewhere between 3,5 and 4 stars, this time rounded upwards.

I can probably give you at least 10 other great releases of 2011 that deserve more of your time and money than Haken's Visions, but the haters are gonna hate and fanboys will go on with their epic rant crusades so I guess it's business as usual!

***** star songs: Nocturnal Conspiracy (13:08) Shapeshifter (8:08) Deathless (8:04)

**** star songs: Premonition (4:10) Insomnia (6:06) Portals (5:27) Visions (22:25)

*** star songs: The Mind's Eye (4:05)

Report this review (#562286)
Posted Friday, November 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars When Haken released Aquarius in 2010 and they were receiving such rave reviews here on PA naturally I was intrigued. I listened to a couple of tracks, admittedly on some tinny poor quality PC speakers and my immediate thoughts were to wonder what all the fuss was about. It all seemed pretty average to me. I put them out of my mind until Visions recently came along receiving an equally enthusiastic response. I decided I'd have to give them another chance and I'm very glad I did because I'm absolutely blown away by it.

I'm not sure what went wrong with my first taste of Haken as for anyone who has a taste for the heavier end of prog, which I do, should find nothing to dislike about them. This album is stuffed full of great music from start to finish, its main strength lying in one great hook after another which gets even better with repeated plays. The strong melodies are instantly infectious, but despite having an excellent vocalist in Ross Jennings where I find the band at their most compelling is when they launch into one of their frequent instrumental workouts. Portals is the perfect example which is an exhilarating five minutes where they constantly shift from one captivating hook to the next and just when you think it must surely take a nosedive they come up with another. On top of this the band are all great players too. The music is often heavy - at its heaviest on the instrumental sections. This is not to say the vocal sections lack power and there are lighter moments here too but they really take things up a notch or two when they rock out on the instrumental parts. It sometimes drifts into metal territory but not often enough to consider Haken a prog metal band and there are symphonic elements too. The title track is a twenty two minute epic filled with all of the above and doesn't disappoint as it shifts through a myriad of changes, but such is the overall standard of the album as a whole it doesn't overshadow the rest the way epic pieces often can.

Overall Visions is a stunning piece of work by anyone's standards. It sounds big, grandiose and is totally compelling and being so close to the end of the year I can confidently say it's going to make my top ten of 2011, even perhaps the top five. Incidentally, since hearing Visions I've since revisited Aquarius in a more detailed manner and can say I clearly missed something that first time around. Whether it grabs me the way Visions has remains to be seen which gets a deserved 4 ˝ stars.

Report this review (#567805)
Posted Monday, November 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Okay. It's time. The album has been around for eight weeks, I've given its due time to percolate, sink in, resonate (or not). Sleek, polished, more refined and, IMO, less urgent to impress, than Aquarius, I find it fresh . . . and yet familiar. Full of melodies and hooks, interesting shifts and changes, and enough sophistication and subtlety to offset the forays into Devin Townsend/Porcupine Tree-like heavy/metal sound-walling. As a matter of fact, Haken sound as if they were a group of four or five Steve Wilson-Devin Townsend types who collaboratively come up with more fully developed ideas than the singular man ever could. Love the Latin rhythms in "Insomnia" (9/10)--though not quite sure of their relevance (nor of "history"'s) to one another. "The Mind's Eye" (8/10) is a bit too familiar and simple--kind of like a STYX song from Crystal Ball era. "Deathless" (8/10) is quite pretty, with a very patient, mature-sounding serenity in it. "Premonition" (6/10) and "Portals" (7/10)--though both full of interesting technical and very creative intricacies--are just too heavy to keep me listening. "Shapeshifter" (7/10) is all-too-familiar from so many Porcupine Tree albums. The two epics, "Nocturnal Conspiracy" (8/10) and "Visions" (8/10) are quite listenable, polished pieces that both pack a punch while never growing stale or boring. Ross Jennings' singing has definitely gotten stronger and more confident--as has the ensemble's collaborative compositional work. This is a very fine piece of artistry--very hard to find fault with, and masterful in many ways, yet, somehow, like Aquarius (and much of PT and DT) this just doesn't hit it for me--I have had to force myself back to VIsions (as I did for Aquarius) time and again--not with enthusiasm or magnetism, but with duty and obligation: "Everybody else is saying this is a masterpiece, so I've got to give it a chance." And I have. Here is my review. Here is my rating. Like with Aquarius, it is doubtful I will ever be listening to this album again.
Report this review (#571324)
Posted Saturday, November 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars London-based progressive metal outfit Haken immediately gained a reputation as one of the new decade's biggest talents with the release of 2010's Aquarius, and Visions proves that they have no intent of slowing down. The band's unique and modern blend of progressive rock and metal is still fully in-tact, and Visions effectively delivers over seventy minutes of top-notch progressive metal wizardry. Make no mistake - Visions is anything but a sophomore slump, and I'd even venture to say that this is a notch above their masterful debut album. This is a well-composed, focused, and mature masterpiece of modern progressive metal. Absolutely essential.

With Aquarius, Haken established a distinct blend of progressive metal that, while still drawing heavily from the likes of Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation, sounded totally original and unique. Visions is more or less that same exact style, but a lot more focused and mature (in my mind, at least). Any flaws that were found on Aquarius - which were, admittedly, not very many - are nowhere to be found on Visions. Gone are the out of place growled vocals, as well as a few of the more unfocused sounding instrumental sections of Aquarius. Visions strikes me as a very polished, mature, and concise work of art - although the songs are exceptionally long and complex, and the full album exceeds the seventy-minute mark, there's hardly a weak moment found on Visions.

The first thing that will grab the attention of most prog fans is probably the epic, 22-minute title track. On this song especially, Haken's masterful abilities as composers are shown in full-force; through all of the complexity and odd time signature shifts, there's not an awkward transition anywhere in sight. Any listener should not let this overshadow the rest of their listening experience, though - the other sixty minutes or so are every bit as amazing. The Porcupine Tree-sounding 'Deathless' is another big highlight, with its somber lyrics and melancholic keyboard textures sending shivers up my spine every time. 'Nocturnal Conspiracy' is probably the other highlight, with Ross Jennings's fantastic vocal performance grabbing my attention immediately. Picking highlights is rather difficult, however, when the entire album is this damn good.

One thing that really took me by (pleasant) surprise about Haken's debut was how professional and confident they sounded as musicians - that's still definitely the case with Visions. All five instrumentalists are technically outstanding and musically pleasing to listen to, and every single one of them delivers their fair share of jaw-dropping moments throughout Visions. Ross Jennings's vocals are also powerful and unique - he sounds very different from your average prog metal vocalist, and I think his mid-range style is another factor that helps give Haken their own identity.

To top things off, Visions also sports a remarkable production job. The mix is evenly spaced and every instrument is powerful and clear, resulting in a modern sound that is simply unbeatable. If you've got a good pair of headphones on, it sounds almost as if the band is right next to you playing the music - this really sounds that good.

While perhaps less adventurous than Aquarius, Visions is an equally terrific (and possibly even more mature and concise) masterpiece from Haken. I'm not one to usually feed the hype machine, but this British prog metal act is one case where you truly must believe the hype - so far these guys have crafted two stunning masterpieces over the course of about a year. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next exports from Haken, and in the meantime I'll keep enjoying the hell out of Visions. Of course, 5 stars are the least I can give here. 2011 has been a year filled with great albums (particularly in the prog metal genre), but Visions is a truly essential masterpiece that should be experienced by any fan of progressive rock and metal. So after two amazing albums in a row, all I have left to say is 'keep up the great work'!

Report this review (#573950)
Posted Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 7/10

Haken. These young British prog revolutionized the scene with her debut Aquarius in 2010, and a year later released their sequence, a strong album, less eccentric and more mature and focused.

However, it is inferior.

Any impact I felt when listening to Aquarius was not shared here. And if I'm taking a star of this album is because it is less impressive than I thought it was, despite the evidence (and its current ranking on the site) suggest otherwise.

Haken also offers healthy doses of progressive metal combined with various symphonic passages (the use of orchestrations at times is a plus) and references to the sound of other bands. Dream Theater would be the obvious reference (the piano on the title track takes me back to The Dance of Eternity), but if there is one thing that this band deserves to be praised is his unerring combination of diverse influences and originality.

Yes, there are highlights here deserves a mention. In addition to orchestrations can cite the lack of growls (something I really hated in his debut) and two songs are among the highlights of the year: the instrumental Portals and the title track, an epic amazing. The other songs sadly pale beside these two, but here and there are stunning moments. But nothing that could raise my rating for this album can be glorified as a masterpiece.

It is unfortunate that Visions is smaller than I thought. Where Aquarius was eclectic and somehow original, this one is straight, concise, one-dimensional. Just another work of progressive metal - and there are better works out there.

4 stars.

Report this review (#576628)
Posted Monday, November 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
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 shape[&*!#]ing 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.

Report this review (#583737)
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken's debut album Aquarius was my absolute favorite from last year, so to say I was excited for their follow up was a grand understatement. Aquarius was such an exciting album, and I latched on to each little bit of news I could about the new album. While I was initially a bit disappointed with Visions, I've come to love it just as much as the first album and now have a hard time deciding which I enjoy more.

The most important thing to note about Visions in comparison to its little brother is that it's different: Visions is not nearly as up front about why it is as awesome as Aquarius. There was some unspoken raw ambition about Aquarius that, while it seemed like at any point everything could go horribly wrong, it was exciting listening to the band manage to piece everything together. That sense of adventure is no longer present in Visions but what has replaced it is a more mature musical style, a more complex story, and an overall more complete album.

Visions like Aquarius before it is another concept album, though taking a much different approach. The story of Aquarius was a fairly simple tale about a mermaid and her troubled life that, while simple to understand, fit well with the music and was quite enjoyable. The story of Visions on the other hand is somewhat of a cross between Minority Report and Inception having to do with dreams and crimes committed while sleeping. It's a much more involved plot, and it will take many listens and some digging into lyrics to fully comprehend what's happening. Once you can grasp an understanding of the story, it becomes really enjoyable, and to see the foreshadowing and twist within a musical story is really cool.

Not only is the concept more involved, it also does a better job of pulling each song together as part of the overarching theme. The album begins with an instrumental overture which fades perfectly into the first full song "Nocturnal Conspiracy," and we're off. Each song is not only an important part of the overall concept and story, but they all stand perfectly on their own. Whether it is a simple piece like "The Mind's Eye" or the epic finale "Visions" every song has its place and fits perfectly. There is plenty of excitement to be found, and there are also slower, prettier portions to help the music flow perfectly to its conclusion.

Though each piece of music is well composed in their own right, my favorite portions of the album are the solos. Just like Aquarius the solo passages manage to be both impressive with their virtuosic playing and musical, relating perfectly to the rest of the song. The keyboard and guitar trade off on passages and play off each other wonderfully, and the few brief moments of silence used in between these tradeoffs are absolutely perfect. The guitar remains just as good as it was, and the keyboard tones are much improved, being able to compete in the mix with the guitar.

While the solos are where the best portions of Visions are held, the vocal passages are almost as good. Ross Jennings has been working on his singing since last year, and for those of us who were already a fan of it on Aquarius, you're in for a treat here. The lyrics and melodies to accompany them are great, and the few odd stylistic choices aren't enough to bring down the normally wonderful vocals. The lyrics themselves are a bit more veiled at conveying the story than Aquarius, but they are much forward than most other concept albums.

The only thing that I miss from Aquarius are the parts that make you say "what is going on here," but there's so much more maturity here to replace the recklessness from last year that I can't complain at all. The fact that Visions is not Aquarius Part 2 helps in making it even better, and shows how good of a band Haken already is. I can't imagine that I'll be writing any less of a review next time around for their third album, but for now I'll immensely enjoy what is one of 2011 best albums.

Report this review (#593867)
Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken had totally blown me away on their stunning debut release and Visions is not far behind considering the Sophomore outing the following year, but definitely not as good as Aquarius. This review is after spinning the disc atleast thrice. These guys have added great freshness to the otherwise hackneyed Prog Metal scene. This is among my top 5 albums of 2011. (Arch/ Matheos, Redemption, Steven Wilson - grace for drowning (Great but too much of undue credit), Blotted Science - Animations)

My knowledge on music production even though zilch would say that this album is produced quite well to suit my taste. Can't go wrong when an album is produced poorly.

Deathless is probably my least favourite track as it clocks at around 8 min plus and to me the weakest but still not a bad track.

Premonition, Visions, Nocturnal Conspiracy, Portals, Mind's eye. (5 stars)

Insomnia (a video game sound after 2 min which reminds me of my erstwhile gaming days), Shapeshifter. 4 stars

Its great these guys are not trying to ape any of the other prog metal bands (i.e.Dream theater, etc) and have their own signature tune.

Anyways do yourselves a favour and pick the cd. Disappointing to see this album getting 2 stars from other reviewers.

Cheers from India

Report this review (#594546)
Posted Friday, December 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken is a band that has grown on me over time. I wasn't 100% on board when I first discovered them, but over time they grew on me. By the time Visions was released, I was ready and waiting to see what they would do next. Nothing could've prepared me for what I was about to experience. I was intrigued after the first few seconds, and never at any point in the album did I get bored. Visions is a concept album built around an idea the singer, Ross Jennings, came up with that was inspired by a dream he had one night. The main character of the album dreams of his own murder in his childhood, and spends the years up to his adulthood in paranoid fear and preparation of what he believes is an eventuality that he must try to somehow prevent. It is an intriguing concept, and the music is no less intriguing. Especially notable is the usage of wildly electric keyboard sounds ? there were a number of times I thought "I've heard a lot of keyboards, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone use a sound like that before." The album is symphonic, heavy, electric, driving, ecclectic, and very exciting - from start to finish this album is excellence.
Report this review (#594974)
Posted Friday, December 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
5 stars It's a grower. It's one of these effing growers - which means, for those unfamiliar with our Progster's specialized terms, it means album which, at first, sounds & looks like average one, or even sounds bad for your ears, you don't feel well listening, but if you give it a chance, listen it few times, it will literary grow on you (not like on your body, but in your brain - fortunately) and you will start to like it. That's quite a hollywood ending, right fellas ? But it often works like that. Seen that myself with my own eyes.

However, this case with Haken's second is a bit different. Because at first, the album sounded great. At ......, third listen, it started to be one of the best albums I've ever heard. It's my 5th listen (I presume) and even it didn't beat their debut (speaking about growers, their Aquarius took me about 10 seconds to fall in love with, or simply as long as first few chords played), it is closing fast. Who knows, but it doesn't hurt to know and like (love) two masterpieces of modern Prog Metal.

Because this album combines together skillfully three basic elements which will please Marty at any time of the day - Melody, Originality and Complexity. Not as strong on pompous (bombastic, grandiose?), even not as strong here means something little different than you are probably used to. First album was one of the most pompous albums I've ever heard, this second is far more pomp. than your usual album is. It's like comparing MIG21 to F-15 - F-15 is faster a bit (1/5), but compared to Wright Flier, it's completely different world.

This album simply got it all. Yet, it's worse than Aquarius for me.

Report this review (#597302)
Posted Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars OK, this is a (very) good album but far from the masterpiece that it has been hyped up to be.

Let me first tell you what I DON'T LIKE about this album. First of all, as someone who has followed the metal and prog-metal scene for the last 20 years, Haken's musical offering just does not come as something particularly innovative, challenging or original. The blend of melodic progressive metal produced by bands like Seventh Wonder, for example, comes very close to the sound and musical ideas elaborated on this album by Haken. This is not necessarily a problem for me ("The Great Escape" by Seventh Wonder was one of my favourite albums of 2010). But, it does mean that, on my scale, Visions by Haken is just not a five-star prog-rock album ("a masterpiece of progressive rock music").

Secondly, Ross Jennings has a very interesting and pleasant tone, but he just does not strike me as a very powerful singer. He seems to be much more at comfort when the rest of the band let his vocals room to 'breathe' than when he has to scream his guts out in order to be heard amidst a carnage of riffing and drumming. Because of this, his singing is much more convincing in the verses (where the other instruments are usually kept quieter to let the musical tension slowly build) than in the choruses (when the tension is unleashed). The unfortunate consequence of this is that the choruses are often a big let-down on this album because the lead 'instrument' (Jennings' vocals) usually sounds flat and blunt just where it is supposed to be most exciting and intense.

Another let-down for me is the way the album develops the story that is supposed to make this a 'concept-album' (a story about a man having a premonition of his own death). The lyrics are not particularly evocative and are rather unsophisticated. Moreover, the storytelling seems to take a big detour in the middle of the album ("The Mind's Eye", "Portals" and "Shapeshifter"), and I honestly have no clue what this piece of the story is about, and whether it has any connection at all with the main theme.

Speaking of the middle of the album: I think that the drop in quality of the three songs following "Insomnia" is quite evident. For example, take the instrumental piece that opens the album, "Premonition" (8/10): that's a joy to listen to. Great melodies, excellent playing, tight shifts between the different themes that keep the piece fresh and interesting throughout. The 5+ mins of "Portals" (6/10), on the other hand, drag along rather unconvincingly, and every time I get to this song I find my mind drifting away and have to literally force myself to pay attention. Similarly, "The Mind's Eye" (7/10) and "Shapeshifter" (6/10) are nice melodic prog-metal songs, but simply can't compare with masterworks such as "Nocturnal Conspiracy" or "Visions" (the song).

Which brings me to what I DO LIKE about this album. As I mentioned earlier, the instrumental "Premonition" is a great way to open this album. Really enjoyable.

"Nocturnal Conspiracy" (9/10) is excellent with its ominous start and a great vocal performance by Ross Jennings. The instrumental break starting at mark 4:04 is very good and shows once again what a great bunch of musicians Haken are. The second part of the song is also very good, offering some great melodies and hooks and, again, some great vocals by Ross Jennings.

"Insomnia" (8/10) might be a notch down from "Nocturnal Conspiracy", but its shortness ("just" over 6 mins) and catchy melodies make it memorable and pleasant. Another great song is "Deathless" (8/10): this brings a very welcomed change in sound and pace towards the end of the album - much less 'metal' and much more 'post-rock', if you will. I read someone mentioning Porcupine Tree in reference to this song. I don't disagree, and late-Anathema might be another fitting comparison. In any case, this is one of my favourite tracks on the album - and one where Ross Jennings and bassist Thomas MacLean really shine.

"Visions" (8/10) closes the album with its 22+ minutes. Together with "Nocturnal Conspiracy", this represent the high-point of the album. As you might imagine, an awful lot happens here, and the band is really masterful in guiding the listener through the many shifts and turns of the song. The quality of the playing is, as throughout the whole album, top-notch. The melodies are very good and very catchy (on the first part of the song you have one of the few choruses I do really like from this album). The jazzy interlude during the first instrumental break (starting at around mark 6:30) has created some hype in the press and on forums, but doesn't do much for me (after all, it only about 10 seconds of music). The quirky verses starting at mark 10:00 see Jennings trying some strange theatrical vocal exercise that leaves me captivated and at the same time somewhat uncomfortable, so I am not sure whether this really work for the best (by the way, is anyone else reminded of Arcturus' "La Masquerade Infernale" at this point?). The pace slows down a little bit after this and Haken are back with some excellent melodies and a very good, emotional guitar solo. The quirkiness is back shortly after with some multi-part vocal section that does not sound very convincing (some of the vocal parts are almost totally buried in the mix). Overall, this is a very good song, with some sections that work better than others, but that remains interesting from start to finish.

So, what's my final judgement on Haken's "Visions"? Solid four-star. The hype surrounding the album here on ProgArchives and elsewhere (take the review on Classic Rock Presents Prog, for example) had created very high expectation in me, so I was truly looking forward to some ground-breaking progressive rock masterpiece here. Well, that's not the case with this album in my opinion, and the first part of my review, where I might have been a bit too moany and severe, should be read with this 'disappointment' in mind. But, having re-calibrated my expectations, I can say that "Visions" by Haken is an excellent album of melodic progressive metal, which I do enjoy listening to and will come back to over the coming years.

Report this review (#604712)
Posted Saturday, January 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Report this review (#605575)
Posted Sunday, January 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Visions by Haken is one of my favorite albums to listen to straight through, the other is Aquarius but this comment is about Visions! This is a concept album if you don't know.

I am really finding this hard to put this into my own words because Visions is such a great album. My song explanations are extremely weak because this album is just so great and beautiful.

Visions starts off with Premonition which defines instrumental Haken very well. If you are new to Haken or know them well, it is a perfect song to start off, thus it being in the beginning. It is heavy, diverse and thrilling. Later in the song it goes into a jazz break with a vibrato alien sound in the background, this shows Haken's experimental side a bit.

Nocturnal Conspiracy is an epic song that shows Haken's structural component well with vocals. Nocturnal Conspiracy does not start as an epic song but once the singers vocals reach into his perfect range and clarity, the song comes together. The solo is great, simple to say there. The part before the end of the song is great and sentimental and the end is a perfect encapsulation of the main theme.

Insomnia is an amazing track blasting with heavy rifts. There is a random 8-bit computer like gaming rift that goes into a riff and into a solo where there are many time signature changes. Insomnia is a very dark song, musically and lyrically.

The Mind's Eye is definitely crafted to be a single, it is short; a total of 4 minutes, a simple structure and a continuous rift. There are crafty keyboards in the beginning that catch many people mainly including people on the radio if this becomes a single.

Portals continues from The Mind's Eye with again, crafty keyboards. It starts heavy and goes into an awesome riff that can catch any music lovers attentions. After this riff it goes into a horrifying guitar and keyboard combination which oddly sounds beautiful. This happens a few times in the song. This song is continuously heavy throughout it. Very emotionally and some aggressive solos in this song.

Shapeshifter continues from Portals. Portals starts heavy and then with a silly ballad melody. Of course this is a heavy song but it is a very collective song, you want to sing "My sister, Shapeshifter...." There is a very complicated 4/4 rhythm in this song and it is very catchy, it plays this a few times. The theme normally changes after this odd 4/4 rhythm. A soft part comes in and it is very peaceful with a moving bass line and then a melodic solo after. Of course it goes into the complicated 4/4 rhythm after the soft part into another section. The song then ends with an extended type of chorus.

Deathless is the saddest most melodic song ever. I look back in nostalgia every time I listen to it. It resonates inside my body, I can feel my sentimentalism toward everything I look back on. It calms me but it also freezes and shivers my body. Melodic, melancholy, sentimental, resonant, etc. this explains the base of the song. This song is such a melodic calm masterpiece. About halfway in they go into a nice melodic piece. The bass is the main instrument I feel in this part of the song.

Visions starts off with an epic, almost like movie, introduction with a man stating "what is life, an illusion... all life is a dream..." which gives you an awesome feel for the song before it even starts. Once it hits the song, the keyboard gives up an outstanding presence. It then goes into a guitar shredding, epic keyboard rift. After this it goes into the man talking again and then into singing. It is very resonant when he starts singing. It is a very melodic song when it is supposed to be melodic. Lyrics are brilliant. This song gives out some hopeful presence in it, almost godly. I'm not going to explain this whole song, but right now the main points. There are some awesome Latin feelings in this song as well as dark guitar rifts as well as a moment that almost seems a bit Devin Townsend-esque. There are some awesome shredding moments in this song, every instrument works together. Whenever it goes into the main theme where it starts a new part, there is an epic presence and it just feels awesome to listen to it. Many nice soft parts. At this one moment, they run through the same thing about four times and they gradually add a new thing, first is the normal, then keyboard, the bops then singing. After that it goes into a very heavy point and back to the central theme. In then does a variation of the beginning and then a soft part to the end, then a hopeful part, then an ending of a beautiful orchestral violin that finishes off the album.

Ending things - This is a bit random but there is a fan made music video of Visions, it is a bit accurate and it makes me cry out of happiness and all kinds of emotions for reasons why I don't know I cry for, it is just a great album.

Report this review (#634045)
Posted Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
1 stars This is not the best Prog Metal album to start listen to.

I don`t undertand how can people like this

I have played it many times, but it just don't work on me. I couldv not find anything really worthwhile right here, only a few complex songs (well played) that it doesn't mean nothing to me, a pathetic Soft rock-Ballad "Deathless" that really sucks and an unbearable 22 minutes "Visions" that it seems that never ends. So I won't give my opinion track by track, because all of the tracklist are pure crap and do not deserve a decent comment.

Next time I will give it another chance, but now:

0.25 Stars well received!!!

Report this review (#636263)
Posted Sunday, February 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars The new(ish) kids on the prog block, youthful British outfit Haken have burnished themselves with an enviable reputation of late, and over a very short space of time to boot. Thanks to their dark, brooding and genre-mashing brand of heavy prog - a sound that adorns the highly-rated debut release 'Aquarius' and this similarly-intoned follow-up from last year - this talented six- piece have quickly sky-rocketed to the top of the modern prog arena, cleverly mining the current popularity for all things prog-metal to cunning effect whilst also refusing to lose sight of their own more classically-themed ambitions. On reputation alone you'd be forgiven for thinking the new Pink Floyd had arrived, and a quick glance at the group's various press reviews would suggest just that. However, dig beyond the kudos and you find a different picture, namely a garishly overdressed pair of albums drenched in all manner of contrasting styles; progressive rock overkill, if you will. Indeed, listening to 'Visions' is pretty much akin to gorging on an overly rich six- course meal with all the trimmings, just with the ingredients messily sprayed about the plate. This is harsh, angular, unintentionally discordant music with one foot entrenched firmly in the heavy-metal camp; an overlong, oppressive, heavily-treated album filled with roaring vocals, churning guitars and metallic riffing that quickly wears out it's welcome. The mistake here? The group's insistence on mindlessly flinging everything at the audience, elements from virtually every facet of progressive music, the result being that instead of actual ideas and constructed compositions we get quick-fire aggression and an almost total lack of musical discipline. In the end bracketing either 'Aquarius' or 'Visions' in any one genre is almost a moot point; Haken have seemingly had their sonic cake and eaten it. Then they've thrown it up all over the listener. Fans of metallic prog have obviously unearthed their new heroes; the rest of us have found a group seriously lacking in focus, with too many ideas for their own good. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012
Report this review (#636394)
Posted Sunday, February 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is my third album review, but my first 5 star review. I came across this album before listening to their debut album "Aquarius" and it grew on me....heavily. I tend to gravitate to heavy prog such as Porcupine Tree and Tool, but I spend quite a bit of time with 70's prog also such as King Crimson, Yes, and Pink Floyd. I began listening to the album and it hit on EVERYTHING I like about music. Period. I've been listening to music for a long time, played in a lot of bands and appreciated music in general, but I must say that I was not prepared for this. I remember when Metallica's "Master of Puppets" came out as a teenager and how much I thought that it was an epiphany for me. Twenty-five years later, it has happened again. Yes, I'm drinking their Kool-Aid, and it's good.

This is an album (yes, an album) that is to be appreciated in it's entirety. Picking tracks and listening to intros won't give any indication as to what this gem holds. It flows perfectly from beginning to end. I won't review individual songs because that's not important here. The ALBUM as a whole needs to be digested. I've listened to it countless times, then I put something else in for a change of pace, then I end up with Visions again, and again. There are no virtuoso performances, but as a whole, it's epic. It starts with a fantastic intro, follows with great songs, then it takes a melodic breather at song 7 before taking you on a trip in the final long and sweeping song.

I honestly couldn't even name all the songs. Highlights for me are at about 3 minutes into song number 3 with the 8 bit montage followed by some metal ear candy. Shapeshifter has a great guitar section in the last half...a very simple rhythm but put in context of the song, and with loud speakers it sends chills up my spine.

That's how I know that this album does it for me...the goosebumps and chills....

If this album were a woman, I would marry it. This album has dethroned my top rated album (Yes - Close To The Edge) and is my new standard for greatness. There are only a couple albums that deserve 5 stars from me: Yes - Close to the Edge, Pink Floyd - DSOTM, Metallica - Master of Puppets (I know, not prog).....add Haken - Visions to this list.

Report this review (#693795)
Posted Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars |D-| A runaway-train of negative prog stereotypes.

Given the amount of notice and praise this album has been getting, I felt it prudent to offer my feelings on this release. It's praise, I believe, speaks very much about where the "prog" mentality is starting to evolve.

It would seem that Haken is a (realistically) prog-metal band that in general has started to take the prog community by storm, particularly among those listeners who are very favorable with "modern prog" such as recent Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Tool, and a lot of prog- metal in general. Their second album seems to have especially struck a chord with this community. I think the thing that most attracts the community to this band is less the level of musicality (which, in my view as a classical musician, is actually somewhat below par) and more the shear complexity of the music that has been put together. Rest assured that complexity does not automatically equal musical substance and compositional creativity and subtly, which is well demonstrated with this release. It really is a shame too, considering how much work, toil and effort went into making this album, all amounting to a final release which is, I believe, a right bunch of disjointed and uninspiring bag of complex- sounding... "stuff."

To offer my (probably sketchy) tracing of musical influences, Dream Theater is the most obvious one, particularly post-Six Degrees Inner Turbulence. Many of the riffs and instrumental layering techniques are only too obviously based on the band's last few albums, and almost a complete rip-off on occasion. Ayreon is another band that comes to mind, and much of the keyboard work and sound-effects reminds me of that artist. I sense that Mind's Eye might have been an important one as well, particularly the quasi-alternative vocals, vocal harmonies, and energetic riffing, as well as the use of film music. I can only speculate those since so many of these compositional techniques have come to be so overused by so many other "prog-metal" bands to begin with.

I firmly believe that, as much work and diversity was put into this album, the main general problem lies in the fact that it embodies pretty much every negative stereotype to prog imaginable: long, self-indulgent instrumental gymnastics with little meaningful substance, pretentiousness (as in mock profound, which this album smells of most of the time... I mean seriously, the intro to the epic album title track of a voice saying "life is a dream" is pretty much a great example of mock-profundity if there ever was one), over-produced, overly bombastic, and worst of all, complexity for complexity's sake, rather than as a legitimate statement of artistic expression, in my humble opinion. It's seriously like Dream Theater times 10 in all of those respects.

To mention a few specific problems in the composition: the shear jagged quality of everything, every section sounds like strings of musical ideas that often hardly connect very well at all, and the transitions connecting them often far too abrupt or just plain unconvincing. It's less like an album of cohesive works and more like an album of a collection of a bunch of musical ideas thrown up into a recording. What's more, within these jagged musical sections, each one seems jam-packed with too much to listen to too often, almost always way too thickly scored, and if not, a million notes or musical ideas are always flying at the listener, and almost always at a fast and energetic tempo. The drummer way overuses the cymbals, which is really annoying, particularly in some of the heavier sections when there's a cymbal crash on every macro-beat (if not micro-beat). I also dislike the disjointed and inappropriate use of asymmetric meter that us proggers crave as we do. Once again, a prog stereotype for it's own sake with little relation to musicality.

To make an analogy to food, this album is like a chocolate cake that is just so bombastically rich with chocolate flavor in every bite that it's difficult to eat more than a few bites, let alone the whole cake. Some other reviewers have mentioned this problem. And it definitely isn't the case where my brain simply can't process it (try listening to some Schoenburg atonality on for size if you think that this music is a lot to digest), but just how overdone and non-stop the instrumental complexity is, which becomes very tiresome very quickly, and to put it frankly, boring.

This album does have a lot decent musical ideas to be spoken of, but it suffers a reverse of the Tales from Topographic Oceans problem, packing too much in every moment of every song for too long, which is probably why it appeals to the prog community as well as it does, because this audience has come to less often expect artistic subtly and more often expect something complex and bombastic to feed their appetite for something that will spin their heads around. And it is exactly this reason that I don't believe that this album will be appreciated by future generations of progressive rock listeners to come, because this view preferring complexity to truly substantial musical expression will (I hope) not be one that is passed down to future generations of progressive listeners. It is more likely to be viewed as another one of the post-Dream Theater experiments in complicated fluff.

A last note from me as a musicologist kind of guy: in my (in this case, very humble) opinion, if there's anything that could absolutely destroy the way that modern prog is viewed by the average modern listener of rock music, it's overly complicated, bombastic, and pretentious albums like this.

Report this review (#703412)
Posted Sunday, April 1, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I consider this album as a Conceptual Prog Metal Masterpiece, it has all the conditions for it. It means, once you open your mind to the whole album, quite rare sounds or strange harmonies are starting to call your attention. With such a contagious voice, they help you to stand listening more and more. As your curiosity ask for you to continue listening to it, then you feel more interested and start to enjoy more and more that new melodies. A few listenings ago, you become a slave of these concept album.

Haken has divided this "Visions" masterpiece in a 8-tracks album, chained one track after another as one single story. Yo can enjoy listening to a single track, but you will be surprised if you listen to the whole album.

Knowing how to increase or decrease the speed, and handling stress moments withd calms and different parts of the songs and in different parts of the album, their music and technique is very oriented to modern Prog Metal style, nearly Symphonic I would add. Their Piano parts and high production keyboards parts reminds me to the LOTR soundtracks in many parts of the album. These is something that many users has criticize because they fill the album with a huge production of different sounds. Anyway, If you adore dark and pretty atmospheres, with real progmetal beautifull guitar solos, all embedded in one story, then you will adore this album.

Musicians are very well combined and it seems that the idea of compositions is very defined. I see in Haken a good and different mix in this style that has helped them to become unique: A prog metal music with a kind of beautifull Grunge Voice.

If I have something to criticize about ProgMetal gods (like Dream Theater) is that their idea changes a lot in different band life moments (half decades?). However, Haken has defined and emphasized even more their compositions in their second album. I love the way that a band continues beeing the same band in terms of melodies and compositions manners, but surprisingly they achieve to get you like best. It´s like "If you want to convince me with your music, respect what you are doing because I love it :) and continue in the same style and form, don´t change please"

Let´s see if they continue surprising.

Report this review (#730233)
Posted Monday, April 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars How does a band one-up such a strong debut concept album effort in Aquarius? Haken answered this by releasing an even stronger concept album in Visions. Any sloppiness or lack of flow in their previous has now been rectified to create a much more focused, tight sound. They still haven't left the style that makes them Haken, nor have they left the Dream Theater influence behind. If anything, this sounds very similar to Scenes From A Memory, both instrumentally and conceptually. Regardless, this is still Haken from beginning to end.

The album opens with the short 'Premonition' which acts as the instrumental introduction.

'Nocturnal Conspiracy' is based on a simple and catchy riff that gives it a rather ominous mood. This is short lived as the more metal parts enter along with Jenning's unique vocals. There is also a symphonic sound to this song that was also present in their last album. Of course, a longer Haken song is not complete without an epic instrumental section that occurs around five minutes.

'Insomnia' opens with a riff in 6/4, along with some good vocals over some harmonized bass and piano parts. The instrumental portion of this song is of course complex and chaotic.

'The Mind's Eye' is a slower, almost ballad-like song with some more powerful vocal moments spaced between.

'Portals' is the fully instrumental track of the album similar to Dance of Eternity on Scenes (though not nearly as complex), but is more melodic, especially the fantastic guitar solo at the end.

'Shapeshifter' is based on a crushing riff in 4/4 with the other sections being down-tempo and vocal dominated with a few symphonic moments in the chorus.

'Deathless' is a down-tempo ballad in the first half of the song, but picks up a bit of energy in the second half.

The title track is the epic 'Visions,' which goes through a myriad of twists and turns in its 22-minute duration. There is the beginning symphonic section with a few mixed in riffs and dramatic vocals, which is followed by the first instrumental section, some more riffage, a short acoustic section, a tasteful guitar solo, a very unique and interesting sounding vocal melody harmonized with guitar, and finally the dramatic reprise.

Some may argue Visions is pretty derivative, and while I can't argue that, I will say that the music is so good it hardly matters to me.


Report this review (#802208)
Posted Wednesday, August 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
5 stars Believe the hype! I was a little wary of this band because of their overnight popularity, but upon the purchase of this album, I have fallen in love with their style. This band seamlessly integrates many styles---from pseudo-death metal to big band music. The result is soul satisfying and very unique.

I have to be honest---on my first listen to this album, I was a little taken aback by the quirky parts of the album (especially the maniacal parts in the 20+ epic, Visions), but since then I have not been able to go a day without listening to this amazing album! I am no musical expert (though I am extremely passionate about progressive music), so I cannot tell you all the technical aspects of why this album sounds so good and strikes so deeply within me. All I can tell you in that this album's smooth, epic, psychedelic sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. I get the urge to brood and head-bang at the same time. Also, this album's story about visions, death, and insanity (?) are so compelling that I will be listening again and again till I figure out the very depths of this story.

This album was one of the best of 2011, and I am certainly glad that I gave it a chance. The complexity inherent in this band's music makes me excited for what they will offer us in the future.

Report this review (#808062)
Posted Monday, August 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Haken's second album, Visions, is something of an improvement over its predecessor, in part because it offers a more focused and cohesive sound which focuses on the band's strengths. I hear less of a power metal influence this time around, the band perhaps leaning a bit more on their proggy side after the positive reception they received from the progressive rock community. The overall sound reminds me a bit of a version of Dream Theater in which technical showboating is much less pronounced (and more subtle when it does occur) and which draws more influence (particularly in the keyboards) from neo-prog outfits - particularly groups at the heavier end of the neo-prog spectrum like Arena. At the end of the day I'm still not quite ready to embrace Haken as the saviours of prog metal, but here they are drifting in the right general direction.
Report this review (#844547)
Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | Review Permalink
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 naďve 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.

Report this review (#914968)
Posted Sunday, February 17, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Haken was quite a surprise, having witnessed all the guffawing hype around this newcomer to the wonderful world of heavy prog and realizing quite rapidly that the praise is wholly justified. First and foremost, it must be stated for the record (pun) that lead vocalist Ross Jennings is highly accomplished, a true howler with both power and melody in his pipes, once again a rare event in the crazy world of prog. While I enjoy the mellower side of progressive rock, I do get off on some power music only when it's subtle and devastating (Deeexpus, Touchstone, Final Conflict, Riverside etc...). Well, Haken certainly aim high on this sophomore release, a glittering display of whopping riffs, highly original keyboard colorations that have a Richard Barbieri-like fantasy and a galloping rhythm section that smokes from the get go. What a collection of stellar tracks! Not a bum second to be heard, my goodness!

'Premonition' is the instrumental colossus used to raise the curtain and succeeds in establishing the mood to follow.

But Jennings really steals the spotlight with some vocal acrobatics for the ages, like on the momentous 13 minute + 'Nocturnal Conspiracy', a perfect blend of grandiose, ponderous, sublime and razor-sharpness that will seduce even the coldest prog mother. He sings with utter passion, defined rage, bruising confidence and forlorn despair, a thoroughly epic track that deserves maximum applause. Wooo! Keyboardist Diego Tejeida infused some ivory sound design into the composition, really lifting into the heavens, certainly a track for the ages!

'Insomnia' just wishes to perpetuate the bulldozing buzz, another fine example how bruising heavy rockers can do the jazz thing, thumping along on bassist Thomas Maclean's burping instrument as drummer Raymond Hearne keeps a tight furrow. Jennings delivers a high octave, high octane vocal that will stun the disbelievers, while in the blue corner, Tejeida dishes out some bubbly synths and axemen Henshall and Griffiths crisscross with deadly phrasings. Supremely good stuff!

'The Mind's Eye' offers howling synth torrents to the groove, crystalline picking and a low end rumble, a cool power ballad that soars to heavenly heights, a lavish vocal and another winning track that will stick in your mind (sic).

'Portals' things get slightly more complex and the band dishes out some taut sonic acrobatics, showing considerable skills (bicycle guitar motifs a la Robert Fripp) and blasts the listener into dizzying pools of hypnosis. Fast, hard and painful!

Unrelenting, 'Shapeshifter' kicks the mood into overdrive, flickering molten riffs, effect-laden voicings, and squirming synths, all conspire to exalt the listener into submission, doing the contrast thing to perfection, a rockin' roller coaster that sears, scours and shades with conviction. Lyrically these lads are no slouches, interesting words expressed with distinction. Rapid, rigid and resolute!

The breathtaking 'Deathless' is a shattering success, the crowning jewel of an obviously brilliant album, a scorching ballad that has 'classic' branded all over it, a tune so perfect, one could listen to this forever and never be bored. Deepest piano melancholia and a vocal for the ages, within a style similar to classic Landberk, a mixture of hot and icy, Jennings' lament convincing to the hilt. The chorus is to expire over, the verse bittersweet and profound. Talk about reverie!

To conclude with a whopping title track that clocks in at 22 minutes +, I mean, really? What balls! That is the hallmark of a group of younger musicians who have thought out their craft well, honed it to their view of perfection and then unleashed it to an unsuspecting audience. A heavy prog band unafraid of bringing in a string quartet? Come on! Throw in some brief narration, huge symphonics, torrential synthesizers, dense atmospherics layered thick with complicated rhythms that defy gravity, you have it all on glittering display! In a way, Haken has condense in one single arrangement their entire musical philosophy, their intentions clear and concise and a definite new kid on the prog block.

I have caught myself shaking my head quite a few times, as I flicked the repeat button over and over, bewildered by the sheer quality of the music proposed, charmed by the boldness of it all. The songs are brilliant, the performances tantalizing and the vocals impeccable. What more can you possibly ask for? More please!

5 checkmark mirages

Report this review (#939698)
Posted Friday, April 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Haken second offer named Visions from 2001 is another worthy release by this already well known band. They made lots of ripples around them with their first album and for good reason , with this follow up they pave the way to a bright future. Not many bands in last years manage to attract so many positive reviews in prog circles and to be so known. Visions , to me is on same level with previous one, musicaly speaking. Also they concentrated more on their progressive side here, each passage is where it belongs and te result is damn fine. The musicianship is tight and top notch, very much inspired in instrumental sections by DT, but with their own twists. The guitars and keyboards and overall rhythmic section is killer, specially on instrumental Portal or on titler track, an epic that shows Haken is a name to have on everyone lips when talk about prog metal. So overall enjoyble and solid, 4 stars easy.
Report this review (#941359)
Posted Tuesday, April 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars --------------------------------- 3.85/5------------------------------------------ 'Insomnia 'promises so much but fails to deliver all those promises. Having said that it is quite above your average prog metal album. It is also a great improvement from their previous album 'Aquarius'. Haken combine keyboard dominated heavy rock with influences of jazz. The keyboard work is really praiseworthy. At times Haken's music is simply majestic which prove that there is enough talent on show but (I call it arrogance) at times it is hard to stay focused with so much going on with their sound and you get lost. Bass playing and drumming are descent but Ross Jennings' vocal still needs improvement. If Haken can work on these flaws and concentrate a little more on songwriting and lyrical content (too cheesy at times) there is no telling how good this band really can be. Talking about this album, it opens up with a descent opening track 'Premonition'. 'Nocturnal Conspiracy' follows the opening which is one of the stands out song of this album along with 'Insomnia' and 'Portals'. While 'Nocturnal conspiracy' showcases band's ability to build up a song from a slow mellow start into a more darker and heavy tune, the other two start with killer keyboard leads and just keep on delivering goods until the end. I just love the way the song 'Nocturnal Conspiracy builds up and find it one of the best written song by the band. Apart from these, the songs 'Deathless' and 'Mind's Eye' are slower more catchy songs which are good enough and 'Shapeshifter' doesn't harm the album as well. But one song that I wish was not in this album is 22 minutes final track 'Visions' which is tooooo long. It becomes unbearable at times. The song contains the entire element that Haken have been able to do all the goods and bads including killer keyboard playing, continuous drumrolls and great drumming yet its length hinders the song. Yes this is a good progressive album and considering the improvement the band have shown from the previous album, I' really looking forward to their next work.
Report this review (#979236)
Posted Sunday, June 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This album represents my first experience with the band and I was quite impressed with the music. I think there are elements of Rush with some progressive metal elements as well. The music is quite unique as it blends the heavy sides of vintage prog bands with modern vocal style. It's really a pleasure listening to this album as the music flows nicely from the opening track "Premonition" which sounds like nice blend of various kinds of rock music with solid basslines. As friend of mine told me that the band started the progressive metal in 2009 with an excellent debut album "Aquarius". This one is only only two years as second album, "Premonition" begins like any epic album would, an overture that sets the tone for the whole album. There are experimental riffs here and there in the album. "Nocturnal Conspiracy" carries the story (as a concept album) about killing based on visions or dreams he had

Musically there are good dynamics in terms of how instruments and vocal were performed. The overall summary lies at the ending track "Visions" which consumes more than 20 minutes duration. I have to admire that as a new comer Haken is really good. What I do not understand is that this album fails to hook me for repetitious play typical to any album which I love. At the end of the album there is no such feeling to replay the album and worst I never plan to have another spin again next time. But don't get me wrong....this is still a very good album or three plus stars I would say. Keep on proggin' ...!!!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#1059327)
Posted Sunday, October 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars After becoming completely enthralled with Haken's 2013 release, "The Mountain", I kept my eye out for copies of their earlier albums. Recently, I found "Visions" available locally, so it looks like I'll be working backwards through this band.

Apparently. "The Mountain" is no fluke. While I personally like it better, especially for the jazzy influences and Gentle Giant-like vocals they added. But this album is no lightweight either. Working on a base of Dream Theater influenced prog metal, these guys have come up with a unique blend of prog of all sorts.

While the most prevalent sound may be metal, it is not so overbearing as to make this a thrashing headbanger album. The elegant vocals and swirling complexity raise this far above most prog metal, and most modern bands in general.

This, like "The Mountain", is a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Report this review (#1197298)
Posted Monday, June 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you ever wondered whether Haken can be best classified as heavy prog or prog metal, chalk this album up as a firm evidence for the latter. This is Haken's most Dream Theater-like release, combining the signature mix of symphonic complexity, metal loudness, high-speed soloing and saccharine pop sensibilities, but with more weirdness thrown in (computer game sounds, Latin beats). Hey, the group credits two guys both for guitar and the keyboards. Even the somewhat whining vocal of Ross Jennings reminds of Dream Theater. Anyway, this a deliciously over-the-top album, culminating in the 20-minute Visions . Sure, the vocal and the narration drag on a bit, but otherwise this song finds Haken firing on all cylinders.
Report this review (#1518138)
Posted Friday, January 22, 2016 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars Prog-rock golden boys Haken's second album is an unquestioningly excellent showcase of hard rockin', not-quite- metal, not-quite-classic-prog. Visions has production values and performances that are off the charts with technical competency. This album hits hard, drifts ambiently, and hits all the right notes between. It's a great example of the modern genre. The songwriting is creative and effective, and the vocals passionately delivered. So, is it a masterpiece? (grumble grumble). Maybe.

If you're not familiar with Haken, you probably should be. They're on a winning streak of tremendous prog-rock that is heavier, faster, and more creative than most of the neo-prog bands, but not so noisy and vapid as some of the prog- metal bands; they've found a wonderful balance in their sound that wears classic prog influences on their sleeves, but not in a way that detracts from the listening experience. Visions strongest points are its deep, polished songwriting and impeccable instrumental performances. These guys not only have monster chops, but real instincts on how to use them to create varied and interesting songs. There's a sense of momentum to the album that tells a narrative all by itself, even without the heavy use of lyrics and vocals. Listening is a lot of fun, and feels like a complete experience upon conclusion - exactly how one should feel after listening to this kind of music!

So why not 5 stars? For me, it's the vocals and lyrics. Jennings is a totally competent vocalist, but his voice and lyrics don't resonate with me. The narrative within the lyrics are sort of a weird hybrid of narrative and existentialism that just bounces off of me. It works best when he's in the abstract, singing verses that sound more like poetry instead of trying to string a plot through the whole thing. My other criticism is that the production of the vocals doesn't feel big enough to fill the scope of sound that the band is creating. Jennings' high timbre is sort of crushed by the whirlwind of hard riffing that accompanies him. The sound would benefit from overdubs in a lower register.

So, is it a quibble? Not really, when it contributes to something that prevents an album from creating an emotional response in the listener. But believe me, Visions as a whole is an outstanding album that contains more "wow" moments within songs that you'll hear on the last three Dream Theater albums combined. A worthy addition to any heavy prog lovers' library!

Songwriting: 5 - Instrumental Performances: 5 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

Report this review (#1578569)
Posted Tuesday, June 14, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars I like the second album by Haken even more than the first one, but I like the third one even more than the second one ;-) The lads get more mature, the compositions a tiny bit better.

After a strong debut album, Haken return with no less impressive sophomore effort filled with creativity and chops. Progressive metal with numerous soft and emotional moments attracted has attracted a populous fan base in Europe.

"Premonition" is a nice instrumental pre-digestif marking things to come - a very well crafted 4 minutes progressive metal. "Nocturnal Conspiracy" is a fine suite starting with a reflective melody, Dream-Theater like instrumental middle section and even some fretless bass hidden under surface.

"Insomnia" is quite reminiscent of Dream Theater, beside drums I like the keyboard synths behind.

Another instrumental highlight is delivered to us in "Portals" with a thoughtful and equilibristic quitar leaks and irregular rhythms. "Deathless" is the softest track on the album and yet it brings enough variety to enjoy. "Visions" is a tour-de-force epic suite with numerous shifts in mood, rhythm and styles. The emotional violin that ends the track closes the album on a positive note.

Very much recommended - 4.5 stars!

Report this review (#2153395)
Posted Friday, March 8, 2019 | Review Permalink

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