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Second Life Syndrome
5 stars "Life is a dream: a gift we receive"

"Once upon a time, there was a band named Haken". The story of Haken really should begin that way because this band is showing the world time and time again that they have the chops, the maturity, the composition skills, and the sheer emotional enunciation to be put at the top of the prog pile. As Haken's new album, "The Mountain", approaches; the prog world holds its collective breath until one question is answered: "Will they be able to do it a third time?" The answer? "But, of course".

Yet, I would argue that this is the fourth time that they have wowed us: Their original demo from 2007-2008, "Enter the 5th Dimension", is a masterwork in its own right, and I believe that "The Mountain" can best be understood when this demo is considered, too. You see, Haken has proven themselves to be masters of styling music around a theme. With "Aquarius", Haken explored fantasy which involved very fluid and epic arrangements. Next, they experimented with psychedelia in "Visions"; which, obviously, involved one heck of a mind trip and a very circular, technical style of music. With "The Mountain", however, they are exploring much more palpable material; as the style is very raw, personal, and almost adventurous.

The songs often center on the vocals, but the instrumental passages are as lively and creative as ever. We get the well-known Hakenisms; such as the acrobatic riffing, the amazing and appropriate drumming, and the delicious bass that bounces all over the place. One thing that changes on each album, however, is the keyboard style. This time around, the keys are very ethereal, airy, and atmospheric. Yes, you can almost feel the cloudy cliffs all around you. Sometimes, there is even a neo-prog style to the keys that takes an incredible track and lifts it to new heights. Along the way, "The Mountain" gives us even more creativity with jazzy portions, choir arrangements that make you feel like you are on a mountaintop, raw and emotional ballads, and plenty of horns.

But, why do I say that their original demo is needed in order to absorb this new album? I think that one of Haken's original influences has been brought back into play: Gentle Giant. Haken's original demo is very folksy, medieval, and features a vast amount of vocal harmonization. This is exactly one thing that sets "The Mountain" apart from the rest of Haken's albums: a Shulman brothers style of vocal harmonization that Haken's vocalist/lyricist, Ross Jennings, pulls off by himself. Thus, metal fans might be surprised to hear "a cappella" passages, vocal portions that seem to answer and supplement each other, beautiful vocal-sustain portions, and other surprising uses of Jennings' voice. Is this a turn-off? Not in the least. Haken has always been notorious for their quirk, and now they are becoming not notorious, but endearing and impressive. Jennings has one of the best voices in music. Period.

Now, let's talk songs. Everyone wants to know, "Is there an epic?" Emphatically, there is not. This album does not fall into the structure of their previous albums, and with good reason. This album doesn't need an epic because it is highly personal and candid. It does, however, feature nine amazing tracks that range from quiet and pensive ("The Path", "In Memoriam", "As Death Embraces") to heavy and technical with jazzy and quiet interludes ("Falling Back to Earth", "Pareidolia", "Atlas Stone"). A couple tracks are in between ("Because It's There", "Somebody") and may even include horns or a touch of pop, but both center around Jennings' voice.

However, there's just one more track to discuss, and I believe it is not only the best track on this album, but also the best track I've heard this year: "Cockroach King". I could write an entire review on this track because it is powerful both musically and lyrically. This is the definitive track on "The Mountain" where we get a little bit of everything I've mentioned so far. However, on this track, Haken really brings the quirk. The bouncing and odd vocals, the psychedelic keys, the epic chorus, and the general Middle Earth feeling all combine to make this the definitive track, not only on this album, but also of Haken's career. It perfectly covers all of their albums to date, and it could even be called a tribute of sorts. In addition, this track has one of the most thought-provoking themes I've heard this year, so I believe that "Cockroach King" will be the song that everyone is talking about on "The Mountain".

So, as you view the solitary peak on the front of "The Mountain", know that you are in for a journey lyrically, musically, emotionally, and even spiritually. The music is a bit heavier than before, but the album also features a few tracks that might be the softest that Haken has crafted yet. In other words, "The Mountain" has a stunning balance to it. There is something for everyone here. I also feel that everyone will be able to relate to the incredible theme that Jennings has created: The album covers the trials, tribulations, battles, goals, and successes that we each have on our own journey up the mountain. This album is about life. It is about death. It is about the human experience. I won't spoil anything here (though, I will be spotlighting this album on my Facebook page, The PROG Mind, soon), but suffice it to say that you will find yourself tearing up, nodding in silent agreement, and falling in love with this album. I'm truly beginning to believe in this band, and I certainly hope the ending to Haken's story, "And they lived happily ever after", is a long way from now.

Report this review (#1019487)
Posted Thursday, August 15, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Haken are a band I've avoided the past few years. Whether this was due to my slowly disdain towards the newer prog metal scene or whatever, I have kept these guys at bay for a while. So, being as stubborn as I am, I decided to give these guy's new album a listen.

Musically the band are completely on par. They play very complex music with ease and constantly are able to keep their listeners on their tones. They also aren't afraid to experiment with a lot of different genre and sounds. These guys aren't just a metal band, because a lot of their influences come from prog rock bands, instead of prog metal bands, so expect a wide palette. The band also use a lot of contrapuntal vocals, which give off a Spock's Beard vibe to certain sections in their songs.

Ross Jennings, the band's vocalist is definitely one of the reasons to get into the band. While most prog metal vocalists seem very forced, but Ross seems very comfortable with his range. In many ways, his vocals remind me of Vincent Cavanagh's from Anathema, but with a higher range.

One of the biggest highlights on the album, oddly enough is the artwork. It's been a long time since I've seen an albums artwork and have been spellbinded by the artwork inside the booklet. The artwork is also a perfect companion with the music of the album.

The opening track "The Path" reminds me of a Muse intro. A beautiful piano arrangement with some brilliant vocals from Ross.

"Atlas Stone" is probably the weakest song on the album. It does have some pretty moments, but compared to the rest of the album, it doesn't hold up. Still worth a listen I reckon.

One of the oddest songs on the album has to be "Cockroach King." With musical moments that would have Frank Zappa impressed, the song is just one absolute crazy piece of music. The use of contrapuntal vocals is also an impressive feat as well.

"In Memoriam" could have been the single of the album. Definitly one of the heaviest tracks on the album. In fact, if these guys where to make a music video, I would love to see one for this song.

"Because It's There" is a composition mainly based on vocals. The use of contrapuntal vocals in the arrangement is brilliant.

The album's longest composition "Falling Back To Earth." Split into 2 parts, the song has a brilliant chorus. The second part of the song is the real highlight, with a lot of recapitulation of the themes of the track.

"As Death Embraces" is a very beautiful piano ballad, which wouldn't be completely lost on a more recent Anathema album.

One of the most epic moments on the album comes in the form of "Pareidolia." With a rather middle eastern sounding riff the song explodes and implodes with technical riffing and epic overlaying vocals.

The album closer "Somebody" is a pretty epic way to ending the album. Instead of being your standard ballad, the song has a lot of dark twists and turns and really is an interesting listen, and a brilliant way to end the album.

In conclusion, I was blown away by this album. 9 tracks which in total make up one brilliant experience. This album is one of the reasons I love music presented in 'albums.' Even though every song is as different as the last, they all flow together incredibly well. I'm not sure if this is there best album, mainly because I haven't their first 2, but if so, please tell me if the other 2 are worth a listen.


Report this review (#1025783)
Posted Friday, August 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars (8/10)

I've been listening to the stream of "The Mountain" at progrockmag for the last few days, and my immediate thought is "at last"!

At last Haken deliver an album with an emotional heart to it as well as the quirky epicness that they've long striven for (but only now properly realised). "The Mountain" is definitely their strongest and most well-rounded work to date. Whereas "Visions" was very much "Aquarius" version 2.0, this time things have been shaken up structurally and broadened musically, rather than just honed. New logo, new Haken - this time with a more thoughtful, more intelligent application of their talents. We are now swimming in them joyously, rather than drowning in the overkill.

That being said, this is undeniably still the same band, the things that I liked on the previous releases remain, and their sonic palette has been carried forward (albeit expanded). The band is refreshed, rather than reset. But this time around the focus has shifted from showing off and ticking boxes to placing song-writing as the main priority. There was talk in interviews of much soul searching and self reflection before deciding where to go, with this being more of a full band cooperation. Drawing presumably from their own struggles as a band, the concept of "The Mountain" came to be, symbolic (obviously) of some great personal obstacle to be overcome or goal to be accomplished - the struggle to achieve greatness, and all it entails. It's actually quite a simple concept really, but a good one if you can do it justice. Everyone has their own mountain, after all.

There are weird parts still present, but Haken worked out how not to overdo it, and how to transition meaningfully between parts. Critically, the vocals are much better, which was my biggest problem before. There's also a much better use of ambiance and dynamics, as well as less focus on vocal lead lines, with more focus on the whole composition, which reduces the cheese factor down to negligible. The album has plenty of entertaining Gentle Giant-isms, even if they are completely blatant.

"The Mountain" kicks off with "The Path", a short atmospheric piece with soft piano showing us the changes straight away. The soft vocals have also improved, with Jennings' exhibiting some nice falsetto. This leads neatly into "Atlas Stone", the album's first single. It's full of lovely lighter textures, a very happy song, with bright piano and bouncy riffs. Actually, it sounds like the lighter happier parts of "Images And Words" but with some fun odd bits thrown in, without smothering the drive of the song.

"Cockroach King" is (as Second Life Syndrome has pointed out) an obvious highlight. It's got moments of heavy stomp and the most obvious GG influence of the whole album. Not just with the GG inspired vocals - the whole sound is very GG inspired. There are some fun angular basslines, and lots of odd little noises. It calls to mind "Knots" immediately for me, for these reasons. In this setting, the quirkiness doesn't come off contrived, it fits the style perfectly (they aren't trying to be too many things simultaneously). There's even a random bit of jazz inserted into the middle (inserted much more sensibly that on "Visions" for example). It's an off-kilter romp and my favourite song from the album.

With "In Memoriam" we move into heavier territory again. It's more of a standard prog metal song to start with. There are a few extra twists thrown in, and there's nothing really wrong with it, it's just not quite up to the tracks that precede it. It is just 4 minutes though. Similar Story with "Because It's There", except that it's a much calmer song. We are at least treated to a chamber-choir-like opening and the song does float along in a nicely ethereal manner, with good layers of vocals.

"Falling Back to Earth" brings us back to the DT progmetal, though it is interspersed with low key quieter sections. Some of the parts make me think of Muse a lot, actually (even vocally with the floating falsetto voice). The second half is spacier, moving gradual into heavy working its way marching to the end. "As Death Embraces" offers more soft piano and vocals, harking back the the first track "The Path". Again I enjoy the tasteful use of the falsetto voice.

"Pareidolia" was the second single of the album, and sort of feels like symphonic metal version of Tool in places. It's initially led by a nice twiddly eastern Tool-esque riff, and then moves into a more metallic riffing bit featuring what I'm told is a 'bouzouki'. This is followed by a more ambient section, then some headbanging metal, and then gradually back to the main theme from the start to tie it all together. It's all topped off with a quieter lullaby section to end, and is another of my favourites from the album.

And with that, the album finally concludes with "Somebody". It's not the standard symphonic metal epic reprising the opening track overture that you might have expected. It's more of an understated and emotional sign-off, cementing Haken's new approach and skill, and ending on a high. One cool moment is the vocal lines where the number of syllables are out of sync with the melody, causing the phrasing of "I wish I could have been somebody" to cycle through different intonations.

Again, the album does drag a little bit in the middle third, but not massively this time, and the interlude songs and shorter length (the album is about an hour) help with this. There are places where the old tendencies sometimes do creep in (e.g. occasional overemphasis on technicality, or some of the vocal lines being a bit uninspired), but they are infrequent, brief, and stick out so much less, so they're easily within allowable licence. I've personally found Ross Jennings to be a bit of a limited vocalist, but he does get better with every album, and Haken have found a bunch of tricks here to frame his voice better, layering it and using the studio to provide counterpoints as a way to keep it interesting, rather than just letting it lead and strain at the more intense parts, without quite an interesting enough melody to drive the song. It does still creep into generic territory at times but on the whole the vocals are an asset, and one of the most improved components of "The Mountain" compared with Haken's previous albums.

I'll end by saying that this is basically the album I'd hoped Haken would make. Well, maybe not a masterpiece, but definitely excellent, and Haken do appear to improve with every album. Who knows in the future, right? Existing fans of Haken will no doubt lap this up merrily, but even if (like me) you weren't especially blown away by the first two albums ("Aquarius" and "Visions"), despite the rabid praise they received at the time, then you may still be able to scale "The Mountain".

Report this review (#1026590)
Posted Sunday, September 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
Metal / Heavy / RPI / Symph Prog Team
5 stars Haken has found a way to add new arrangements and sounds to their prog metal symphonic style. They still give us their share of times signatures, but this time there's some tone variation, especially with the vocals harmonies. The songs offers some of the most enjoyable melodic development you can find in the progressive metal genre. The band continue his recipe by juxtaposing many styles from metal, to jazz and classical, but there is a different atmosphere from previous efforts. There's some heavier parts with the guitar riffs and at the same time, some lighter, beautiful and intense moments, illustrated by the vocals and the piano lines.

Every songs keep the listener busy, because you want discover on the next step through the mountain, what is hidden. But you know that the journey is intense and enjoyable from the start to the finish. Let's climb to the highest point of excellence in the Haken's mountain. There are no standout tracks on this, every songs flow well together. After their 2 first excellent releases, i was not sure if this band could pull it off again, but they did better than this, with their best release yet.

Report this review (#1026612)
Posted Sunday, September 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I was very excited to listen and review this album: "The Mountain" by the heavy prog band Haken and first of all I most say I fully understand why this thing seems to be a very popular and high appreciated one. It is well produced and very intelectual heavy music with both the soft and the hard and a lot of historical referencies. The first impression was the wonderful cover which is special and very photographic. The design would have fitted the LP standard.

Haken seems to be a six man group with Ross Jennings as vocalist, Charles Griffiths as guitarist, Raymond Hearne as drummer, Richard Henshall as keyboard player and guitarist, Thomas MacLean as bassist and Diego Tejeida as keyboard player.

What I like with Haken's music is perhaps foremost the excellent vocals which is high and light and not screaming(well just sometimes). The group also uses vocal harmonies that are perfect. On "Cockroach King" the vocals take over where Gentle Giant quitet but otherwise the harmonies are just very Haken. I also enjoy the English accent very much. Swedish groups which unfortunately sing in English can't get that accent. The music is varied, and on some passages, symphonic which I like. The instrumentation often is pure and you can hear what they're doing. They have both calmer and heavier songs and of course differencies within the compositions. "The Path" is a beautiful opener where we really can enjoy Ross Jennings voice and accent and "Atlas Stone" is both compicated, powerful and very interesting. "Cockroach King" is already mentioned as a bringer of fantastic vocal organization but also shows a lot more of interest. "Pareidolia" and "Somebody" are perfect Haken songs which give us a special soundscape that is melancholic but very pleasant.

What I don't like with Haken's and what's probably the reason I can't vote for five stars is that the music sometimes still is too heavy. That is obvious for me in the middle section of the record. "In Memoriam" is boring metal and "Because It's There"and "Falling back to Earth" are good but the heavy sound frightens me. "As death Embraces" feels quite week in my ears.

How much I always want to give a record as many stars as possible I can't give it another five. It doesn't enough fit my taste of music even if I find it both clever and enjoyable. This is a intrigiung album I my final statement will be: well done!

The songs in order of goodness: Cockroach King(10/10), Somebody(8/10), Atlas stone(8/10), The Path(8/10), Pareidolia(8/10), Falling back to Earth(7/10), Because It's there(7/10), As death embraces(6/10) In Memoriam(6/10)

Report this review (#1029689)
Posted Friday, September 6, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars I've listened to this non-stop since it was released and have concluded it's the best prog album of the year if not longer. Visions was good, but The Mountain takes everything to the next level. The experimentation is expanded with additions like the Gentle Giant inspired harmonies, and the songwriting has also been polished with some truly beautiful melodies and softer passsages. Some say their influences are too apparent, but I think that is an unfair complaint. When Haken draws from Dream Theater to Gentle Giant to Yes to Radiohead in such a fluid manner, it can only be a treat to all prog fans to have an album that sums up almost everything we love about progressive music. Highlights would be "Atlas Stone", "Cockroach King", "Falling to Earth", and "Somebody", but when I listen to the album I never want to skip a single song. The pacing from heavy to quirky to moody to epic always keeps me interested. So, in conclusion, I apologize to Mr. Steven Wilson. Competition for the album of the year was tougher than any expected.
Report this review (#1030976)
Posted Sunday, September 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Crossover Prog Team
5 stars I was sat at my desk the other day when I was asked if I had yet played Haken's 'The Mountain'. When I responded by saying that it was on my list and hadn't got to it yet, I was told that I needed to. So, when I got home that night I made the time to actually play it for the first time. It was a lot later when I was asked if I was actually going to go to bed, as I had just sat there in awe, taken away into a new musical world. To say that this is one of the finest albums to ever come out of the prog scene is something of an understatement, but accurate. I've just had a quick look on PA to see what others feel about this and note that there are two collaborator/expert reviews, both of whom give it 5*'s, and I am convinced that the only reason they have done that is because we're not able to give it any more.

This is absolutely stunning stuff, arguably taking Spock's Beard to a whole new level. But, that argument would in itself be flawed as they have instead looked to one of SB's influences, the incredible Gentle Giant (surely still one of the most under-rated British prog acts ever, and I know that they are rated highly, just not highly enough), and have moved on from there. Honestly, I have no idea where to start with writing about this. The vocals and harmonies are incredible, and they go from full on metallic monstrosity to a cappella in a way that should never be possible, but somehow with these guys it makes total sense. Metallic riffs combine with harmonies, strong bass with 'out there' keyboards, and the feeling that here is a band very much in control.

It is just not possible to fault this album, everything they do is accomplished and polished yet never loses that feeling of spontaneity and rawness that is so important. Unlike some progressive acts, there is nothing here that sounds contrived, the music just oozes honesty and passion. This is not something created by navel gazers in a sterile environment to prove how clever they are, but rather is the product of a band that are not going to conform to any pre-conceived ideas of what they should be producing but instead are out to do whatever they damn well please. I mean, what on earth is a prog band doing starting a song with a barbershop quartet? ('Because It's There'), but within the feel of the album as a whole it makes total sense with what they are doing.

My album of the year, of any genre, is Clive Nolan's 'Alchemy' (yes I know it's only September, but given how often I am playing it I just can't imagine anything else getting even close). But, although that features many famed progressive performers, it is in fact a theatrical musical production as opposed to a prog epic. When it comes to prog, I am convinced that I have found my album of the year and am listening to it now, as this is one of the most exciting and vibrant pieces of work that I have ever come across. The way that they can go from complex bombast to restrained and simple beauty, such as on 'As Death Embraces' where the vocals and piano interplay is quite different to what has gone before, but still contains a compelling majesty.

Looking at reviews that have been posted in various places I note that not everyone shares my opinion, but life would certainly be boring if everyone had the same view on everything. However, if you have never heard Haken then the time to do it is now, and if you have, then you can rest assured that these guys have kept pushing the envelope to create something which is stunning, just stunning.

Report this review (#1035265)
Posted Saturday, September 14, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Haken have improved their act, album by album, and with their 3rd release they have achieved the best of all worlds: excellent songwriting, inventive arrangements and almost perfect structure. A progrocker's dream album, this one is a winner. From the great sonic swirls of "Atlas Stone" to the brilliant vocal work in "Cockroach King", to the epic qualities of "Falling Back to Earth", ethnic hyper-jam of "Pareidolia" and huge Hans-Zimmer-like horns of the "Somebody" closer - it has to be heard over and over again. In fact, it's a purely addicitve CD.

2013 wasn't an amazing year for progressive rock. Steven Wilson did not deliver with "The Raven...", and Dream Theater just repeated themselves with their September release. Haken, however, are just as melodic and original as ever. The mountain theme is inspiring, the Gentle Giant references are lovely, and the entire project is a success.

How will they ever top that one? I'm not sure. But in the meantime, this is super-easily the album of the year.

Report this review (#1036705)
Posted Tuesday, September 17, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars The best Haken album, and a masterpiece that reminds us prog is not dead.

This new album from the British formation is the best thing they came up with. Sure the previous albums were great but I felt something lacked.

Here every song stays in your mind until you finally decide to listen it again to understand what you've messed on previous listening sessions. Every composition has its moments of greatness. Everyone on the band give what they have best to make us feel the tone of each title.

Now what makes this album a masterpiece ? Sure I'm not a huge musician, not a professor in music theory. But The Mountain feels as a unique piece of music, a mix between different genres of music that flows perfectly in harmony. A idea perfectly written and delivered. Even the weakest titles have their place here and have a reason to be here. They are not here just to fill up the blank space of your 800MB-disk.

And what's with the other titles ? Cockroach King, In Memoriam, Somebody... Well they are a proof that Progressive Metal is not only about bringing heavy riffs with hard time signatures, it's also about experimenting, trying different ways of composing, using old stuff and making it's a part of the music and not just a "Tribute part".

Report this review (#1043796)
Posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars What attracted my attention to Haken's new album was their video for "Pareidolia" which I believe to be the best song on this album. 7/8 bars and riffs are so enjoyable that nobody will fail using them. Kind of a journey to Middle-Eastern sounds.

What can strike you in this album are the vocals. You will enjoy expanded amount of vocal melodies and harmonies. The instrumentations are great. These guys have full control over their music and lead you well in their worthy progressive journey. Some songs are heavier and more exciting, and some slower and moodier; but you will certainly encounter your good moments at many places.

"In Memoriam" is another powerful track I wish to highlight. I love it because of various and energetic guitar works in it. The intro is an awesome piano riff. Kind of track that you cannot normally find everywhere!

You will enjoy some cool guitar arpeggios in "Because It's There".

"Falling Back to Earth" is very heavy and poses a beautiful chorus which really makes this song valuable of numerous plays. You will hear some interesting clean guitar works here as well. Overall, the atmosphere of this song is rather heavy but I will certainly go for that chorus again!

"Somebody" begins with beautiful guitar arpeggios, and goes on with more beautiful guitar arpeggios.

In this album, the clean guitars are really awesome, praiseworthy, and in service of the songs.

This album deserves fives stars!

Report this review (#1044621)
Posted Thursday, September 26, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Progressive rock and prog metal bands, are of course, often expected to experiment with their sound a little - the clue's in the word "progressive", right? - but even so this often is more the result of a gradual evolution rather than sudden creative leaps, especially when a band has already established a solid reputation with their previous sound and the very real risk of turning off their established fanbase mitigates against wild experimentation.

Haken, I'm glad to say, have shown the courage to take their sound in an intriguing new direction; the Dream Theater and other conventional prog metal influences I heard on their previous albums are scaled back dramatically (as, indeed, is the metal aspect of their sound - there's still plenty of metal here but it's competing with a wider range of influences this time - a bit of ethereal wave here, a bit of jazz-rock there, a bit of symphonic prog over there...), and in the compositions that make up The Mountain they engage in a series of interesting vocal experiments, playing around with harmony, rounds, and other complex intertwined vocal modes. They also incorporate a lot more piano and keyboards too; fans of up-and-coming piano prog duo iamthemorning may find the intro to Atlas Stone, for instance, reminiscent of that outfit's work.

Delving into these experiments to an extent unmatched by any other prog band I can think of with the exception of Gentle Giant and their imitators (and even then, they don't sound much like Gentle Giant here), Haken are clearly following their own blueprint here, and I suspect they might lose a few fans who prefer the more conventional prog metal sound of their previous albums as a result, but hopefully most prog listeners will recognise true originality when they hear it. Haken have grown on me rapidly with successive releases and with The Mountain I think they've finally begun to live up to the hype which surrounded their earlier albums.

Report this review (#1046255)
Posted Friday, September 27, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars 10/10

A perfect example of musical maturity.

"To us, 'The Mountain' is symbolic of our journey as a band, but also reflects the wider trials and tribulations of life. Lyrically, we've done a lot of soul searching which has given the album an emotional depth that we're sure listeners will really relate to, whatever personal mountain they are climbing. Musically, the new songs feel rawer and more emotional than anything we've created in the past. All the essential elements of our sound are still there but have been delivered in a more gritty and focused style. We've really pushed ourselves in all areas and truly believe that this album is a step up from any of our previous work..." Rihard Henshall, Charlie Griffiths

The Mountain is about all the ways a watershed for the Haken. In fact, I see it more as a confirmation of the promise that they appeared to be since it emerged on the scene of prog metal. Where many young bands and nothing much promtem meet, falling by the wayside or in the doldrums, they are getting their name in the pantheon of the genre displaying an incredible maturity and creativity for musicians so young. Without abandoning their influences, but at the same time reshaping itself and introducing new sounds.

While I've been a fan of Haken, my experience with this album was significantly different than the others. Where Aquarius presented a range of influences and was praised for its diversity, Visions was an album by metal-to-metal which had mixed impressions in me. The Mountain is easily superior to either. In fact I would say he stole the Shrine of New Generation Slaves's post of my favorite album of the year.

The truth is that I have liked the band, but did not follow the hype around it ... until you hear this album. The Mountain is perfect in all aspects, starting with the cover, which soundly beats the arts of previous albums. The mountain, the man with the stone trying to climb it, as in the Greek myth, reflect the album's concept: overcoming, challenging evolution. Is that Haken's doing with himself in this album.

The technical quality of the band members also deserves much prominence as it is one of the main factors by which they have been acclaimed. The highlight is definitely the vocalist Ross Jennings, which features a stunning evolution. Where the previous albums I considered his voice to be the weakest aspect of the band, here it is the strong point - or rather, the delicious vocal harmonies. From Gentle Giant-esque choirs for singing medieval harmonies there are several available. Keyboards Richard Henshall and Diego Tejeida noteworthy, since they are more diversified and present (just see the tons of piano and organ, as well as atmospheric elements). The guitars and drums need no comment. And Tom McLean, bassist, also has more prominence here - just watch her ​​work in Atlas Stone. It is sad to know that he left the band.

The album opens with The Path, which is a very short and introductory track, full of atmospheric elements and melodic singing, the harmonies accompanied by a single piano. It evolves to the majestic Atlas Stone, the first track released from the album. The music is a ride for all that Haken is able to do, "only" seven minutes: powerful vocals, themes assassins, use of non-Orthodox musical elements in metal (percussion, in this case) and everything. Interesting to see that there is no epic this album, but a steady flow exists between the songs that eliminates the need for an epic.

Cockroach King is one of my favorites here, and has been the band's most revered and critically acclaimed album. It is easy to see why: with its Gentle Giant-esque harmonies, strong use of jazz fusion combined with powerful and furious passages of prog metal, this is a music so diverse and insane that it's impossible not to love her. Add to that a fun clip inspired by Bohemian Rhpasody and the Muppets! It is followed by two shorter songs, but which are quite different: In Memoriam is the range more direct here, prog metal at its core combined with a piano that really reminds me of Muse, while Because It's There is a memorial track, opening with delicious vocals harmonies evolving to a section verse- chorus-verse-chorus accompanied by electronic effects.

Falling Back to Earth is the first semi-epic album, and has two distinct halves. The first section is a metal very aggressive, interspersed with some verses in a great jazz-fusion. It would just be a song from any metal if the second half was not a section very atmospheric and dark, where the vocals shine while the listener is taken through an experience out of the ordinary. The music returns to its heavy themes in the end, but stands by this duality. As Death Embraces is a short interlude, just voice and piano, a gorgeous interpretation by Ross Jennings.

Pareidolia is quite DT-esque, with riffs evoking the Middle East and remembering Home, from classic Scenes from a Memory. This was the second song I heard and with over 10 minutes of course I love her. It's probably the heaviest song on the album, although it has a kinda shady interlude where Ross Jennings takes the vocals. One of the highlights is what appears to be a bozouki solo, which really brings an interesting dynamic to this song quite pesadada. She ends on a quiet note, almost like a lullaby, which leads to the final track, Somebody. I really like it when after a great track climate album ends on a note softer, melancholy, and is exactly what makes Haken here. A sad and beautiful song, Somebody has melodious and melancholy voice, combined with a striking chorus that grows at the end, culminating in a huge climax where we have the presence of metals in a style quite Hans Zimmer-esque (more or less as the Inception soundtrack). A great track and I could not ask for a better end to an album so perfect.

5 stars.

Report this review (#1046780)
Posted Saturday, September 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
1 stars This is a general public review. I, as a third unattached, NO COMPROMISES (no debts) observer, write it for ALL readers (not only for this band's followers, to be exact!). So forwarned, skip your "I HATE YOU!" mail, and follow your own instincts! (check my likings if you don't agree, I'm not for you!, easy does it)..... That spoken, I follow my review. HAKEN - The Mountain, is full of ballads or slow sections, that are supposed to be enhanced by contrast, with the fast-paced instrumental synchronizations, common to the genre. IMO, first thing is the song writing,.. performance comes next. So it could be that you are the fastest keyboardist or bass player, or even think you are Bob Dylan., at the end of the day, if the "canvas" is poor no matter how well or fast you play the results will be like that, poor. Therefore, even these guys "inspired" performances, the music itself does not go beyond its musical-composition, obvious limitations. They in fact offer very little in return, really, not a bit daring at all and completely PREDICTABLE, even at first listening you know what comes next and next and next,... boring!! Like a "reloaded" SUPERTRAMP, with an excessive un-pretentiousness that falls into childish, to put it lightly, tunes and lyrics. A band that relies too much on its vocalist's talents (1.5 pitch below Lee's), who by the way never shuts-up (idem), and becomes the boring lead man of the music behind. With no real musical proposal, they just play along the lines of the genre and follow the tedious "cheap-poetry" lyrics, all the way through. ...The saying goes- "that nobody can come up with the "corniest" ballads, BUT the "Heavies", sometimes even more than the Pop people...(except of course KC & The ZEP, but ironically, they are not in this Heavy-category). Well it's proven here with Haken!--- And of course, what made Dylan-Dylan, was not just his talents for the written word, it had to do mostly with his daring also, music composition, which here in "the Mountain", there is few and in drops. *1 PA "The "eagerness" in performance does not compensate for the TOOTHLESS, by the book. un-creative, musical composition results", star. Climb the ladder!!
Report this review (#1047525)
Posted Sunday, September 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars The good news is that Haken continues to expand its already impressive sound palette. A capella vocals, weird vocals, weird keyboards, church music, jazzy interludes, post rock, oriental music, you name it, and, of course, its foundation in Dreamtheater- esque bombastic metal. So the question is - does this kitchen sink work? Mostly, it does, better than most prog eclecticists, athough sometimes it seems that some of the add-ons in a song are there simply for the fun of it, rather than musical and structural necessity.

There is also less reliance on metal, and more on the more atmospheric types of rock such as Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and post rock. It even seems to me that the guys aren't as interested in metal anymore, because, while there's lots of metal here, it sounds a lot like specific songs off the Visions album - the fast riffs and speed picking, keyboard runs. Proportional to percentage in which metal has decreased, the place of the more critically "mature" post rock has increased. And it's a matter of personal taste, but I find some of these repetetive build ups boring. But overall, The Mountain is as good, and perhaps better, than any Haken release so far. Certainly the most diverse.

Report this review (#1047814)
Posted Sunday, September 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars While I've listened to all of the Haken releases so far, and have been very impressed with the musicianship and compositional skills of the band, this is the first album in which I feel that the boys aren't just trying to "show off"--in which they aren't trying to purposely wow and dazzle. The slowed down compositional approach allows a more broad-spectrum emotional side of the band to be exhibited--which is what I've needed to feel engaged, drawn into the music. Both Aquarius and Visions are albums of impressive music, but The Mountain is the first I've liked well enough to actually buy. The impressive YouTube video for "Pariedolia" (10:51) (9/10) is what got me into really giving this album a serious listen. What makes me critical of this album, however, is the fact that virtually every song sounds familiar. "Atlas Stone" (7:34) (9/10) as excellent as it is, keeps reminding me of ANATHEMA, NEMO, Jem Godfrey's FROST* and AMPLIFIER's Octopus; "Cockroach King" (8:15) (9/10) seems like the band's foray into 'heavy' GENTLE GIANT and 10CC territory; "In Memoriam" (4:17) (8/10) brings me again to FROST*, ANATHEMA and STEVEN WILSON's recent more stuff (especially the vocals and lyrics); "Because It's There" (4:24) (7/10) out Moon's MOON SAFARI, but, in the end, it's just Moon Safari, isn't it? "Falling Back to Earth" (11:51) (9/10) has a cool combination of heavy metal and jazz in a MAD CRAYON/RIVERSIDE kind of way (excellent vocal, btw); "As Death Embraces" (3:14) (9/10) returns to a very STEVEN WILSON/RADIOHEAD kind of minimalist form (with better vocals, I must admit); "Pariedolia", as awesome as it is, could easily come from a PORCUPINE TREE album, and; "Somebody" (9:01) (8/10) plays out just like an ANATHEMA song, despite the silly "I wish I could have been somebody" vocal rondo section. Don't get me wrong, I've been enjoying this album--as a whole and as individual songs come up on my iPod shuffle. Sometimes I just get a little frustrated with the lack of originality or lack of innovation in today's music. Still, this is an excellent album--definitely worthy of four to five stars. A masterpiece? Probably.
Report this review (#1048124)
Posted Sunday, September 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars Ross Jennings is the singer James LaBrie wants to be. Actually, this band plays wanky melodic vanilla prog metal (I'm being redundant, I guess) better than Dream Theater, even though DT were the ones who created that kinda thing. There are some memorable moments here, like the super cheesy but fun bouzouki break in "Pareidolia", the barbershop singing in the gentle giantly "Cockroach King" (song ruined by the cringeworthy Berklee fusion section, ugh), but overall there's no reason why I would listen to this when I could listen to 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory' or 'Sound Awake'.

TL;DR: the "prog metal" equivalent of pound cake. With a big slice of cheese.

Report this review (#1051471)
Posted Wednesday, October 2, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well it's only taken 2 years and over 30 listens to review this album, so here it goes!

As with most of the heavier modern progressive bands, I never really got into Haken. "Aquarius" and "Visions" weren't particularly exciting to me, so "The Mountain" has broken down a lot of barriers. Although often compared to Dream Theater, the band sort of uses their template to build upon "The Mountain", adding their own personalities and techniques to the well structured mix. All in all, this proves to make an album as good as, if not better than the works of 21st century progressive bands. The album does contain a few prog rock cliches, making it a little less risky and adventurous, but unlike works such as "Hybris", it gives off a sense of familiarity. This, teamed with the band's talents and the innovative songwriting of Richard Henshall, proves to create one of the greatest albums of the last few decades. It really shows how the genre is still alive today - a solid 5 stars.

"The Path" acts as a fitting prologue and instantaneously creates a vibrant atmosphere. A fairly basic piece of songwriting, but little intriguing juts appear in the chord progression (at "our nightmare" for example) to prevent it from becoming too diaphanous. A great opener that fulfils its role in introducing you to the over-arching theme of a "Fountain Of Lamneth"-esque journey. "Atlas Stone" thens sucks you out of the wispy dreaminess, with a crisp piano passage. The production of the record is second to none, being very polished but still leaves room for the songs to breath (a trap most modern musicians fall into). "Atlas Stone" is evident of this, but better still, it immediately presents the band's talent and potential before the ten minute mark. Honestly, I still find it impossible not to be blown away by the constant variation of time signatures, harmonies, and occasional exuberant melodies give it a light-hearted feel that gets superbly devastated by the "weight of the world" chorus.

"Cockroach King" is perhaps the most "famous" track on the record. Ross Jennings' vocals slot right in to the unsuspecting lyrics which are effectively reeled off. I guess it's similar to the previous song, but here, the tongue-in-cheek satire is further accentuated by contrasting the intensely metal sections with the offbeat verses. Also, the subject matter is ultimately less empathic, and you're really watching this man on his journey giving into guilt. My only peeve about this track is the repetition, and I feel that they could have cut a couple of minutes off. As a result, "In Memoriam" hits you even harder with its solemn piano intro and opening lyrics "Take a step put one foot in the grave". It's really quite an affecting track, and somehow exhibits a darkness that is very indirect, and unlike most metal songs, not driven by plodding power chords and sombre themes. The band, as always, seem to leave just enough time before elevating to a spellbinding climax.

"Because It's There" is possibly the most recognisable track due to its acapella harmonies. There are a couple of patchy areas that I've really just grown to like, but at "Adapt to this world", the deep abyssal void fills with a lustrating feel of hope. It takes a couple of listens to intake those contrapuntal vocals, but it becomes easy to indulge yourself Arguably, it is one of the weaker moments of "The Mountain", but not a piece of filler, and certainly not castaway. "Falling Back To Earth" has become something of a modern prog classic. With its hard-hitting rhythms, discordant tritones, poignant lyrics, and a judicious musicianship, Haken have managed to make something of a mini-masterpiece. The determination and willpower these guys must have had to add a seemingly unnecessary part to "The Mountain" and its storyline is astonishing. Thankfully, it is really a crucial segment to the album, with many eloquent emotions being conveyed throughout. Their knack of playing an ever-changing style whilst retaining a strong theme is well shown here.

"As Death Embraces" is an incredibly tentative ballad, and the song is beautifully produced and well-sequenced. The huge contrast between it and the previous track brings out the emotional sterility and that airy darkness you hear in the lyrics. For me, this brief poem is ultimately a more developed lyric than your typical modern "light-metal" bands was produce, but as you've really gone through the album, it's much more relevant than a lot of these songs. You can really sympathise with the singer from the outside, perhaps even more powerfully than as with empathy, and as soon as he sings those high legatos, you're completely left hanging somewhere in oblivion. It's a very simple, floaty feeling that's commonly used done to great effect, and the occasional chordal jilts towards the end maintain that sense of unease, or even paranoia.

"Pareidolia" took me a few listens to get my head around to be completely honest. It never really appealed to me until I got into the compositional styles the band use. Either way though, it could still be considered a Dream Theater copy by many (e.g. the sitar sound being reminiscent of "Home"), and I for one would agree with them. They're doing everything extremely well in this vein, but it's not entirely under the thematic umbrella, but occasionally on hearing, I do like this breakaway from the norm to a more exhilarating metal feeling, as opposed to the slight poppiness of modern heavy prog. You really can't deny how well written this song is as well, and it does add some kind of variation, so I'm more than glad its on here. "Somebody" concludes the album on a slight anti-climax to be honest. I was expecting a less ambiguous and ambitious ending frankly, but that said there's nothing particularly wrong with the track (apart from it being fairly laboured and stretched out). There's not an overwhelming sense of having made it, nor an internal, spiritual epiphany (or both, as heard in "The Fountain Of Lamneth"). Instead, there's a weird compromise, and the music offers little salvation aside from their consistent signature sound. I guess there is something in this piece though that keeps me hanging to the end, and a feeling that whatever fought this character is getting his just deserts. What I'm saying is that the whole thing together is hugely rewarding and liberating, and this final track accentuates the mood.

A+: If ever there was a reason that I wasn't born in the wrong generation, this would be it. Holds together and keeps you in awe for over an hour - a tremendous musical feat by any means.

The Path: ***** Atlas Stone: ***** Cockroach King: ***** In Memoriam: ***** Because It's There: ***** Falling Back To Earth: ***** As Death Embraces: ***** Pareidolia: ***** Somebody: ****

Report this review (#1054916)
Posted Sunday, October 6, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars The English sextet are one of the best up-and-coming prog rock acts in the world, combining classic prog sounds with modern heavy prog influences, and wrapping it all up in an ambitious package. Their debut album in 2010 Aquarius was hailed as an instant classic and its follow-up the next year, Visions, topped that. So where do they go from there? Why, they go up The Mountain, of course ? The Mountain being the title of Haken's third album, their first on progressive giant label InsideOut Music, home of other greats such as Devin Townsend, Riverside and Steve Hackett.

They took a bit more time with this album, and it shows. Easily their best album to date, Haken have seriously branched out their sound. The influences are far wider reaching, dipping even more into jazz while still maintaining the classic prog and metal base that they started out with, as well as adding a few Middle Eastern influences on the song "Pareidolia". The same song also features one of the most bad-ass unison runs ever, featuring a guitar and a mandolin. That's right, a [%*!#]ing mandolin. Who knew that it could ever be used in such a way? Certainly not anyone who thinks "Battle of Evermore" is the best use of mandolin ever.

In contrast to the first two Haken albums, this album does not contain a 'prog epic' song. The longest song here is "Falling Back To Earth" at just under twelve minutes. The song is one of the best on the album, and probably the most metal song. It has heavy riffs and darker musical themes, though it doesn't forget its prog base. "Cockroach King" is an oddity, with staccato guitars and slow methodical drumming, but is no less interesting than any other song on the album. Another shining moment comes with the wonderful layered vocals on "Because It's There" (a song title that perhaps references famous mountaineer George Mallory when asked why he was climbing Mount Everest), and the odd stuttering guitar lines. The song is really nice, joyful, and warm.

The individual musical talent is through the roof. Guitarists Richard Henshell and Charlie Griffiths are adept at creating interesting riffs and runs, and the drumming, courtesy of Raymond Hearne, is magical, providing a perfect rhythmic base for the progisms the rest of the band is doing.

Production wise, this album is nearly flawless. The sound is warm and enveloping, similar to the prog classics, but feels modern and full. The piano sound is especially beautiful, as evidenced on the opening to "Atlas Stone". Ross Jennings' vocals are wonderfully captured and suited to pretty much every musical idea the band creates, from jazz, to heavy prog metal, and his emotion is quite clear. His finest moments may come on the piano ballad "As Death Embraces" a very subdued and emotional affair.

Haken continue to expand on their sound, making further case for being the best prog band to exist today, and possibly one of the best all time if they keep this level of consistency. The Mountain is a fantastic album that combines elements from all over the musical spectrum, boasting jazz, classic prog, modern prog rock and metal as main influences, while weaving the likes of choral, funk, and soul in as well. It has fantastic writing, amazing musicianship, a really personal, relatable theme, and sounds clear as a bell. If there was any doubt over Haken being a true force in prog rock, this album should kill that.

Top three songs: "Falling Back To Earth", "Atlas Stone", "Pareidolia"

Score: 92/100

Review written for The

Report this review (#1057950)
Posted Thursday, October 10, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I will be honest, I think Haken is one of those bands that have peaked early; their previous album, Visions, is their definitive masterpiece, and I do not believe anything they do will top it. With that said, The Mountain is a worthy successor, and with it brings a familiar, but changed sound. It is apparent they have matured musically. But make no mistake, the fun, quirky, Haken-isms, if I may, are still rampant throughout the album, making this just as musically exciting and innovative as their previous two.

Like their previous two albums, The Mountain has a unique blend of Dream Theater, Rush, and Gentle Giant, spanning no shortage of musical styles. They can be heavy, as this is of course what they are known for, yet they can tune it down when they want to. 'Because It's There' and 'As Death Embraces' are good examples of this, with the former having some great vocal harmonies, and the latter showcasing the more emotional side of the band.

Fans will find a familiar sound in the longer songs, 'Falling Back to Earth' and 'Pareidolia,' both relying greatly on highly complex, intensely heavy riff-driven passages. Yet amidst all this chaos, they still manage to squeeze in a few catchy melodies and deep atmospheres. The main theme of Falling Back to Earth is especially melodically satisfying, and has a very uplifting vibe in parts. 'Pareidolia' doesn't quite achieve this, as it is more of a non-stop in- your-face heavy sort of song, but still has plenty of exciting passages.

The opening combo of 'The Path' and 'Atlas Stone' do well establishing the overall inspiring theme the album has, as they have an adventurous quality to them. A piano riff in 11/16 and an amusing jazzy interlude never hurt either.

Of course, the album wouldn't be complete without a mesh of those quirks which define this band so well. 'Cockroach King' is the obvious example of this, a genuine prog song filled with keyboard, odd meters, eccentric vocal delivery and harmonies, and a jazzy breakdown for good measure. I wish more of the album was like this, as this is certainly the peak of The Mountain, if you will.

The final song, 'Somebody,' is probably the perfect amalgamation of the different sounds the album contains, ranging from the heartfelt and emotional vocal melodies, inspiring and powerful atmosphere, and a tribute to Gentle Giant in the form of a multi-part vocal harmony. Perhaps my only tripe with the album is that it is produced a little hot; it sounds a bit better than it actually is, but the dynamic range is very low. The overall heaviness of the album doesn't help this either, as most of the instruments are just squished together in a thick wall of sound.

Production aside, the music on the album is actually quite good, though it might take a while to set in, as it is a bit of a change from their previous albums. Haken may have not reached the summit with this album, but have certainty solidified a place as one of the finest prog groups of the decade thus far.


Report this review (#1059473)
Posted Monday, October 14, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Haken performs a masterpiece hat trick!

UK heavy prog kings Haken have always mesmirised me with their glorious blend of ambient prog and heavy instrumental blitzkriegs. Both previous albums delivered exceptional high quality prog rock and always offered a surprising array of musical styles. There was never a dull moment and overall the albums were masterfully produced. The band's lineup has not changed too much and on this latest release there is still the incomparable virtuoso musicianship of Charles Griffiths on guitars, Raymond Hearne on drums, Richard Henshall on keyboard and guitar, Thomas MacLean on bass and Diego Tejeida on keyboards. The vocals are well handled as usual by Ross Jennings, who can move from a range of octaves effortlessly. I always look forward to sitting down and being blown away by albums such as "Visions" released in 2011, so I was really hoping this new album would be something just as special, if not better.

The enigmatic Sisyphus inspired front cover is an immediate attention grabber. Obviously there is a concept involved somewhere with this. It opens with Gentle Giant nuances, a cappela harmonies, something the band returns to on songs such as 'Cockroach King'. The soundscape transforms to a heavy prog vibe as the guitars crank into life and then the crystalline vocals of Jennings chime in. 'The Path' starts off proceedings leading to the heavy approach on 'Atlas Stone'. This track takes more twists and turns then er.. Sisyphus himself. As that rock is rolled up that hill futilely and with blind purpose, the music takes on its own ambitious agenda. The keyboards are grandiose and they blaze over the incessant bass and drum rhythm machine.

'Cockroach King' channels Gentle Giant and then Genesis vocals, till after a springy boing there is a weird section of percussive mayhem. A lead guitar freakout and some squibbly electronics take on their own life. The time sig is fractured to pieces, and there are some quirky motifs that are at polar opposites to the actual melody. Suddenly it volcanos out into chugging distorted guitar riffs and shimmering keyboards. Then it breaks and channels a vintage Yes sound, before splashing out to an odd tempo instrumental. What a wonderful homage to the sensational golden era of 1970s prog!

'In Memoriam' opens with grand piano tinkling till an ultra heavy guitar riff destroys the ambience. A Porcupine Tree style vocal and melody locks in, then it leads to a raucous chorus. The mind blowing speed metal riff dominates for a moment till it moves to a slow meandering section. It all settles down with an a cappella harmony "life is a dream" and the harmonies are absolutely brilliant, like a progressive barbershop quartet. Then a broken tempo is heard as if someone had chopped up the mix; very complex and striking in its structure. 'Because It's There' is very tranquil driven by harmonies and some odd atmospherics.

'Falling Back to Earth' is an 11:51 rocker with some blazing guitar riffs, and a range of vocal styles. When Jennings reaches the high register it reminds me of Muse. The guitar chugs with a heavy low guttural distortion. The chorus is the one I remember the most when I return to this album. It has an infectious melody but the main drawcard of this masterful track is the experimental innovation on the instrumental break. There is a section that is like some manic jazz freakout and the time sig shifts boldly into adventurous directions. The lead guitar solo features some fret melting speed licks and spasmodic tempo shifts.

Somehow the track merges back to the main melody, with Dream Theater like precision. It settles into a haunting ambient passage of layered guitars. Then there is the memorable section with dreamy flowing harmonies "Ha-aaahh" and the lyrics that focus on the crest fallen angel falling back to earth into the ocean. The heavy distorted guitars return like an old friend, and some delightful vocalisations that add to the ethereal atmosphere. Finally we are treated to a pastoral flute, then it builds to a crescendo with swathes of synths and that catchy chorus; what a mind melting masterpiece!

'As Death Embraces' is minimalist piano and Jennings melancholy voice with the protagonist pleading for forgiveness at the end of his life as he leaves his wings behind and fate's doors close over. This quiet piece feels like a transition as we catch our breath before the next onslaught of delicious prog calisthenics. 'Pareidolia' is an almost 11 minute slice of infectious heavy prog. The melody grabs hold instantly and locks into the consciousness.

There is an Egyptian flavour, as we hear of the kingdom burning to the ground, and the treasure left for whoever to find in the desert. The sound gets heavier in the chorus and then a lead guitar riff bursts from captivity. The song delves into a very choppy staccato rhythm with the drums laying it on thick over metal guitar chunks. There is a freakout of hyper guitar and speed drums and some Egyptian sounding guitars thrown in; this is intense and builds into choral chants till it breaks and all is quietened again. There are vocals layered with harmonies, echoing phrases and some King Crimson like guitar rhythms take over for a while.

'Somebody' closes the album with a 9 minute finale, beginning with a calm atmosphere. The harmonised vocals are gorgeous on the chorus that has a melody that hooks into the memory.

The complexity on "The Mountain" is astounding, (how good would this be heard live!), and I admit at this point that half way through this I knew I was listening to another Haken masterpiece, who don't seem to be able to put a foot wrong. That's three masterpieces in a row for my ears and this latest release is perhaps the best in terms of musicianship and addictive melodies. Haken pour so much passion and energy on each release that it is impossible not to like if you are into the heavier side of prog while still demanding supreme complexity at the highest level, along with infectious songs that all have a unique and distinct flavour; Haken deliver every time and this is no mean feat. Somehow the band knows exactly how to hook in a listener, and they give every band member a chance to shine maintaining a strong unity with just the right amount of light and shade on every track. The Gentle Giant influences are prominent on this release, and it has its fair share of metal with classic prog influences sprinkled here and there. Haken are becoming one of the greatest prog bands of recent years because they deliver outstanding albums that are all killer, no filler. "The Mountain" gets my highest recommendations and is one of the finest releases of 2013 without a shadow of a doubt!

Report this review (#1068256)
Posted Tuesday, October 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Oh my God ...what is this?

This might be my second experience getting hooked to a music at first listen and feel excited from start to end of the album. Not only that! I feel like my adrenalin runs three times faster than its usual speed. I could not believe it and I replayed, again the music from start with The Path that serves as a requiem to open the album, my feeling towards the album has even doubled in terms of degree of likeness ....oh my God .. This is really great to the bone maaannnnn!!! And when I said 'second experience' it relates to the first time when I heard Marillion 'Script for a Jester's Tear'. But this time with Haken "The Mountain" I feel different as the kind of music (the composition - to be exact!) is totally different. I feel like I never heard this kind of music before. So I am totally engaged with this wonderfully crafted album! Keep on proggin' ....!!!! Long live prog!

Well, it's too premature to say that the music presented here is original as I can see there are some influences (even though only a bit and not totally the same) from bands like Gentle Giat, especially in the choirs of some segments. But Haken is really inventive because they use different patterns so that the music sounds really fresh. Of course for those of you who have not heard at all about the music of this album, it's a bit taough to imagine especially through the words I put in this review. Put it this way.... Yes, it's the kind of heavy prog where you have that sorts of progressive metal riffs but at the same time you have the other kinds of vintage eclectic music that all and all are beautifully packaged into great soundscapes and wonderful sonic production at par excellent with any Steve Wilson's work. Just take an example of the second track that flows seamlessly from the opening requiem The Path through an ambient piano work. The music flows in a style that you can hardly find similar with other bands. But then suddenly you got changes in style where the music demonstrates some acrobatic patterns in staccato style. Oh mannnn .....!!! And not only that, there are some other breaks where the vocal sings differently backed with dynamic bass guitar work.

I think, musically Haken has reached its top creativity that I believe they would not stop right here and would embark on another creativity in their future releases, I think..... This "The Mountain" album is really mid boggling and adrenalin pondering kind of music as I cannot predict at all how the music is going to be as I spin the album. Just take a look on the third track with weird title "Cockroach King". I bet you will be laughing alone when you listen to the funny opening choirs that sond really greaaaaaat ....! "Tantalized by the cockroach and it's promise. I fantasised about soaring with golden wings. "Flying with gold wings"". And then suddenly the music turns o jazz with no compromise at all! Oh my God ... it's really creative and fabulous! This is the kind of music that I really love and I will promote this album to as many people as I can. I have already put this album on my personal blog and people start to make themselves curious about what I say. And ...yes ... you must also track track 6 "Falling Back To Earth". You will then definitely say: "This is it!". Yeah .. this is a true progressive music.

Overall: It's really GREAT album and of course it's a MASTERPIECE with well rounded five stars - no discount!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#1074038)
Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
5 stars 'The Mountain' - Haken (9/10)

I don't think there is a band in progressive rock today that has managed to impress me as consistently as Haken . From the release of 2010's stunning Aquarius onward, they have filled my ears with what I might describe as a progger's dream formula: rich, eccentric and boldly complex, yet melodic and ultimately heartfelt. Still, as enraptured as I was by the debut, Haken had left room for improvement. The narrative concept on Aquarius was hokey at best, the cheese factor was likely indigestible to the lactose intolerant, and the style took after Dream Theater a bit too much for the album to have earned top honours. In the few years since however, Haken have made audacious steps towards fulfilling their potential as the heroes of modern progressive rock. To anyone who was as disappointed by Dream Theater's latest affair as I was, I raise you Haken's The Mountain ; quite possibly the greatest statement in progressive metal yet released in 2013.

When I first heard Haken just over three years ago, I remember feeling a rush of excitement that signified I was witnessing the birth of something major. I was not alone either; Aquarius took the prog community by storm, and left listeners wanting more, with a handful of detractors loathing the album with equal intensity. It's not often a modern prog album divides and inspires audiences like Aquarius did, and that reception evidently lit an impetus for Haken to progress rapidly. Especially considering the industry standard of waiting years between the release of albums, it's a feat of its own for Haken to have unveiled a third album within three years of the first. The Mountain is indeed cut from the same proggy cloth as the debut and 2011's Visions , but this third effort is finally seeing Haken come unto their own stylistically. Considering how impressive the first two records were, this is a cause for excitement.

Even if Dream Theater hasn't been particularly consistent recently, they laid down a brilliant framework, the likes of which countless bands have tried to copy. Haken weren't as cookie-cutter as some of the clones out there, but there remained the impression that they were still lurking underneath the shadow of the tired gods of progressive metal. Not only is The Mountain darker in atmosphere and tone than its predecessors; Haken have also placed an emphasis on the weird and eccentric end of their style. Not only does their craft sound more focused here, they have also widened the range of their sound. Although they remain rooted in a framework of melodic progressive metal, Haken are so often over the map that the music never gets boring. For instance, "Atlas Stone's" uplifting atmosphere and epic scope give way to "The Cockroach King", an experimental piece that finds identity in its unsettling barbershop vocals and creepy whimsy. The epic "Falling Back to Earth" brings the progressive metal front and centre, before giving way to "As Death Embraces", an emotional zenith of the album that weaves soft piano and haunting vocals together beautifully. "Pareidolia" has everything from Middle-Eastern ambiance (ŕ la Orphaned Land ) to blastbeats and groove-centred rhythms. At the very least, these examples should serve to convey what a rich variety of sound and style Haken is drawing upon.

Better still is how effectively The Mountain mixes this variety together. Granted, some of the choruses feel a little shoehorned within the context of the compositions, but Haken has taken some great steps towards smoothing out their proggy segues and detours. Although they're still weighted towards complex arrangement and strict composition over the merits of more conventional songwriting, there are plenty of hooks to stave the album from dryness. "Atlas Stone", "Pareidolia", and the gorgeous "Somebody" are all fine examples of how progressive rock can be made melodically sound and relevant. Haken's skill with melody is only amplified by the vocal talents of Ross Jennings, who owns a voice perfectly suited to the band's sound. Jennings' vocals are uncompromisingly melodic and graced with grace, but impressive above all else is that his delivery is distinctive and even unique. Progressive metal is filled with prodigy soundalikes, and it takes a distinctive voice like Jennings' to really impress me.

Even as their grasp of melody improves, Haken's best side still comes out in the form of their proggy instrumentals. The influence of bands like Dream Theater and King Crimson are undoubtedly evident, but Haken have finally claimed ownership of a sound unto their own with The Mountain. In terms of pure 'progginess', Haken are already two steps further ahead than Dream Theater ever dared to venture. The instrumental segment in "The Cockroach King" is wonderfully puzzling, and "Falling Back to Earth" features a salvo of off-timed riffs and oppressive textures worth consideration even by the most seasoned progsters. Although it's practically a requirement of the progressive metal label these days, Haken's virtuosic capability as musicians cannot be underrated, and unlike Dream Theater , Haken sound like they're still trying to push their own envelope.

As per usual, Haken's weakest link comes in the form of their lyrics. Keeping with the tradition imposed by the previous two albums, The Mountain takes shape as a conceptual piece. Unlike the first two however, it doesn't assume the form of a narrative, instead building itself around a vaguer theme of the human struggle for worth and meaning. It's a lofty concept to be sure, but the lyrics tend to feel as cheesy and heavy-handed as they have always been. "The Cockroach King" offers a welcome exception to this rule lyrically, with some sharp wordplay to bolster the Ross Jennings' eccentric a cappella. Others have written that The Mountain is a far more personal sort of concept album than what's usually seen progressive rock. While I'm still not feeling Haken's lyrics on a gut level, it's a marked improvement from the ridiculous fish-questing lyrics on Aquarius , and the decision to cut past the sci-fi/fantasy banter in exchange for something more sincere and mature has made for an excellent move on the band's part.

Having been a fan of this band since the debut, it's remarkably satisfying to hear Haken having come so far from their roots. Aquarius may have wowed me at the time, but with The Mountain, I'm truly sold on their sound. Solid arguments could be made for each of Haken's three albums as to which one is the 'best', but one thing is for sure: The Mountain brings to the table what the other two sorely missed; a sense of standalone identity. At this point, Haken are rivalled only by Norway's Leprous as the brightest stars of modern progressive metal. Haken haven't yet achieved progressive metal perfection with The Mountain, but their dedication to constant self-improvement and exploration means it can't be far away.

Report this review (#1075577)
Posted Monday, November 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Guys, I heard a perfect album...

I heard a perfect album. I heard an album that somehow manages to throw literally everything at you without becoming overbearing. I heard an album with musicianship of the absolute highest quality that actually rivals the chops of other past masters, and matches technical chops for expressive depth and emotional richness blow for blow. I heard "The Mountain" by Haken.

As I hinted at before, this album has literally everything a fan of heavy, symphonic, eclectic, theatric, and jazz-oriented prog fans could ever think to hear in a single set of songs. I'm not kidding, this album throws in literally everything but the kitchen sink. And yet somehow, it still works without sounding directionless. It's actually a ridiculously focused album, and every musical choice they made is clearly justified and undeniably effective. Take, for example, "Cockroach King", which blends so many different styles within the context of a single piece that covers so much musical territory in under 10 minutes. The shifting meters, tonalities, genres, and instrumental textures are enough to make you stop trying to digest on first listen and just let yourself fall into a submissive state of ecstatic enjoyment. That doesn't happen often for me, but on this album, it happened way more often than in the context of this one song, I guarantee it.

In two words, I would describe this album as triumphant and cinematic. Conceptually and musically, it flows like an epic tale of personal conquest, squalor, and a willingness to pick yourself back up when you fall and continue pushing the boulder up the mountain, even though it may seem so steep and so high. The tracks supplement the imagery and augment the mood. The monolithic grandeur of "Atlas Stone", the frantic desperation of "Falling Back to Earth", and the most gratifying, effective, powerful ending possible with "Somebody" paint a lush musical picture that is both larger than life and inspiring in a realist/optimist sort of way. It implies the journey is challenging, dangerous, and possibly filled with crushing setbacks along the way, but with perseverance, you will overcome anything in your path and be so much stronger than you ever thought possible. The density and activity of the music itself captures and reproduces this message flawlessly.

I can't recommend this album highly enough. It has such strength and presence that you cannot help but be affected by it in some way. The music is dense, challenging, virtuosic, varied, ever-evolving, and wild, but it sure is one fun ride! And believe me, there's emotion to match in every passage. These guys expertly balanced technique with depth in a way I have seldom seen with such ridiculously challenging material. This makes it all the more rewarding, and guarantees wonderful replay value. 5 stars for this album that unapologetically forced its way into my top 10 out of nowhere and is sure to stay for a long time. It's one of the single most gratifying albums I've ever heard, and I can't stress enough how wonderful it is!

Report this review (#1076140)
Posted Wednesday, November 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars 2013 has turned ot to be an excellent year for prog rock. We've had some outstanding releases from Spock's Beard, Dream Theater and Steven Wilson, just to name a few. And right there with them is this album from Haken.

Musically, Haken uses quite a bit of metal motifs, without falling into the traps of excessive repetition and overbearing headbanging. They also add a healthy dose of nods to classic prog bands, most notably Gentle Giant on this album. Particularly, Cockroach King is an example of this. Ross Jennings channels the spirit of Phil Schulman (who apparently doesn't use it much anymore), and creates a dense array of rhythmic and tonal complexity in his vocals. The rest of the band matches this, and even adds the light fusion touches that GG often used. This is my choice as the best track of the year from any artist.

The two songs bookending Cockroach are nearly as good. Atlas Stone and In Memoriam are modern prog as it should be done, with twists and turns galore, and again, more than a bit of fusion added in.

My only complaint about the album are the light spots, where Jennings sounds too close to the breathy, weak sound of Radiohead's Thom Yorke. But really, thats a very mild complaint.

My copy has the bonus tracks, The Path Unbeaten and Nobody. The former is a stripped down version of the light opening track, and the latter sound like a single edit of Somebody, which becomes tedious without the break section.

Without the bonus tracks I rate this 4.5, which I can safely round up. It's that good.

Report this review (#1078246)
Posted Sunday, November 17, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars While the members of this band are clearly and undoubtedly a talented bunch, I don't quite understand the gushing of praise heaped upon this album. I have previously heard the debut, but not the follow-up ('Visions'), and indeed there are improvements in some areas from that album- as others have noted, there's less of the sudden, out-of-place shifts to 'circus jazz', and the band is generally stronger and more confident. However, the same tropes abound- prog metal in the usual vein, with all of the shallow attempts at creating deep emotion (or at least, so it feels to me). They've expanded their sound to some new areas- much lauded is the 'influence' of Gentle Giant in the vocal harmonies of 'The Cockroach King'- but to be frank, to me it sounds less like an influence and more like straight taking the GG approach to interweaving harmonies and plonking it down in the middle of their song, more of a rip-off to my ears.

However, fans of the previous releases should enjoy this album, regardless. 2 stars.

Report this review (#1078835)
Posted Monday, November 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
5 stars Haken. This band is quite unique in many ways. I must confess that I wasn't aware of the band's existence till the moment they released this new album, The Mountain (2013). But they've been together for some time and it seems that all their albums are great experiences. I did check Aquarius (2010) on Spotify and it really is something else.

I was holding my intention on posting anything about their new album because of the high amount of reviews praising the album as a new masterpiece, so I wanted to give the guys a good listening before write anything.

Review Haken's music is quite hard, their music is very complex and it brings a little bit of everything. But this little bit of everything turned out to be the bit of everything I really like!

The Gentle Giant vocals thing, the longer pieces, the use of several different instruments, the goal in writing complex music but yet full of catchy moments, the heavy moments without going full Prog Metal bull[&*!#]' Really, this is one of the great albums this year and probably of many years to come.

This makes The Mountain (2013) climb high in my top2013 and make most of the albums that were considered great this year as common Prog.

'Cockroach King', 'Falling Back To Earth' and 'Pareidolia' are by far my favorites.

What can I say? Highly recommended? Yes! It is!

Report this review (#1081370)
Posted Monday, November 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars With their third album, Haken has taken a Gentle Giant pill to add a further sense of quirky eclecticism to their sound. Unfortunately, the end result is a less impactful album than their masterpiece, Visions. Haken doesn't pull their stab at transcendence on this installment, but it ultimately falls short of its goal. The trademark Haken use of wildly eclectic genres is still present; everything from video game noises to blast beats crop up on The Mountain, but the actual song-writing and album structure prevent them from reaching the summit that they are after. Sometimes, it feels like the band is trying to do too much and fails to adequately develop their ideas. Even though there's effective repetition of musical themes throughout the album, they never seem to build on each other in a meaningful way. The concept behind the album is moving on a human level, and there are some moments of isolated brilliance on The Mountain, but as an album it doesn't quite reach its mark.

When reviewing The Mountain, I may have sounded more critical than I would for another band, but with all the praise this album has gotten and with Haken's previous release as a comparison, I don't think The Mountain travels as high as it intends. That being said, it's still an excellent album from one of the best modern progressive rock bands, and it's definitely worth picking up after listening to Visions.

Rating: 7/10

Report this review (#1081667)
Posted Monday, November 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars It's good, but not that good. In terms of experimentation, having in count these are very technical musicians, they deserve a prize. But my ears ask me to press stop after the fifth track. It seems like the prog rock public in general do like this material but I think it's overrated. The music is very mechanical which can be good in this times when there is no much you can innovate, yet it's not that enjoyable for me. My favourite track is Atlas Stone, it's the most balanced one in my opinion. However, if you started listening to prog with Dream Theater for example, you will find this amusing. I personally think music is each time more technical, digital, mechanical. I see that as a problem. The standards of technicity that bands like Dream Theatre had settled in the prog scenario are affecting the "heart" of music. It seems now you either have to be super technical and complex or dance around semi-naked to "entertain" the listener (excuse me for including pop music in my point), or make songs that will remind you of the 70's but "sound modern". Seriously, 4.5 stars for this album? For my it is a 3.5 star album, the first 2 of the band being obviously better. 3 stars to level down the rating!
Report this review (#1083327)
Posted Friday, November 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars So here it is, the album of the decade. At least this is what pops up if you go to the "PA Top Albums" section, choose the past ten years (2003-2013) over all genres and press the search button. That happens from time to time, if an album is new and has a few ratings, but this one here already approaches 400. So had to seriously give it a try. After listening to the album for the first time I said to myself, really? And after the second time REALLY???? This is supposed to tower above gems such as De-loused in the comatorium, To shatter all accord, Bantam to Behemoth and The Raven? Albums with so much spirit and originality? And it even ranks higher than ground-breaking classics like Larks Tongues in Aspic, Hot Rats or Relayer and everything Emerson, Lake and Palmer have ever done? Maybe the problem lies with me but, when I listen to The Mountain, it feels kind of used up and uninspired. Like I have heard everything in it already by only listening to a few Dream Theater Albums. I don't say the album is not well produced, it is very solid and the musical skills here are beyond any doubt, but it's like not having a heart, all too mechanical. Like a well made piece of furniture, nice but not so exciting. Like the band member asked, what could we do that is very exciting and the sole intention of doing so takes away from the real excitement because it makes it feel all too forced. I appreciate the effort but in my opinion this is probably the most overrated album of the year. Don't believe me? Listen to it back to back with the above mentioned albums. 3 Solid stars and maybe a quarter, but that's it.
Report this review (#1083507)
Posted Saturday, November 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars I felt obliged to get after the shower of 5 star ratings and people saying its one of the best albums ever. I've probably had my fill of heavy prog though. Anathema are a band I love and at times Haken try to imitate that particular band, but without the style , emotion and sheer joy. Of course Anathema have been around for 20 years and been developing their art and that is where this album falls badly short imo. They have no art at such and in a vein that is becomingly depressingly familiar just trudge out a load of cliches wandering between King Crimson and Gentle Giant like a drunken sailor trying to find his ship after a night out on the town. Undoubtedly talented musicians but whatever happened to having original ideas instead of borrowing from others? In truth the albums released this year by Riverside , Spocks Beard and the imperious Steven Wilson knock this into touch because they know where their boundaries are and what they are about.To sum up its well played but souless prog from a band that needs to go back to the drawing board and find their own voice.
Report this review (#1085894)
Posted Thursday, December 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is one of those albums that so wonderfully fit in to what progressive music is about. It should not be rated out of 5 or 10 but out of 100 because the only places where I feel points could be taken off are in small pedantic considerations of personal preference. It is not that I am head over heels about every song, but even the songs that haven't securely grabbed my attention and secured my listening intensiveness are still masterfully crafted. This is a great achievement in both progressive music in general and progressive metal. Haken mix the light with the heavy, the beautiful with the bombastic, eclecticism with a little eccentricity and create a diversified yet unified album without loosing themselves as a progressive metal band. They had an idea which they built into a concept and developed into a album. Where they needed a clever idea they found one, and where they had an idea they found a place for it. Well played, Haken. Well played indeed.

I am not familiar with Haken's first two releases though I had been listening to samples on Amazon on and off. They were one of those bands I might have wanted to check out later. However, after I read so many rave reviews on PA and MMA I thought this new album might really be worth giving my ears and money. And oh yeah, it sure was.

Stylistically speaking, I find myself often thinking of Gentle Giant meets System of a Down with some Dark Suns added in. But Haken have made use of so many good ideas spread across the history of prog rock and metal including gentle piano and strings, pseudo-Gregorian chant and minor key barbershop quartet, quirky and bizarre musical effects, jazzy sections, and an array of other musical techniques both within and beyond the heavy metal spectrum.

Fans of less heavy progressive rock will find moments of rapture. Fans of metal will find moments for head banging. Fans of both will declare this album a modern triumph of progressive music.

Report this review (#1089595)
Posted Friday, December 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars I agree that this is a really good album but it just doesn't grab me as a masterpiece. It might just be my taste but the sappy piano ballad parts really make me bark at the moon and remove a star for me. As for the rest of the album there are some really great prog metal twists and turns that are really exciting but some of the influences are just a wee bit too obvious. "Cockroach King" is an good example. It's just a little TOO Gentle Giant. In fact this band relies a lot on borrowing rather than creating. That's all fine and dandy since I like similar bands such as Magic Pie and The Gourishankar who have similar sounds and approaches. HAKEN does up the ante with that formula a bit and really manages to keep it interesting and instead of floating from one genre to the other they do package it well but for all of the reasons i've already sited means this is a very good but not outstanding album for me.
Report this review (#1092396)
Posted Thursday, December 19, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Dream Theater once played music kind of like this, so we should all just stop wasting our time and blast Scenes from a Memory one more time, right?

Seriously though, Haken are not "copying" anyone, and it's more than irritating to see repeated accusations of plagiarism. If they're guilty, then we all are!

My experience with Haken was interesting, because I thought they were a new band of young players just getting started in the prog world. Casual listens to their first two albums confirmed this belief in my mind, although the production and effects did seem mature for prog newbies. Fast-forward to recently: after finally doing some actual research, my initial impression was clearly wrong. Haken started off with plenty of playing chops and have put in the songwriting time and effort to improve. Now I see Haken as respected veterans, and The Mountain sounds like it was produced by such.

To the music: What a fun and varied album! They introduce some tantalizing vocal harmonies, creative riffs and counterpoints, and tasteful keys and effects. More importantly, the band has also added by subtraction, by which I mean removing aspects of previous albums that were almost certainly turnoffs for many listeners (i.e., the goofy jazzy bits that don't fit, and the vocal bits that are clearly not part of Jennings' range/ability). Prog is certainly about mixing influences, but transitions and progressions matter, and the strategies chose in The Mountain largely work quite well.

Highlights: Of course, Cockroach King is immediately a form of crack to prog ears, and it's quite an accomplishment, and also has a delightfully oddball and British-y feel. Pareidolia is perhaps the most derivative, but it sets up a killer late section groove that really delivers a therapeutic climax. The best highlights for me, however, are In Memoriam, which, like Gentle Giant, throws in ten minutes worth of ideas and makes it work in five. Falling Back to Earth is also a keeper: even though the metal bits sound a bit generic, that spacey build-up toward the end is simply awesome. That's my favorite kind of metal--not just playing faster and heavier, but instead building up the listen and then delivering pure power crunching at the perfect time.

Lowlights: As Death Embraces is simply wimpy and not the best showpiece for Ross' voice, and the chorus of Somebody is way too generic, repetitive and irritating (which is a shame, because there is a nice vocal round section, and a memorable Hans Zimmer, Inception-era horn-blatting finale).

This album was quite the pleasant surprise, because I did not enjoy previous Haken material as much as prog reviews and ratings might have let me to predict. Here's looking for more innovative material from the group, although this has the feel of an album that might represent a career pinnacle.

Report this review (#1126495)
Posted Sunday, February 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars Lots of my friends love this album to death, and it seems to have rated pretty highly in a bunch of prog-type year-end music lists and finally I broke down and listened to it a few times.

Wow. And I don't mean that in a good way.

Now, there is lots of virtuosity here, no argument. These guys can really play, they have moments of compositional brilliance, there are seconds in a row where I can appreciate the sheer unapologetic progness of the enterprise....

...but holy god guys, just because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it. I don't think there is a "prog" meme or trope or notion or bridge or passage or stereotype these guys haven't used. Repeatedly. Over and over and over, bludgeoning the listener with sheer unadulterated progacity into whimpering submission.

And influences are one thing...but seriously...Okay, you like Gentle Giant. But you don't have to like them every thirty seconds for a bloody hour. Even occasionally tossing some Porcupine Tree tributes into the mix can't save this mess.

I just don't get it. The Mountain is like a parody of everything that made prog a laughing stock back in the day. This isn't brilliance, it is a relentless, poorly-thought-out stew of derivative "prog rock" spewed out by my speakers. It's too bad really, because there are some decent moments.

Report this review (#1154361)
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars After experiencing somewhat mixed feelings about Visions and its overall balance, compared to an outstanding debut album in my opinion, I bought The Mountain right after release with moderate enthousiasm. It took me a couple of listenings to get used to diversity of atmospheres, where Aquarius was more homogeneous. Nevertheless tracks like Cockroach King or Pareidolia proved catchy and then the variety is what makes it possible to listen to this album without any feeling of tiredness. All in all the most impressive point is that this 3rd album does not have any taste of more-of-the-same compared to the previous two efforts. Individually, the musicians are all good, the voice is definitely getting finer, keyboardist is no virtuoso but ensure the atmosphere is there, the 2 guitarists are very complementary if not born shredders, drum and bass provide the right foundation for those multiple atmospheres, and make everything sound easy and simple when compositions are actually complex. That's the main strength of Haken to me: it does not sound technical or virtuoso, there is no solo exploit, but it feels really tight and rich in sound. The production is impeccable as well.

Then there is one thing I must say: I am in my mid 30s and I have never listened - or rather, never really enjoyed - 70s-80s prog rock. Since this very album I tried a couple of Gentle Giant, I did listen to some Rush, ELP, King Crimson etc... but never got hooked and it never shocked me that Haken blatantly plagiarized without adding their personal pinch of salt. This seems to be a common criticism amongst the crowd of older prog fundamentalists... I am a fan of Dream Theater first and of the series of prog metal bands it contributed to engender; Thus I cannot comment on similarities with old prog rock, but I can say I am happy that a band uses influences to create something I truly enjoy. And for what I know, there is little trace of Dream Theater in there (that cannot be said of Circus Maximus for example, which I adore as well - or to a lesser extent of the Aquarius album).

Report this review (#1159192)
Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014 | Review Permalink
1 stars Haken-The Mountain

'The Mountain' is Haken's third studio album, and it was released to raving reviews. Haken has basically been one of the most critically acclaimed progressive rock/metal bands in the past few years. Their debut 'Aquarius' was already hailed as a masterpiece soon after it's release. Their next album 'Visions' was also well-received. Now on 'The Mountain' I think this may very well be the most overrated progressive metal album of all time.

I'll start by saying when I first heard Haken when it was suggested to me ,because of my love of Porcupine Tree, I wasn't impressed. I could see why they were suggested, they sounded exactly like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater combined. Overall, they were okay. This album sees Haken reach their most pitiful state of copying yet, the old 'Sound like a classic prog band an get an instant prog classic' route. I'll just say, I hate it when bands do this. It's one thing if you are influenced by a band and show your influences, it's a whole other thing to just blatantly copy classic bands. The thing that peeves me the most is the fact that if a prog band does this, they get hailed as masters. If people who heard this album never heard Dream Theater, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, or Porcupine Tree, I would completely understand if they thought this was a great album. They are talented musicians, no doubt about that.

Now that I'm finished explaining my dislike for this album, lets move onto the most important part of any review, the music and content.

I'll begin by talking about the song that instantly made me know that this wasn't any unique album. 'Cockroach King' is a blatant Gentle Giant rip-off, not copying a song but completely mimicking their music and even lyrics. The vocals sound exactly like the unique vocal work and a Capella of Gentle Giant, and the lyrics share that same kind of fantasy subject-matter that Gentle Giant covered. Near the end, there is also some King Crimson- sounding music. The music fluctuates between some heavy riffing and Gentle Giant-copying, musically I enjoy this song but unfortunately that is stained by the blatant copying. Another copy-cat song is 'Pareidolia', which sounds strangely similar to Dream Theater's masterpiece 'Home'. By strangely, I mean the solo sounds almost exactly the same as the solo in 'Home'. It even copies the middle-eastern styles of 'Home'. I will admit I do enjoy the song 'In Memorian', it's the most unique song on the album, and even then you can here a Anathema or Porcupine Tree influence.

Overall, I find this album to be just another typical 'copy a classic prog band, and get famous quick' album. It's barely unique, and shows too much influence even going to ripping off. I would only recommend this album for those who already enjoyed Haken's music. Thankfully, their recent EP shows them developing their own sound and not just copying other bands.

Hope you found this review helpful.

Report this review (#1300431)
Posted Wednesday, November 5, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars I sat stunned when I finished listening for the third time this CD in a couple of days. So much harmony, so much clever ideas, so much perfect music blasting thru my earphones.

This is my first experience with this group and surely will not be my last because the have the vocal harmonies from Gentle Giant, The fierce playing of Rush and just the delicate keyboard this side of Supertramp.

There's too much to tell here: Oustanding songs: Cockroach King, Atlas Stone, As Death Embraces and maybe the whole CD. And the players and the main voice is superb.

This is exactly how prog should be played in this century so far away from 1976. This is somethig You gotta heard to believe. Not to be missed.

Report this review (#1328490)
Posted Wednesday, December 24, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow. As a dedicated Gentle Giant fan (since 1970s) I had never heard of Haken until a few weeks ago when my son told me he'd seen their name crop up over and again when viewing GG on YouTube. So found them and listened. Wow.

The Mountain is now right up in my top 10 albums. (And no, I have avoided the awkward decision as to which album is now out). A fabulously varied collection of pieces which all show a group of musicians at the very top of their game.

The vocal harmonies, arrangements and intricacies are outstanding.

Unlike others, I love the pure piano and voice of As Death Embraces. It is an exquisite piece. Likewise Because It's There displays vocal writing and performance of outstanding quality.

There are instrumental touches in all parts throughout this album to delight and demand attention and as always in music of quality, repeated listening.

I remain utterly astonished that music of this complexity, assurance and verve is being produced right now. As a huge Gentle Giant fan, I am just so delighted.


Looking forward to seeing you guys in Nottingham in September 2015.

Report this review (#1450865)
Posted Sunday, August 9, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is more a review of Haken's live show, but there is a lot about the music of "The Mountain" as well. Hopefully die-hard fans and novices alike will enjoy reading it. SKT

Haken at Reggies Rock Club in Chicago, IL 4/26/15

"HO-LY SHIT!!! HO-LY SHIT!!!" Such was the refrain a couple of months ago at Reggie's, but I still remember it like it was yesterday - Delirious concert-goers shouted, banging the edge of the stage, after the British band Haken finally left the stage for good at 12:30 am. This was after they played their final piece, the epic and masterful 20 minute "Crystallised" from their brand new EP Restoration, AND played as their encore the even more massive title cut from Visions, clocking in at 22 mins. Finally, drummer Raymond Hearne came out rather sheepishly and told the crowd, in his cultured British accent, "I'm sorry, but we really have to put away our gear now". And he was right - Haken was in the middle of one of those grueling 10-cities-in-11-days tours, and were playing Detroit tomorrow night. Having not yet hit the big time, they were probably traveling by bus.

Of course everyone screams and yells at rock concerts, whether it is any good or not. If bands don't get the requisite level of enthusiasm, they try to drum it up artificially. But this was something different - It was genuine, spontaneous enthusiasm, but mixed with awe and a sense of disbelief at what they had just witnessed. Yes, Haken was THAT good that night in Chicago. If my jaw could have hit the floor that night, it would have been there for the entire 2 hour show.

And, they did it, amazingly, without their leader, main songwriter, and helluva lead guitar player Richard Henshell. (According to lead singer Ross Jennings, he was ill - Hopefully nothing serious.) I know the songs VERY well, and Henshell's parts were covered amazingly by Diego Tejeida (keys) and Charles Griffiths (2nd guitar). New bassist Conner Green held his own, taking a couple of Henshell's lines and playing as brilliantly as everyone else. Only once did I notice some sampling to help out Tejeida on "Cockroach King" (Yes, Henshell plays great keys, too!). Still, it would have been an even more phenomenal concert if Henshell had been there, if that is even possible to imagine. Hopefully I'll have the chance to hear him in future tours.

So, where to start (and where to stop!) when trying to describe why Haken is so great? Of course, it starts with the actual music. Haken certainly fits the bill for prog: Lots of virtuosity, odd time signatures, dense counterpoint, but what sets Haken apart is how well the songs are put together. There is no meandering, no endless soloing, no mindless repetition. Haken is a band that can write an 8 or 9 minute song and make it seem short. This is best exemplified by their latest full album The Mountain, where every single song is compelling and compact, despite the fact that four of the songs approach or exceed the 10 minute mark. Fortunately, they played almost the entire album that night in Chicago, to the delight of the crowd. (And they played all the songs uncut, even though they had a great excuse in Henshell's absence. For instance, there is a "single edit" version of "Cockroach King" on youtube that they did NOT use.)

And Haken knows how, amid all the prog complexity, to write a good tune that is truly memorable. Often the refrains are the perfect opportunity to do this - Such is the case with "Altas Stone" and "Falling Back to Earth". The latter, with its Sonata form-like 3 part structure, energetic riffing (including some truly incredible guitar playing at the 4:00 min mark), and wonderfully satisfying climax at the end, is the favorite of many fans, judging from internet reviews. But even more impressive is "Atlas Stone", which does almost the impossible - Write simple melodies in regular meter over an extremely irregular, jagged accompaniment and maintain this polyrhythm throughout the 7 1/2 minutes of the song! I've actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out the rhythms of "Atlas Stone", which go by incredibly fast. I won't bore you with the details, but they are various combinations of 11/16 and 10/16, mixed together in unpredictable ways. Somehow, Haken writes melodies over this that sound like a much slower 4/4!! Furthermore, they can do it live - I'm a witness!

My favorite song though, is probably "In Memorium", another breathlessly energetic number in syncopated 7/8, with another great melodic refrain. At the 3:00 mark there is a passage that is so rhythmically complex that even I have been unable to figure it out, yet they played it flawlessly live. Then, just when you expect the refrain to come back, Haken launches into a new melodic idea, with new harmonies. There is so much packed into this song that it probably could have been twice as long!

But, Haken not all bind-blowing rhythms and amazing virtuosity, like so much prog these days. Haken actually has a sense of humor, most obviously on "Cockroach King" with skittering guitars and synths imitating the roaches scurrying across the floor. Also, especially on The Mountain, Haken is not afraid to cut it way back, and write very delicate, intimate songs for just voice and piano. Such is the case with the beautiful and serene "The Path", and the gorgeous "As Death Embraces", both played live in Chicago. Here is where lead singer Ross Jennings really has a chance to shine, and shine he did. Such songs, along with "Because It's There" and "Somebody" provide a needed respite from the frenetic intensity of the rest of the album, and they had the same effect in the live show.

Of course it is one thing to write and record an album like The Mountain in the studio, and quite another to be able to pull it off live. This starts with lead singer Ross Jennings, who was just astounding. Jennings has a voice that reminds me of Jon Anderson of Yes, very clear and boy-soprano like, yet with enough oomph to cut through the densest music easily. He has charisma to burn and an amazing range of expression, from metal growling to serene innocence. Likewise for his actual vocal range, which I calculated as over 2 1/2 octaves. There were things he covered in Chicago that I had assumed, from listening to the albums, were done by a different singer. (If you listen to the beginning of "Falling Back to Earth", you will hear Jennings use 3 different voices on the 3 verses, like he was Jekyll and Hyde + 1!) Perhaps most incredibly, he sang everything perfectly in Chicago, with nary a strained note, fuzzy rhythm, or word out of place. And we're taking about some really complex, difficult music here!

So it was a great time in Chicago, fully worth the schlepp. One of the great things about live concerts is that you see people who are just as passionate about the music as you are - There were many who seemed to know every word of every song, including the new EP Restoration, which has been out less than a year and is only available through Haken's website. The crowd was in a great mood throughout the long evening, even though we had to endure two woeful opening acts, pushing Haken's starting time back to 10:30. I even left my newly bought Haken TShirt in the bathroom and some good samaritan gave it back to the merch table! When I decided to get another one, the girl remembered me and gave it back to me for nothing! I was shocked - How often does that happen at a rock concert?! Yes, it was that kind of special evening in Chicago.

Report this review (#1458700)
Posted Wednesday, September 2, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars The Mountain is top-tier art rock that shimmers with complexity, intensity, thoughtfulness, and a heavy metal crunch. I shied away from Haken's early releases (not caring for the vocalist from what I heard on samples), but am very glad I was swayed by the avalanche of praise here on ProgArchives. Is The Mountain a masterpiece? It's pretty darn close, and even though I'm giving it "only" 4 stars, it is a highly recommended and fulfilling experience.

We open in typical prog rock fashion with the overture to the album that introduces the premise of ascension through the human experience (via the mountain metaphor), and emotive vocal work by Jennings. It has sort of a candle in the dark feel that sets the stage for the grandiose "Atlas Stone" that follows. This is a great track that features the band's signature of complex writing that features punctuation of intensity with mellow moments scattered throughout. It's nothing especially new for fans of this kind of music, but Haken performs it exceptionally well, with very tight playing that sounds crisp and focused. Jennings lyrics and vocals are melodic and optimistic; this is a feel good track that doesn't disappoint.

"Cockroach King" is a quirky follow-up that features massive, crunching guitar riffs juxtaposed to bouncy vocals that echo Gentle Giant or early Spock's Beard. The band outs a ton of sound, and isn't afraid to kick your teeth in even in a playful song.

"In Memoriam" has the rhythm section creating a scintillating tension that cooks beneath complex riffing by guitarist Griffiths and (I assume) Henshall. "Because It's There" reprises the overture to the album, set to overlapping choral work that gives way to sweeping melodies. This brings up one of my criticisms to The Mountain: this track is clearly meant to be an emotional touch-stone of the album, but it sort of falls flat. Jenning's vocals are in a high register and don't always connect, even though the lyrics are engaging. Its sort of a quibble, but I noticed it enough for it to draw me out of the piece.

"Falling Back to Earth" is probably the highlight of the album. It's a centerpiece that uses Icarian metaphors to transition the album into a darker place intellectually. The song does a great job creating dramatic tension, with driving melodies and guitar/keyboard interplay that shifts into a etheric plucking and atmospheres at the half-way point. A great showcase of the band's song writing. This is kept up in the also excellent "Pareidolia." Things get more abstract the deeper we go.

The closing song is unfortunately not as strong as the preceding songs. It's set up well but doesn't feel like it wraps up the musical ideas it creates, just sort of ending on an unsatisfying fade out.

So all in all a great album. The Mountain is highly energetic, has powerful dynamics, impeccable instrumental delivery, and good (but not great) vocals. The lack of emotional connection for me is the only detractor in what is otherwise a first rate art rock experience. Highly recommended!

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

Report this review (#1481704)
Posted Tuesday, November 3, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars I will admit that this band took a while to grow on me, but once it did, the greatness just poured out from my speakers. The Mountain, in particular, stands out as being especially terrific, thanks to the thematic nature of the lyrics, the flow of the record, and, of course, the great songwriting. It seems like Falling Back to Earth and Cockroach King are the songs most genuflected to, and it's easy to see, but for my money, the last two songs are the two biggest standouts: Pareidolia and Somebody. The build-up in the latter, and then the release at the end, is just breathtaking. That, my friends, is how you end a prog record. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Report this review (#1819299)
Posted Saturday, November 4, 2017 | Review Permalink

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