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Haken - Affinity CD (album) cover

AFFINITY

Haken

Heavy Prog


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4 stars I was already very curious to hear what Haken would have come up with for their fourth full length. After reading in Prog that they were going for 80s influences I was - as they anticipated most people to be - quite sceptical. The two singles already released beforehand - Initiate and The Endless Knot - did not impress me as much as their previous efforts had, Initiate being a very nice listen but somehow very poppy and The Endless Knot just didn't quite grab my attention despite its interesting complexity. The Endless Knot also had a slight autotune sound, which they luckily didn't use throughout the album.

But listening to this album in its intended song order now I must say that they've delivered some quality material that does not necessarily disappoint me (after all, it's difficult to follow up the great 'The Mountain'). They've managed to garner new influences - less Gentle Giant, more 80s Yes etc. - but still remain true to their own sound. The guitar sound is just like in their previous albums, lovely and smooth bass lines (as in The Architect), a distinct modern metal sound in parts (heavy, 7-string riffing in 1985 and even a blast beat as well as growling vocals in The Architect), thankfully a real drum sound and not the artificial sound so popular in the 80s and the vocals are always very recognisable (in a positive way).

As the desired sound shifted, so did especially the keyboards. I must say that I personally enjoy the warmer 70s sound more than the synthesizer-drenched sounds of the 80s but it doesn't destroy it. One criticism, however, would be that many songs have lots of underlying sound beds, which gives it a slightly overproduced, artificial sound and takes away the band-sound a bit. But the musicianship is nevertheless great as usual with plenty of odd time signatures, impressive soli and great melodies.

I will listen to it a couple more times but my first impression is positive. There is great variety in the music (some more serious as The Architect, some very poppy and cheerful as Earthrise) but I find the mix quite enjoyable. The band wanted something different than before, which is why I would not directly measure it against their previous releases. It's a good thing that they want to keep innovating their own sound and on this record they have succeeded in doing so while still retaining a high quality as well as their own identity in the music. 4 stars +. :)

Report this review (#1557000)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars Still at the top of prog!

I was blown away by the Mountain, and, to be honest, I couldn't imagine anything coming close to it's greatness. Boy was I wrong. Haken were able to give yet another new cool spin to their already awesome music. 80's influence was there, especially in "1985", heaviness was there, as noted in "The Architect", calmer tunes, like "Red Giant"...This record has almost everything. It's not all good, though. My only criticism of this album, is that the second half seems to be less memorable than the first. It's as if they crammed their excellent tunes all together. Nevertheless the album is not short of excitement, intrigue and beautiful melodies. Some people claim this album sounds mechanic and robotic and is, thus, soulless. On the contrary, it is my belief that the "robotic" sound, as intended, means to emphasize the vibe proposed by the band.

High points: The Architect, 1985, Initiate, Bound by gravity (though not as great a closer as Somebody), Red Giant "Less high" points ;) : Earthrise (great chorus, and such a lovely tune to ease the ears after the monstrous 15 minute epic ), Lapse, the Endless knot (kind of like Never Enough in Octavarium by DT. Nice tune, but maybe the weakest on the record).

Overall, Haken do it yet again, staying true to their style while adding new twists and turns. This is in my opinion another creative masterpiece. As the mountain was a solid 5 out of 5, I'll give this one a 4.5 out of 5 (rounding up to a 5 star rating).

Report this review (#1557263)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
rdtprog
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars Haken is a band that take the best of the Progressive Metal music and add their own special twist to it. There is an infectious groove to the complex musical structures of their music. In this new cd, the band decided to let every musician take part to the writing process, which gives the album more variety. The band has been inspired by 80's music, especially obvious in the song "1985" where you'll recognize the 80's keyboards sound, some electronic drums, but also some djent metal. But the highlight of this cd is the epic "The Architect" that display many atmospheres from quiet keyboards lines to heavy guitar riffs. The band goes from a symphonic Dream Theater style to a King Crimson guitar sound where every instrument has the space to shine including some tasty bass lines. The second part of the album contains more atmospheric songs with post-rock/metal ambiance where you see the band incorporated the new technology tools to make the music sound modern. Sometimes the heavy parts don't flow naturally with the quieter parts, left you to wonder where the melody is heading, but overall there is a lot of cohesion in this work. I am not sure that this one is better from previous albums, maybe lacking a bit of consistency from one song to the other, but that what's can happen when you let everyone taking part of the writing. Still a four stars, because it's still Haken!
Report this review (#1557764)
Posted Sunday, May 1, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's not all rainbow high-tops, ghetto blasters and swatch watches -- but it is a bodacious album to listen to!

For those who had the opportunity to listen to Haken's Visions and Aquarious, they were offering a renewed vigor at a time when the Dream Theater phase was starting to get grody. Like, to the max! Only a few bands could pull off the prog metal as convincingly at the time. Beyond Twilight. Pagan's Mind. Seventh Wonder. Symphony X. But it wasn't enough for some of us to get really excited for the genre again. Then The Mountain dropped. It was wicked, brah! Hailed as a masterpiece of the genre. It was happen'en! Move over DT.

The question following a masterpiece like The Mountain: could Haken be able to pull it off again? Or, would their follow-up gag us like a spoon?

The lead-up and social marketing of Affinity announced a throw-back to the time of stone-washed jean jackets and parachute pants. Some of us were greatly fond of those times [sigh]. Others, like prog music lovers at the time, maybe not so much? Today's generation of prog fans probably weren't even alive yet! But, Affinity is not a concept album -- rather an album with a great concept -- to draw on those musical influences of the MTV generation. And why not? It was a great time for cultural fads (the 'California Roll,' ponytails on the side of the head, and breakdancing), hip slang, cheesy horror films, and the rampant spreading of STDs. But above all that... MTV! Music went from being modest entertainment to world-wide, visual celebrity.

Haken released the single "Initiate" to help promote the album. I admit, it wasn't as retro sounding as I hoped -- although, a great track with a stellar bass guitar moment (about 1:40 min in) and stellar drumming throughout. Starting with track 3 called "1985", the retro-synth sounds really begin the journey of linking to the past, giving us a sense of that era. The drum sounds are modern and blended with smatterings of pure Phil Collins. But make no mistake, this isn't a pure 80's sounding album. These sounds are wonderfully blended with today's elements of djent and blast beats, guest fry vocals and updated Skrillex-like synth sounds -- all tying together in a vigorously captivating way.

Haken has really outdone themselves with additional sonic tones here. There are more shades and variations on Affinity then on The Mountain. The recording and production from Fascination Studios and engineer Jens Bogren is a textbook case study for all those in the academic recording schools for modern audio engineering, producing and mastering. The album sounds clutch! The songs structures are rad; the instrumental solos are two-lines-down-the-middle solid. Some of the most tasty key and guitar solos this reviewer has witnessed. The drumming incorporates those 80s drumming elements -- early Simmons drum sounds and synth percussion. Wicked, brah! Haken has always had a strong sense of melody, especially in the vocal arena, and there is still a high level of melodic phrasings going on with this release.

The early songs on Affinity -- "Initiate", "1985", "Lapse", (and the absolutely stunning) "The Architect" are Haken at the top of their game. I dig the fact that they give their bass player a wonderful moment in The Architect (something DT should steal a page from). Then in an interesting turn -- just before the album starts to get into a repetitive mid-listen slump -- the songs and tone of the album change shade. There's a fascinating change in color with Earthrise (love the verses) and Red Giant (love the chill Radiohead-like chorus).

Fans must acknowledge and enjoy the re-branding of the band marketing. The website has been updated and looks more professional, illustrating how far Haken has come, not just in the sense of their music, but also in their business practices and marketing consistency. The artwork for this album is the bomb, a coherent glue to the contents therein. These elements put them on a competitive level with the major label bands now, like, fer sure.

At the end of the day many will still proclaim The Mountain as Haken's masterpiece and nothing will ever top it. Chill pill! I disagree. I found everything about this album to exceed the previous: more sonic tones, musical variations, a better concept for the album that tied directly into the updated marketing materials, a guest appearance by Leprous singer Einar Solberg, 80's synth drumming and they took everything great about The Mountain and added more to it! I can find almost no faults here. So a big congrats to the band, the production team and the label for releasing an almost perfect album of progressive metal.

Wishful concert pairing: Haken headlining with Leprous, Kingcrow and Caligula's Horse opening ('and please make it to the west coast of USA :)

Report this review (#1558664)
Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars So close.. I anxiously awaited this release, as a huge fan of The Mountain, this was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and now that it has come, how does it live up to my hype? Meh. Slated to be a throwback late 80's/90's album, this seemed right up my alley, but now that it's in hand, I can't help but feel this concept could have been more fleshed out, and used to greater effect. Part of the reason The Mountain was such a good album was that the band managed to create some great tension/release moments with their juxtaposition of quiet/loud moments, and while there were plenty of flashy instrumental sections (not my cup of tea), they still managed to mix it in with a sense of humor. This made The Mountain a fun album, it knew when to be serious, it knew when to be fun, and the compositions flowed quite well. Unfortunately, with this release, most of the fun and self awareness appears to be gone, and with it, any emotional depth. Don't get me wrong, there are still some excellent parts on this album, in fact there are excellent parts on all songs on this album, but as a whole, the compositions leave me cold, and don't tend to have any natural flow to them. A lot of these songs seem to follow a technical verse/big chorus/overly complex instrumental/big chorus pattern, and it seems the depth of the compositions have been sacrificed for flashy crazy time signatures. Some of these melodies (especially in the choruses) could be quite memorable, but they've been chopped up and put on top of needlessly changing time signatures, and because of this, I can't recall a single melody of any song on here. This isn't to say I hate the album, I do love the track 1985 for it's incredibly cheesy synths (the only hint of the Haken I know and love on this album), Lapse for it's Allan Holdsworth-ian sound, and Earthrise is a wonderful progged up pop song. Overall though, I'm going to have to give this 3 stars (minus half a star for the screamo section on the Architect).
Report this review (#1558884)
Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars I just recently got into Haken's stuff, and some of it utterly blew my mind. Tracks like "Celestial Elixir", "Visions", or basically anything on "The Mountain", made this album one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year. If you go in with such high expectations, I'll say that it does live up... but not completely. Don't get me wrong, Affinity proves to be an excellent album, no doubt about it. It's just that there are some parts that are a little forgettable at times. The album starts with "Initiate", which I initially didn't like but grew to love. One of the main treats of the album is "1985", a track that is elegant in its absolute cheesiness. It sounds exactly like the type of 80's prog song you hear from bands like "Rush" or "Yes", but it still has the Haken-ness that makes it one of the highlights of the album. The next highlight of the album is their juggernaut of a track, titled "The Architect". Now, as much as I liked this track, the growling was so very unnecessary and out of place. I've never been a fan of Haken growls. I didn't like them in "Aquarius", I definitely did not like them here. Otherwise, this song has an amazing bass solo, an excellent chorus, and is overall one of Haken's strongest tracks yet. Just... the growls. Anyway, one of the problems in this album is that some tracks are less memorable than others. That's the one issue that prevented me from giving this a solid five. Tracks like "Lapse" and "Red Giant" were pretty good tracks, they just don't hold up when compared to the amazing amount of experimentation and musical genius found on the rest of the album. I might be nitpicking a little, but I'm merely giving my full thoughts. Overall, this is an extremely strong outing that displays amazing musicianship, and if it weren't for a few setbacks, I would definitely call it an absolute masterpiece. Seriously though, no growls.
Report this review (#1559306)
Posted Thursday, May 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars I feel compelled to write a review for this album since may of the existing reviews do not treat this album fairly. I have to admit I'm a huge fan of Haken, and find that their work has gotten progressively (see what I did there?) more impressive and unique with each album. Rating this a 3 or 4 star album because it's not your favorite or because it does not have a song like "Celestial Elixer" on it is silly. Affinity really showcases the band building on their own unique sound. I'm not sure they really fit in the "progressive metal" genre any longer, and that fine with me! This music is so melodic, emotional, complex, and coherent that it really defies categorization. While I'm not as blown away by an epic like "The Architect" as some have been, I find that I wish songs like "Earthrise" or "The Endless Knot" could go on forever. I literally say to myself each time after "Earthrise" ends, "man, I wish that was about 5 minutes longer". While I agree with some that this may not be the best overall Haken album, in the vast world of "prog", this is a clear 5-star effort for me.
Report this review (#1561476)
Posted Thursday, May 12, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars Affinity

af·fin·i·ty əˈfinədē/ noun

-noun: affinity; plural noun: affinities -a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.

Well, as a lover of all that is prog, I unequivocally experienced a spontaneous and/or natural liking to Haken's latest opus Affinity.

What is perhaps most striking to me is this fairly young band's ability to construct enjoyable songs, rather than virtuosic, boring, exercises-in-musical-masturbation jam sessions (post-Portnoy Dream Theater). After a couple weeks of constant rotation, a thought kept popping into my mind, "this is what Dream Theater should sound like at the latter stage of their careers." But they don't; and these guys do. I'm not complaining.

Affinity has class, soul, brevity, diversity and (arguably my favorite aspect) a pretty damn cool (but not obnoxious or cheesy) 80s vibe. And the album doesn't meander or trail off near the halfway mark; if anything the diversity of soundscapes accelerate to the absolutely beautiful, perfect close, "Bound By Gravity."

These guys seem to be even more on top of their craft than the confidence displayed on the masterpiece The Mountain. They should be very proud of this album. I'm very happy I recently found them. Give it a shot; you'll be happy too.

Report this review (#1562544)
Posted Friday, May 13, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars Very good, but overproduced record leaves you empty handed after a couple of listens.

Haken's latest, 'Affinity' offers something very different compared to 'The Mountain'. The band decided to go to a different direction, which is certainly a good thing for a prog band. While Haken's songwriting has always been rather mediocre, they make up by superb instrumental proficiency and interesting progression within each song. In this record Haken decided to use a lot of choruses, and I mean a lot, and It get's boring quickly. While at the first listen it may seem exiting, you want to skip these parts at your third listen.

However; this record contains wonderful songs and they do put a smile on your face. 'Earthrise' and '1985' are must songs for every progfan to listen this year. The proggy instrumental section at the end of 'Earthrise' is Haken at their best. 'The Architect' offers some nice heavy pounding with some kind of 80's-90's Sci-fi movie soundtrack feeling. Rest of the songs have left me quite underwhelmed unfortunately and I won't be spending too much time with this record anymore.

As said earlier, the production is too much. It fees like every instrument is edited to grid and this record is played by midi sequencers which was not the case for earlier Haken records.

Summary: + Earthrise, 1985, The Architect - Bound by Gravity, Initiate

3,5 stars.

Report this review (#1565885)
Posted Monday, May 16, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's unfortunate that there are those who would even consider rating this work something less than '4 stars'. The debate between 4 and 5 is beyond the scope of any necessary review. Better we leave that to the forums or party conversation.

I'm typically too verbose, so I will try and be as succinct as I can about this album.

It takes a lot to be compared to Dream Theater, much less be considered as equal or even better. I'm not even entirely convinced that this album isn't better than anything DT has ever written (coming from a huge DT fan). It doesn't mean that it 'replaces' or 'goes above' DT's best works; but it does occupy a different space altogether, while still maintaining an obvious inspirational influence of DT's style. This space, however, may even inhabit more musical dimensions and sophistication than we've received from DT in years.

I'm not saying they should even be compared to DT. This is just one metric that helps elaborate any discussion on their musical prowess.

***The Highlights (only songs that receive a 5 out of 5)***

Initiate - An intensely dramatic opener (first piece counts more as a set-up/overture to the album) that has soaring melodies and interesting rhythms indicative of Haken's other albums. It's hard to describe this song in words alone, which is yet another hallmark of a great piece of music.

1985 - A multi-faceted epic that is exponentially enhanced by a potential love of 1980s feelings. Even if the 80's weren't your thing, this wonderful piece of music quickly evolves into something more. It actually reminds me quite a bit of Tool's Aenima (title track from the album Aenima) crossed with DT's Octavarium (again, title song from the album). It is dramatic in the same fashion that Initiate is, but includes even more depth and linear continuity. Again, listening to the entire song in order to get the full understanding is required.

The Architect - An epic that will be enjoyed in a widely fashion from person to person. There are musical reasons for this. But suffice to say, it has depth and structure just like most other songs on this album.

Earthrise - Just beautiful and musically complex in its structural simplicity. Depending on your age, the lyrics may also mean something to you.

The Endless Knot - Perhaps the most rhythmically complex song on the album. An exciting climax that comes surprisingly close to the end of the album.

Bound By Gravity - Gets better with subsequent listens.

As you can see, the majority of songs on the album are worthy of near perfect scores. The ones that are not listed here are not bad; in fact, they may rate highly on another band's release. It's just that this album is of such high quality (high and CONSISTENT quality) that it's almost overwhelming to listen to.

Taking into consideration that this is the FOURTH time this band has impressed the world musically with their virtuosity and originality, I wouldn't hesitate to call this group one of the most prominent modern classic bands in the making.

They are definitely worthy of the progressive rock label and worthy of any individual's time... or at least, worthy for those individuals who have a passion for extremely exciting, impressive, and meaningful music. The band themselves, along with this album, will become more appreciated over time. Mark my words.

Report this review (#1567104)
Posted Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
LearsFool
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars As my man, the late great Spaceape, once chanted: One step forward! Two step backward!

We all know Haken. I love Haken. First they blistered through some wonderful prog metal 'n' roll with the one-two punch of "Aquarius" and "Visions", and then they knocked us all out with the mean left hook of "The Mountain". That third album, ladies and gentlemen, the structure, the flow, the instrumentals, the Gentle Giant vocals of "Cockroach King"... you know it's simply one of the best albums of the decade. So obviously, even with the hype around them evaporating, they had a tall order with this one. And they get points for effort, with a nice if increasingly common concept around computers and the effects of technology, and the length of the tracks and album. We knew that it would be good, but now I'm one of the ones asking just how good it actually turned out.

In what has to be both a good and bad sign, the main thing I find myself talking about is the production. There's the step forward, indeed, as everything sounds clearer and tighter. Between that and the structure of the tracks, there's also this cold, logical form that synthesises their first two albums into a whole. Especially in light of the concept, it mostly works. "Affinity" is an enjoyable listen. I'm also pleased with the inclusion of the second CD of the versions of each track, allowing a listener to take the instrumentals in without the vocals, or for crazy people like me to toast over them.

But now we're getting into the issues. In general, there's nothing new, no progression. There's no special payoff for the wait after "The Mountain", which did do things differently, not even a return to anything from that album. The concept falls flat lyrically, paling before, say, last year's 3RDegree album, and in general the vocals are sub-par on top of that, so that CD2 is definitely the better listen. Most of all, though, is that while the instrumentals are entertaining in the moment, they don't leave much of an impression after listening. I remember "The Point of No Return", "Cockroach King", "Falling Back To Earth"... all I remember here is "affinity.exe", the electronic washes that proclaim the album and pique the interest but, like Steven Wilson's "First Regret" last year, is simply more memorable than what follows.

I'm more than happy to give them a pass on this one, it's something that I know I enjoyed from a good band, but they can do much better than this.

Report this review (#1568401)
Posted Saturday, May 21, 2016 | Review Permalink
Angelo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars The sound of a computer bleeping, in a science fiction way, sounds from my headphones. It is followed by vaguely human noises underneath an industrial soundscape, which floats seamlessly into a bass and guitar riff. A riff that stops abruptly to make room for a synth sound and the high pitched voice of Ross Jennings, a pattern that repeats a couple of times - forming a track called Initiate. The initial sounds, which lasted about a minute and a half were for Affinity, the opening and title track of Haken's 2016 release.

After hearing Mountain, their 2013 release, early last year, and seeing them live at the Night of the Prog Festival in Germany, I was quite interested in hearing this release. A release that surprised me a bit, because it sounds very different from Mountain. Much less the 'metal version' of Gentle Giant (the brilliant Cockroach!), this album has a slightly more 'electronic' feel to it, with synths and keyboards that, on 1985, even remind me sometimes of 1980s Rush and Asia - but with a modern twist and a heavy edge to it - and lots of room for quiet, melodic and atmospheric parts.

At the point I heard this, I had a look at the press release that InsideOut records included with the promo material. Indeed, Haken made a conscious choice this time to work with their influences from the 1980s instead of the 1970s. And with good result - the album sounds fresh, different from what they did before, with recognisable parts in it but never a copy of what was done before. That same 1985, which is according to the band influenced by the likes of 90125, Toto IV and Three of a Perfect Pair, also contains heavy guitar, bass and drum work as to be expected from what is still labelled a progressive metal act. This track, and the 15 minute epic The Architect alone make the album worth the money. The Architect mixes heavy sections with atmospheric ones, making it into a muscial trip through the 1980s and the 21st century. At one point I as surprised to hear a death metal vocal, which I hadnt' expected from Ros Jennings. And rightly so, because fo this piece, Haken had invited Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg.

Every track besides those mentioned has it's merits on this album, a mouth watering source of variation and musicianship. The 80s electronics of Lapse, the poppiness of Earthrise, the sustained beat of Red Giant, the whirling of the guitar that comes back later in the synths on The Endless Knot, and the spacy atmosphere of Bound by Gravity.

After being surprised by them on Night of the Prog, was planning on going to see Special Providence end of May at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, and now that I know they are support act for Haken, who are there to promote this new album, that plan will have to become reality. A six piece that may stick with us for a few more years.

Also published on my blog www.angelosrockorphanage.com

Report this review (#1571932)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars I've been a Haken fan for a very long time, discovering the band back with their debut Aquarius. Its been quite a journey watching them grow and evolve. With Affinity they have delivered what for me is their best album to date.

Much has been made of the 80s influence on this album, you can definitely here sprinkled throughout nods to the 80s period of bands such as Rush, Yes, King Crimson and Marillion. But that only tells part of the story of this album, as it just as much grounded in modern sounds as it is the 80s. This is seen with a strong djent streak on the album, on songs like Initiate and The Endless Knot. Not the first time the band has had this flavour, but never as prominent as this.

Ultimately its that blend of old and new that makes this album work so well. Every track on this one is great, the stand outs not surprisingly as the epics 1985, The Architect and the underrated Bound by Gravity. The latter of which showcases the lighter side of the band, with a track that will remind listeners of the most emotionally impactful moments of fellow Brits, Anathema.

I had ridiculously high hopes for this album, something which usually would set myself up for disappointment. Yet in this case my expectations were met, if not surpassed. Over 2 months after its release Affinity is still in regular rotation, no better sign of an albums quality.

Report this review (#1584979)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars Affinity does not rise to the heights of The Mountain or Visions. It has a fun 1980s feel to it that I partly enjoy. But where are the songs that grab a hold of the listener and don't let go? Maybe The Mountain was too hard an act to follow and surpass. I think Affinity is a pretty good CD but it ends and I don't feel like any of the songs stay with me and resonate. Also I really dislike the screaming/ growling on Architect. It seems really out of place. Once again, it is a fairly good song, but marred by a mis-step.
Report this review (#1598448)
Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars The artwork for this album mimics a floppy disk sleeve, and has the perfect green phosphor colour of CRT screens... it is so nostalgic for anyone who remembers the era of MS-DOS, NewWord & Space Invaders. Of course, a 1980's inspired album does require the listener to have retained some positive feelings about the sounds of that least-favoured decade for prog fans. I am definitely in that category and the 'Affinity' concept sounded interesting from the start for me. The album opens with a short track called 'affinity.exe' that is surely a Morse code transmission, not particularly 1980's ... and then the first real track, 'Initiate' rather threw me on first hearing, because it simply sounded like the Dream Theater-inspired music that makes up so much of Haken's first couple of albums (this is not a complaint). But with '1985' (I guess around when this band's members were born), the decade's influence becomes explicit and several of the tracks are in the same vein. But this always sounds like Haken nonetheless, they have a very distinctive sound that could only be mistaken for Dream Theater at times - though with much wider invention.

There is a short episode of 'growling' from Leprous's amazing vocalist Einar Solberg, who can really sing if he wants to. Like others, I am not a big fan of growling, but I note the first two Haken albums each have a growling episode, it isn't an innovation for them. Anyway, it has its artistic purpose I am sure, and it's short.

Well I said I didn't mind the 1980's, and if more of that period's music sounded like this Haken album, I would have absolutely loved it. Every single album of this band is 5 stars for me, they are a major presence in prog rock.

Verdict: Einwahn's #1 album of 2016.

Report this review (#1600731)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2016 | Review Permalink
FragileKings
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Haken were already a band gathering notice rapidly with their first two releases, and their third album "Mountain" clearly cemented their position as a modern progressive band to be reckoned with. Combining heavy prog with progressive metal and adding warm piano pieces with delicate vocals, or an A cappella track that included Gregorian chant, gospel harmonies, and modern pop singing with counterpoint vocals, "Mountain" was a monumental release. How would they follow up this one?

Well, Haken wisely put a new album aside and decided instead to revisit some older tracks and remix them, coming up with "Restoration". They then went ahead with recording this album of fresh material, "Affinity".

One of the things you will notice here is much of the warmth and human feeling of "Mountain" is gone and replaced with a colder, more mechanical sound, largely in the keyboard sounds but at times also in the guitar. At times this album reminds me of Symphony X's "Iconoclast"; at the beginning of "The Architect" the eerie and ominous effects sound like Jet Black Sea; and in at least a couple of places I'm reminded of Devin Townsend or classic heavy Dream Theater. But make no mistake that this is Haken, most easily recognizable by Ross Jennings' vocals.

Haken have served up another highly technical and varied album with "Affinity". While it's certainly tough to top "Mountain" and some have commented that this album seems colder, there are still some excellent songs on here. Haken prove themselves to be master of odd time signatures and even counterpose two, for example a slow and steady drum beat against guitar that plays like a menacing spider trying to climb up an icy slope. The instrumental part that opens "The Architect" explores many odd signatures and keeps you guessing before the music settles down enough for the lyrics to be sung. And while there are some truly excellent heavy parts to rival a prog metal band's ability, there are still softer and warmer music interludes such as the final track "Bound by Gravity" which begins like a soundtrack for a scene of dawn over a frosty autumn or frozen winter lake.

One of the first tracks to capture my ears was "The Endless Knot". The lyrics are sung in a quick and hurried manner like we must keep struggling and must hurry. This is quite different from many other songs where the words are stretched out more so that there's like one word to a bar sometimes. Then at about 2:20 there's this totally heavy, dance bass that just vibrates all the speakers and woofers and wooden flooring. It's very cool in this song here when coupled with the heavy guitar chords.

Two other favourite tracks are "1985" which includes a mid-eighties styling, a drop down heavy bass part, and a modern Haken take on lighter heavy prog, and "The Architect" which is the longest track on the album and explores the heavier aspects of Haken's style in a variety of complex melodies at the beginning and end of the song.

Though I don't enjoy this album as much as I do "Mountain", I still think it's an album worth having. It's different from its predecessor which I think is a good thing. The band are trying new things and not stagnating after their big success.

Report this review (#1632924)
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars UK Prog-metal with crossover appeal band Haken are now up to their fourth album (fifth if you throw in their great `Restoration' EP from 2014 that runs for over 33 minutes, which is longer than many 70's prog discs, so let's count that too!), coming after their well-received occasionally Seventies-flavoured `The Mountain' in 2013, an album that lifted their profile considerably in the prog community, even if opinions on it are still divided today! 2016 sees them return with `Affinity', this time adopting a frequent Eighties sheen and AOR power to their always soaring pieces (and ditching the Gentle Giant obsessions of their previous two discs along the way), and it's one of their most accomplished, varied and sophisticated musical statements to date. `Affinity' is not so much a concept work as a collection of tracks with a loose shared sci-fi theme, and despite offering some of their purest metal moments, it also remains powerfully and endlessly melodic with smart choruses in between the delirious and bombastic instrumental technicality going on around the strong tunes.

After a mysterious lightly industrial intro, `Initiate' is an introspective and gently melancholic rocker with a tougher late-era Porcupine Tree-like bluster that, while probably one of the least interesting tracks on the disc, improves into a reliably easy opener on repeated listens that gets the blood flowing right from the start. But the first `wow' moment hits with `1985' that bounces with a buoyant Eighties vibe, grooving bass and snappy drumming powering the piece, and it's unsurprising to learn that keyboard player Diego Tejeida was greatly influenced by composer Vince DiCola, as the synth-heavy instrumental spot at the 5:45 minute completely recalls his E.L.P-styled soundtrack to the fondly remembered `Transformers' animated film of the same decade! Add in some snarling heavy riffs, a battery of pummelling drums and an earworm chorus delivered with precision from lead vocalist Ross Jennings that refuses to quit grafted to infectiously cheesy stadium rock fanfare, and it's shamelessly "Prog" dialled up to eleven with a side order of guilty-pleasure!

A shorter piece with the hopeful and romantic qualities of Coheed and Cambria, `Lapse' is another reflective rocker with a lofty chorus that bookends an impossibly tight little blitzkrieg soloing spasm (little shades of Yes' Steve Howe in there!). But the centrepiece of the album is the frequently Tool/Porcupine Tree-like fifteen-plus minute `The Architect', and despite it being loaded with an endless variety of hard-riffing grooves, slithering bass and powerhouse drum-work, making it one of Haken's most balls-out gutsy metal efforts to date, it also incorporates some sublime slinking electronic programming, ambient passages and ethereal floating voices (although a brief guest vocal from Leprous' Einar Solberg in an Opeth-like passage at about the ten minute mark may push the friendship for some older prog listeners, but to be fair, its more `tortured pained moan' than `death metal growl'!).

Another stream-lined piece `Earthrise' is an unashamedly power AOR/80's pop-rocker with a catchy chorus, yet not overly simplistic and obnoxiously radio/chart-friendly, and the fanfare synth break in the middle reminds of the first (good!) Asia LP and the E.L.Powell album. The moody `Red Giant' is more concerned with building a sombre atmosphere but delivers a surprising up-tempo sprint in the second half over sighing harmonies, and the breathless `The Endless Knot' is crammed full of stop-start spiralling electronics and frantic snapping drumming with a hopeful anthem-like chorus. Nine-minute closer `Bound by Gravity' begins as a classy and dreamy ballad of great hope to a low-key ambient synth backing that slowly has the group coming together in restrained drama, with little traces reminding of the most recent Anathema albums before a powerhouse symphonic finale.

While there's occasional little dull moments and the album initially feels overlong at just over an hour, the trick here is to really commit to giving it plenty of spins. Take the time to read into the lyrics, listen closely to how carefully controlled Jennings' vocals are and especially pay close attention to the variety of the lavish instrumental elements (try to pick up one of the two-CD special editions that have a bonus completely instrumental version of the album on a bonus disc). There's such a joyful energy to so much of the soloing that proves hugely addictive, the choruses are frequently anthemic without being dumbed down easy AOR, and the disc archives a great balance of accessible and technical qualities throughout.

Placing it alongside other heavy rock/metal discs of note of the last year or so, it's more focused and punchier than Dream Theater's bloated if ambitious `The Astonishing', not as fanbase opinion-dividing as Opeth's `Sorceress', and certainly much more complex and weightier than Riverside's `Love, Fear...'. `Affinity' sits alongside Headspace's `All That you Fear is Gone' as one of the most surprising and musically rich metal-related albums of 2016, and it's another winner for the hugely talented group that is Haken.

Four stars.

Report this review (#1636708)
Posted Friday, October 28, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars I was impressed by 'The Mountain', having discovered it long after it was released, so I had high expectations for 'Affinity'. These have largely been met. I agree with others who regard 'The Architect' as the best track. It is my favourite track of 2016 - I love its adventure, its range of mood and tempo, and I thought the importation of growly vocals was a masterstroke. '1985' and 'Lapse' are also outstandingly good, in my view. The other tracks range from good to rather ordinary, making it a bit of a mixed bag. But, given that Haken have an adventurous approach, this is hardly surprising. One of the best of 2016.
Report this review (#1676884)
Posted Saturday, January 7, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Electronic gadgets, the 80s, modern metal, prog, HAKEN: 8/10

HAKEN is one of the most prominent progressive rock bands of modernity, especially after the media attention they received following the release of THE MOUNTAIN (2013). It was through that album I was introduced to them, and while I could definitively see potential and musicianship, they weren't interesting to me. I felt like they sounded just like every other modern prog metal band. They had particular characteristics on their own, but generally speaking, they still sounded bland. It's similar to NWOBHM and how most bands of that particular style are all absurdly similar in their core, with little uniqueness among them. The thing is: I like NWOBHM's core, but not modern prog's. So HAKEN was not for me.

While I thought fondly of them and on several occasions tried to dig their stuff, I just couldn't. I still can't, honestly. Although I admit THE MOUNTAIN is sorta more interesting than AQUARIUM and VISIONS, it still wasn't enough for me. They still retained a visible amount of said plague of genre homogeneity.

Not on AFFINITY, though. They merged electronic and the 80's in their well-sculpted style (please note that when I say 'sculpted' it does not necessarily mean it's unique, all it means is that it has been matured and became characteristic of them). I think the album has two highlights: it is fresh, featuring a blend of antique methodology on new influences and it is antithetically technical AND simple. I'll develop those ideas right ahead.

You see, in the early days of the progressive genre, you had two (actually three, but I'm going to conveniently discard the importance of classical music for the sake of simplifying my argument) mainstream influences: jazz and rock. Rock was based on blues and folk and had divergent origins from jazz (sort of...). The grand idea of prog was to create music based on the fusion on the couple, that is, to get those two contemporaneous musical directions and merge them. Nowadays, we have, mostly, rock and electronic, on mainstream terms. What HAKEN did is comparable to what was done back in the day, to this antique technique: to get those two musical directions and merge them, along with some technical virtuosity and straying away from radio-friendliness for the sake of quality, and to blend the "electronic" part on characteristically eighties' electronic. This is taking the concept of progressive rock literally; which, as Robert Fripp states, is to break boundaries (don't confuse it with Avant-garde: music that is already beyond the borders). Well, there's no paradigmatic shift or breakthrough with AFFINITY, but it does sound fresh. Honestly, for as much as there are many great new prog metal bands, it's nigh impossible to refute the claim they sound way too much similar. This, in my opinion, is the case for HAKEN as well, excluding on AFFINITY.

In conclusion, if you're a prog puritan ('Symphonic Prog is the only true prog!'), this isn't for you. Electronics are omnipresent and relatively meaningful in virtually all moments and this might be enough to make any purist shiver in anger... spoiler: dubstep.

Now, talking about technicality, HAKEN nails it. They have an enviable ease to mess around with odd time signatures which I find appalling. Particularly on their ability to maintain a fluid song even with alternating signatures, a feature easily observed on 1985's intro and verse parts (6/4 and 7/4 played as naturally as 4/4). You might argue that this characteristic isn't really noteworthy, especially on the technical scene that is prog - and that might even be a prerequisite instead of a "quality" - but hear me out, the thing I'm praising is not how they are able to play it, but how they're able to make it sound natural. So much so, that their music sound rather simple. On a rushed, superficial listen, you might feel prone to contest my affirmation, but upon closer inspection, you'll realize the intricacy I'm talking about. And well... there's The Architect to prove my point. Also, kudos for Charlie Griffiths. All of the musicians are skilled, but he deserves particular acclamation for his masterful lead playing, especially on the solos. HAKEN's solos are pretty dope.

Highlight, undoubtfully, is 1985. That solo, man. Nothing beats it. Cheerfulness and images of palm trees and dudes in white suits motorboating through Biscayne Bay on the sunset will flow in your mind as Raymond's rhythm makes you swing and Griffiths' melodic riffs make you go wow, but if you think it's over, well, don't kid yourself, because Diego Tejeida's heavy keyboards preludes the second piece of the solo, which, much darker than the first, is even more climaxing, as Tejeida and Griffiths play along until its ending. Miami Vice. Vaporwave. ELECTRONIC DRUMS!

In the end, I consider this Haken's best release and, by far, one of my favorite releases from 2016 (although being honestly I listened to what, three or four albums from that year?). Definitely worth checking out. They're still not ultra famous, so if you check them out before they attain that level (and trust me - they will), you'll be the hip and cool guy who'll say "yeah, I knew them since the beginning". It'll be worth it.

Report this review (#1775577)
Posted Saturday, August 26, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Affinity" is the almost perfect connection between complexity and catchiness. Individual songs can always be heard on the side, but the record can also be received as a concept album - delivering an exciting story on the topics of human development in the machine age, man and machine, modern society and virtual realities.

The second track called "Initiate" puts you in the 80s mood and it's important to say that throughout the album retro 80s keyboard sound is represented - ultra-modern, original prog and a journey back to the eighties. Elements of retro music are presented, but the sound remains extremely modern with real djent pieces in it.

An interface filled to the breaking point of the most varied of influences is delivered and precisely presented from the own style which this band has been representing for years. The piece forms a nice contrast between the bomastic parts which are of course accompanied by excellent riffs, and keyboard parts that come to the fore in some of the quiet songs. "The Architect" locking in at 15:40 - Classical elements are added here, which harmonize splendidly with the robot effects, jazzy spherical sounds, massive metal chord walls. A real epic, done perfectly, and a real show of the band's excellent musical understanding.

Colorful surprise bag, that offers compositions of the most varied of colors, and somehow holds together in a miraculous way.

Report this review (#2527521)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | Review Permalink

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