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Haken - Vector CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.68 | 332 ratings

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3 stars After combining metal and 70s prog eccentricity on their first albums, and referencing 80s prog on their previous release Affinity, with their fifth album Vector, Haken move into the territory of contemporary (heavier) prog metal. Dream Theater and 70s prog are still major influences on the band, but Vector also brings in more modern and heavier influences ? from djenty riffs, to Muse-like extravaganza ("The Good Doctor"), to darker atmospheres that remind me of bands like Porcupine Tree and Anathema ("Host", "A Cell Divides"). It's a mix that sounds fresh and exciting and that will please long-time fans of the band as well as secure some new ones among those who, like me, found their previous output a bit too much "out there" for comfort.

On Vector, Haken make in fact an attempt at keeping their songwriting more focused and accessible, especially compared to their earlier albums. There is of course still plenty of complexity and technical wizardry going on here. The songs typically contain multiple parts and extended instrumental passages where the band can showcase all their proficiency with their instruments. And it wouldn't be Haken if there weren't the occasional "out there" moments, where the band weaves in into the music the most ridiculous ideas, making them work somehow (for instance, the weird dance beats that surface in the background of "Nil By Mouth", or the bizarre choice of sounds in many songs by keyboard wizard Diego Tejeida).

But the musical mayhem that Haken usually unleashes on their albums feels more restrained and under control on Vector, almost as if the band made a conscious attempt at writing songs that could appeal to audiences that prefer their prog metal built on atmosphere and texture rather than on full-blown extravaganza. This is most apparent on tracks like "The Good Doctor", "Host" or "A Cell Divides", which are based on a simplified and more effective songwriting compared to the other tracks on the album and much of the band's previous output.

Elsewhere, this exercise in restraint is not as successful, though. "Puzzle Box", the instrumental piece "Nil by Mouth" and especially "Veil" see Haken return to their beloved "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach, letting ideas fly free and land wherever they may. These tracks do not work very well for me. "Puzzle Box" is the one I like the most, it's well-constructed and never veers too far off for me to lose interest at any point. However, it does feel a little bit too artificial and "safe", almost as if it's been written by following a tried-and-true template, and without really putting too much heart into it. "Nil by Mouth" and "Veil" are more complex workouts that feel rather unfocused and fail to hold my attention all the way through. One issue I have with these songs is that, although they are composed of multiple parts, the different sections often sound quite similar to one another and tend to merge into a blur for me. The heavy sections all rely on djenty, downtuned riffs supported by a frantic rhythm section and embellished by extravagant keyboard flourishes, and it's quite hard to tell them apart, even after repeated listens. The quieter sections are fairly anonymous too and do not really stand out enough. The result is that the dynamics do not work very well on these tracks, the peaks being too flat and the valleys too shallow. It also does not help that these three more complex songs are placed one after another in the tracklist. I think the album would have had a better flow if Haken had mixed things up a bit, for instance by moving one between "Host" and "A Cell Divide" (which are also fairly similar to one another), further up in the tracklist.

Overall, Vector is a good album, which sees a band trying to find their footing in a new territory, with a heavier sound and a more controlled songwriting. The album is only partially successful in honing the new sound, and Haken will only fully realize their vision on their subsequent stellar album, VIrus. Nevertheless, Vector will most likely not disappoint long-term fan of the band and, at the same time, may also appeal to those who are not yet familiar with Haken but appreciate modern "djenty" prog metal in the vein of bands like Caligula's Horse, Periphery or Leprous.

lukretio | 3/5 |


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