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Haken - Visions CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.13 | 1112 ratings

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4 stars OK, this is a (very) good album but far from the masterpiece that it has been hyped up to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lukretio | 4/5 |


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