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Haken - Visions CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.13 | 1109 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars |D-| A runaway-train of negative prog stereotypes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isa | 2/5 |


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