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Haken - Virus CD (album) cover

VIRUS

Haken

 

Heavy Prog

3.59 | 310 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lukretio
5 stars VIrus is Haken's best album yet. The six Englishmen have always been a bit of a hit-and-miss for me. Of course, I always appreciated their incredible technical chops and that hunger for pushing the envelope that led them to incorporate so many influences and styles into their music to the point of nearly reinventing themselves with each new album. But, at the same time, I always felt that their urge to constantly push things in different directions somehow prevented them to fully express their potential, almost as if they did not linger long enough on each single idea to hone it to perfection. There is another aspect of Haken's music that did not sit quite well with me, until now. I often felt their music fell just on the wrong side of that fine line between technical wizardry and tedious wankery ' with their penchant for crazy, flamboyant and hypertechnical musical detours frequently overshadowing the quality of their songwriting (a fault that is not uncommon among prog metal and rock bands). With VIrus, Haken miraculously managed to overcome both faults.

Musically, VIrus moves in a similar territory as their previous album, Vector. In fact, the band conceived the two albums as part of a unique story, with VIrus completing the narrative started on Vector. The continuity that we find in the lyrical theme extends to the music. On both albums, the band experiment with a sound that borrows in equal part from djent, modern prog metal (Anathema, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Devin Townsend) and even post-rock. It's the tension between these different influences that characterizes the music of VIrus, with songs that continuously move between djenty downtuned riffs, cinematic guitar or synth soundscapes, and quieter moments with only clean or acoustic guitars and Jennings' emotional vocals. These were also in large part the ingredients on Vector. However, on that album, the flow between the different components felt imperfect, partly because the softer sections did not feel fully developed or self-sufficient: their sole purpose seemed to be to create a contrast with the heavier parts rather than existing as a stand-alone musical creation. VIrus bursts instead with incredibly well-crafted melodic parts, which, in a few cases, extend for almost the whole duration of a song ('The Strain', 'Canary Yellow'). These are properly developed musical ideas, that are enriched by the contrast with the heavy parts, but do not live in their shadows.

The other main difference relative to Vector (and much of the band's previous catalogue) is the incredibly focused songwriting. The technical wizardry is still there, but it is firmly put at the service of the song, as never before. The mini-epic 'Carousel' is a perfect example. In their career Haken have written plenty of 10-minute songs that sprawl across different themes, moods and genres. On Vector, for instance, we had 'Puzzle Box' and 'Veil'. The songwriting on 'Carousel', however, is much more focused than on those songs. No doubt, 'Carousel' is still a very complex piece of music, continuously moving between Opeth-like acoustic sections, djenty riffs, melodic choruses, and bombastic choirs that wouldn't have been out of place on a Devin Townsend's record. However, each musical detour is quickly reined in as the song returns over and over again to its main theme (the 'Holding on too tight'' chorus), which is the rock that anchors the song and allows the listener to orientate themselves in this variegated musical tapestry. The result is a complex 10-minute song that is much more digestible, and enjoyable, than many of the prog epics Haken have written until now ' and one of the standout tracks on VIrus.

But there are plenty of other great tracks on VIrus. 'Invasion' is a beautifully emotional piece, which reminds me of bands like Anathema and The Pineapple Thief. Ross Jennings has never sounded better than on this song, finally putting in a performance that strikes the perfect balance between technical proficiency and emotion. 'Canary Yellow' is another heart-rending piece, evoking the spirit of Porcupine Tree on the opening verses. The 5-part epic 'Messiah Complex' is the centrepiece of the album. This song is where Haken get to spread their wings a little bit more than on other songs, letting go of the tightly controlled songwriting that otherwise characterizes the album. The variety of ideas on display here is breath-taking. 'Part I: Ivory Tower' is a strange mix between Dream Theatre and post-rock, which should not work, but it does. 'Part II: A Glutton for Punishment' is more traditional prog metal. The Opeth's influences surface again on the dark 'Part III: Marigold', while 'Part IV: The Sect' and 'Part V: Ectobius Rex' look back at Haken's own past, re-developing the key theme of their classic track 'Cockroach King' from their 2013 album, The Mountain. It's not the only 'Easter egg' that Haken throw to their long-time fans, though: the album contains several other references to the band's previous work, particularly to Vector (motifs from both 'Puzzle Box' and 'Host' are cited in 'Messiah Complex'). What is impressive, however, is that despite the breadth and variety of material, 'Messiah Complex' is a fantastically well-balanced piece of music, where each section presents its ideas in a concise and effective way before flowing naturally into the next. This is a definite improvement relative to Haken's previous output, and I can honestly say that this is the first Haken's album that I could fully appreciate from start to finish.

Before concluding, I cannot not mention the jaw-dropping performances on display on this album. There's plenty of sublime instrumental moments on VIrus, but two things that stood out for me are the awesome guitar playing and the rhythm section. Apart from the usual rifforama, the guitars also offer some super-tasty leads and solos that are perfectly inserted in the context of each song and really elevate the music to a whole different level. Check out, for instance, the awesome solos on 'Invasion', the tasty guitar lead after the chorus on 'The Strain', or the epic lead on the final part of 'Carousel'. The drumming and bass playing are the other highlight of the album in my opinion. Raymond Hearne's drum-playing, in particular, is phenomenal, extremely powerful but at the same time so varied, complex and detailed. The drum parts are so interesting and exciting that I often found myself zooming in on them while listening to the album, mentally forcing the rest of the music to the background. And of course this exercise is largely possible only thanks to the great sound production by Adam Getgood, so impactful but at the same time incredibly clean and detailed.

All in all, VIrus is a fantastic album, vastly superior to Vector and to most of the band's catalogue until now (perhaps with the exception of 'The Mountain'). It's almost as if, by staying for two consecutive albums in the same musical territory, Haken managed to perfect their formula, making treasure of their experience with Vector to create a new improved version of the same musical idea. If you are a long-time Haken's fan, VIrus will not disappoint, as it represents the climax of the band's constant evolution since its debut in 2010. But if you, like me, never managed to fully get into Haken ' this may just well be the album that will lure you in and win you over.

lukretio | 5/5 |

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