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Haken - Aquarius CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.04 | 1165 ratings

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5 stars If somebody wrote down the bullet points of Aquarius on index cards, laid them in front of you, and told you to make an album incorporating each point, you'd probably be scratching your head trying to figure out how to combine them in a way that made any sense. Not only has Haken managed to do just that, they've crafted an incredible piece of music, and one that I think you should absolutely hear.

By all accounts, Aquarius is an album that could've easily turned out very mediocre, and downright odd. Taking a large number, and very wide range of styles, sometimes sounding unmistakably like Dream Theater, and throwing in a clichéd story line, the content found here looks a little silly on paper. However, something special happened when everything came together, and a clichéd story line takes a clichéd phrase: Aquarius is really an album that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Haken is categorized on this site as Heavy Prog, although the majority of the music found on Aquarius is Progressive Metal. There is enough eclecticism that I agree with the distinction, as the different styles thrown into the mix are plentiful, but they provide some of my favorite moments during the 70 plus minute journey. It would be a lie to tell you that I recognize all of them, but the difference between the metal and Genre X is always different enough to drastically change things up, and put a smile on your face. Besides the standard prog metal, there are some jaunty keyboard passages, occasional folk-like acoustic guitar, and even something that sounds like polka if electric guitars had been used. The mix of styles is a little odd, but surprisingly effective, and helps to keep things feeling fresh and exciting.

While the different styles at play are fun, the core of the music is prog metal, and it is great. Yes, it can sound awfully like Dream Theater at points, especially the singing, but there are few enough of these points that Aquarius doesn't come off as sounding derivative. Coming from someone who hasn't been able to get into DT, nor much prog metal for that matter, I find myself liking the music of Haken so much more. The solos are exciting and adventurous, and they never get so far off the melody that they just become endless rapid trills and scales. That's not to say that there's not virtuosic playing here, but it's done in a more subdued manner. The only moment where I tired of it was at the end of Drowning in the Flood, but that was more a case of being out of place, and it at least doesn't linger for long. When not soloing, there are great melodic, and well structured passages, especially coming from the keyboards. The piano is a great compliment to Ross Jennings' voice, and helps to create a lot of emotion.

The vocals, which are used plentifully on Aquarius, are one of the strongest components, as Jennings has a really great voice. Even at times when the music is not particularly complex, the vocals still make these memorable moments, and keep the softer sections interesting. There are two moments where growling comes in, again, something that usually turns me off, but it's used contextually in the story, and doesn't stay around long enough to bring anything down. The story, if not already evident from the cover art, is about a mermaid, and her journey through life. It follows a predictable path, but manages to be dark and serious without becoming corny. The music reflects the mood of the storyline well, beginning with fun and playful songs, and as the story takes a dark turn, so does the music.

Wrapping up the plot as epically as it was introduced, the final song is simply amazing. It reprises many previous sections, and nearly brings me to tears with how powerfully and beautifully it brings itself to resolution. Each song is strong and has memorable melodies and moments, with the strongest being the opener and closer. The middle five are almost as good, but this is definitely a well structured album, giving you a great first impression, keeping it interesting in the middle, and leaving you with a wonderful final impression.

Just as the album closes, so do my thoughts on it. There's really nothing I find bad about Aquarius that last more than a fleeting moment, and there's so many more great moments that these few are far out of mind by the time it ends. This is really a special album, and even if prog metal has never been your favorite, you should pick this one up, because it just might surprise you.

m2thek | 5/5 |


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