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Haken - Aquarius CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.06 | 1065 ratings

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Prog Metal Team
3 stars Good album, but there is a downside...

Haken's debut has certainly made an impression on the progressive rock community and why wouldn't it? The album features great melodies, skillful instrumental arrangements and virtuosity that can only be matched by the best of the best in the Progressive Metal sub-genre. What's that you say? Not Progressive Metal? Take that up with the team in question, I just describe the music as I hear it.

So why the average rating after all this praise, you might ask? Well, there are quite a few small things that I have been nitpicking for the last couple of months. You see, I really liked this album upon my initial run through the track list but that romantic feeling slowly began to fade over time and turned into a love and hate affair. I might not be the best relationship counselor out there but I'm a great listener and listening is what I'm been doing during my entire affiliation with Aquarius.

Let's begin with the album's length. A 73 minute debut album is bound to have a few filler moments, especially since Haken haven't incorporated any of the material from their previous EP-releases into this studio effort. It's not so much the individual compositions but rather the sub-sections of the tracks that sometimes simply don't work for me. The performances are much too long for their own good, the parade example of this is the 7 minute ballad titled Sun. This is a beautiful performance that would have worked a whole lot better as a 3-3,5 minute tune. The expanded length just doesn't add anything to the overall experience. This can of course be attributed to the band's inexperience, at the same time as others would argue that this is a concept album and Haken needed the extra space to flesh out the story arc. This is of course where you're completely wrong and let me tell you why!

After reading through other reviews of Aquarius, it became very clear to me that none of the previous 33 reviewers could mention a single solid thread of this so called concept album's storyline. The record's Wikipedia page only barely touches on the subject with the words; "It is a concept album about a couple who has a mermaid daughter". I'm with you so far, but what is this story all about? Let's dig down into the lyrics!

After reading through the lyrics to the album's first two songs, The Point Of No Return and Streams, I immediately recognized the writing style that I associate with Mikael Åkerfeldt. This became quite understandable after visiting Haken's website and seeing the individual members favorite music lists. All the lyrical content is attributed to Ross Jennings and there isn't anything particularly wrong with his writing style if you only look at a few passages here and there. The problem arises once you try to connect the dots and see the conceptual float of his work. Here is my main problem...

Warning! The next section can only be classified as a rant for the sake of a rant itself. You have been warned.

Stop making it sound so deep and profound; just add some real meaning to the words! I mean Gabriel and Hammill did use some fancy words back in the day, but at least I could understand the underlying themes behind their lyrics! I actually blame it all on Opeth, since they are the granddaddies of completely gibberish lyrics that sound poetic and beautiful, at first glance, but turn out to be void of actual meaning upon further investigation. Still one can't be too hard on Åkerfeldt & Co considering that English is not their first language. Haken, on the other hand, has no excuse! Ross Jenings' lyrics sound profound when read out loud, but all I really want to do is to understand what he's actually trying to say with all these words. The rest of the band isn't any better. Remember that passage from Rush's Freewill - "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"! This is exactly the case and point here. The least that was expected of them is minimal proofreading and questioning of the bland content of Jenings' contribution since this would be the product all the six members would be promoting in the years ahead. So don't blame Ross Jenings, they are now all equally guilty of the charge!

Musically there is really nothing wrong with the music, that is unless you start to nitpick all the different "inspirations" behind the music. The intro to Streams just screams Kansas to me, while my favorite track of the bunch - Eternal Rain has Yes' Sound Chaser written all over it. And don't even get me started on all the Dream Theater and Pain Of Salvation references, this review is already becoming my lengthiest yet! So the main question is - are they all merely cheap puns or carefully crafted tributes? I think that it's a combination of the two; most of the sections are well written and have a purpose to them, others not so much. The worst example of this happens to be the intro to Drowning In The Flood where Haken really tries to sound heavy but comes off sounding more like a cheap Linkin Park knock off! There is really no reason for all that heavy hitting during the first few minutes of this song since it all eventually dims down into a grand ballad towards the end. This polar difference of arrangements just doesn't work for me. If you wanted to write two different songs then just do it and don't combine them into one 9+ minute composition by calling it a concept album!

I should really end this before I reach the 1 000 word mark. Let me conclude by saying the unexpected! I don't hate this album, in fact I find it quite enjoyable. Still it's those few irritating nitpick moments that manage to ruin what would otherwise have been an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.

***** star songs: Eternal Rain (6:43) Celestial Elixir (16:56)

**** star songs: The Point Of No Return (11:27) Aquarium (10:40)

*** star songs: Streams (10:14) Drowning In The Flood (9:28) Sun (7:19)

Rune2000 | 3/5 |


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