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Haken - Aquarius CD (album) cover

AQUARIUS

Haken

 

Heavy Prog

4.06 | 1026 ratings

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Gallifrey
2 stars 5 Years On: Haken's Aquarius

Nope, I still don't get it.

And I'm not just referring to the fact that I don't get this album, I don't understand why I don't get this album, and more importantly, why I absolutely totally get Visions.

I found Haken back in early 2012, in the beginnings of my progressive phase, and from the opening seconds of "Premonition" I knew these guys were something good. Visions had such a knack for melody and recurring themes - all the melodies were strong, memorable and able to be beautifully interlinked. I still stand by my opinions that that album is one of the best modern progressive metal albums, even if I now realise it is a touch wanky. This, however. This isn't even close to being a good album. Honestly, this is like Haken putting all of their good ideas onto one record, and all their bad ideas onto the other.

To me, this album, or at least parts of it, is the physical manifestation of Everything I Hate About Progressive Rock: Metal Edition. There's no sense of restraint, the songs carry on because they can and not because they should, the band regularly plays all over any piece of sincerity with as many corny keyboard patches as possible, and the worst one of all - every few minutes they'll slot into a piece of really nice material that reminds you oh so clearly how much talent they're wasting. In his review, progandother put it quite simply - "...to smack your favourite food in your face only to ejaculate on your face right afterwards? Not a very nice taste is it? I mean I'm sure that steak was tasty but with the icky smell of pretentious ball juice afterwards?" But I even disagree with that statement a bit. Comparing the good parts (and yes there are some) on Aquarius to a steak is a massive, massive overcompliment.

"The Point of No Return" is certainly a great example of this. There's that one melody, the "A child is born tonight" refrain, that is absolutely awesome. I could easily hear Visions-era Haken taking that and turning it into an absolutely brilliant recurring melody. But do they? Of course not! That wouldn't be PROGE! Instead they elect to splice that good part in the middle of a series of instrumental sections in which they show everyone just how bad progressive rock is. It's like they all went into a room, said "how can we be the biggest walking caricature of a genre that is already made fun of regularly", went to the keyboard and chose the worst and most disgusting keyboard patches and said "yes, this is brilliant! Absolutely no one will take us seriously now!"

The solo sections on this album are quite honestly disgusting. How a group of trained and educated musicians can listen to those sloppy and retarded passages with a serious mind and say "yes, this totally does compliment the melodic sections of this album and doesn't make us look like a walking joke" is beyond me. And it's not as if they feature sparingly, like on many prog metal records. Nearly every song here is over 10 minutes - not because they're all epics, but because the obligatory wankfest is at least four minutes long on every track. And it truly is every track. There isn't a single song here that isn't ruined by a terrible solo. Even modern-day Dream Theater is better than that.

But it's not just the soloing that ruins these tracks - the mostly inoffensive "Streams" gets its strong melody and piano intro smashed to pieces by the inclusion of a) doo-wop backing vocals, and b) some of the most pathetic and laughable death growls I have ever heard. These 'growls' honestly sound like he's whispering into the mic because he can't growl, and then in the studio they've just amped the volume up and added tons of reverb to make it sound 'menacing'. Throughout the album we get dosed with "XD look how quirky we are" sections, weak metal parts (the chug-chugs in "Drowning in the Flood" come to mind) and an overall sense that Haken are writing this music simply to be put on the uncyclopedia entry for progressive rock (a great read, if you haven't already done so).

But what these terrible passages do to the majority of Aquarius is belittle it. Overall, there's still some good material here. Sure, if you isolated the 25 minutes of solid music it would still come up short to the opening track of Visions alone, but it's not bad. There are good moments, like the midsection of "Drowning in the Flood" or the aforementioned lead hook on "Point of No Return". I used to actually think that "Aquarium" was the only fully salvageable track here, but even that song's great melody is killed by a) a very poor and nasally vocal performance from Jennings, b) those uber-shitty hard rock riffs, and c) yet another glorious wankfest. Now I would probably give that title to "Sun", being a mostly clean ballad track devoid of ridiculous solos, but it really doesn't come across as anything more that an okay track raised to the best on the album by the crap that surrounds it. Any moments of goodness that Haken throw into this album are swamped and outnumbered by awkward, unnecessary, cringeworthy or straight-up bad sections, and it makes any good parts very hard to take seriously.

Being the longest on the album, "Celestial Elixir" is simultaneously the best and worst song on here, because although it has the best recurring theme from the album, it also has the longest solo sections. The chorus of this song is stellar, I think everyone can say that. The verses here aren't bad either, but the chorus is on par with at least half of the tracks on Visions, especially that wonderful guitar melody that flows under Ross' voice. The rest? Utter garbage, that's what the rest is. From the circus organ in the intro to the absolutely ridiculous juxtaposition of the emotional chorus with a fucking ragtime solo, this is the most schizophrenic Haken have been, and it doesn't make for nice listening on the whole.

Aquarius, and albums of its kind, are the reason progressive rock gets a bad rep. But it's not as if this album was done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, because so many sections of this are clearly meant to be taken seriously. Fortunately, for those of us with tolerances, and those who do not want a perfectly good genre to become the butt of a joke, there is another album, titled Visions, that rectifies the majority of the terrible things that Aquarius does to the name of Haken. Sure, there are a handful of lel-so-quirky solo sections on that, but they're so much more tasteful than on here, and far, far less frequent. Plenty of songs on that album go by without Haken ever feeling like pissing all over their hard work, unlike this album in which there isn't one.

But in the end, the thing that baffles me the most about this record is that I seem to be the only one who holds this opinion, that Aquarius is utter shite and Visions is a near-masterpiece. Everyone I know either seems to hate them both or hold them both on the same high platform. I just plain and simple don't get it.

3.6

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 2/5 |

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