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Haken: Aquarius/Visions (remasters)

Can it really be ten years? Well, yes and no. Haken did indeed form back in 2007, however after a 2008 demo, their debut album Aquarius announced the British progressive outfit to the world in 2010. And what an introduction it was. Re-reading my review of the album from the time, it's clear that the it blew me away…

With the progressive metal scene bursting at the seams over the past couple of years with bands desperately trying to be the new Dream Theater or Symphony X, it has been something of a relief that in more recent times a new approach blending the technical wizardry of prog metal with the more restrained pomp and ceremony of traditional prog has come to the fore, and I'm pleased to say that Haken fall into that latter category. Never afraid to shred, flip time signatures at will, or turn up the intensity with huge slabs of heavy guitars, Haken are, however, just as likely to throw in some jazzy piano, atmospheric keyboards or sitar. Even more interesting is that there's a good possibility that they will blend all these styles into one long majestic piece of music that at times is cinematic in scope.

Put together in 2007 by school friends Ross Jennings (vocals) and To-Mera keyboard player Richard Henshall (keys and guitars), the band's line up has swelled to a six piece that now includes To-Mera guitarist Tom Maclean on bass, Linear Sphere guitarist Charles Griffiths, Raymond Hearne on drums and keyboard player Diego Tejeida. All six are excellent performers; however it is actually the composition of the songs that really stands out rather than any one individual. All the music was written by Henshall, with Jennings handling the lyrics, and what the two have pieced together are seven songs that take the listener on an ever widening journey that eases through different styles and thoughts. Sometimes the changes are beautiful and subtle, sometimes they are intentionally jarring. However, and most importantly, the music demands your attention from start to finish. Jennings has a fabulous range and delivery and while it is almost mandatory to add a few growls these days, he does so with a brevity that sharpens their impact. Musically everything is flawless as they twist and turn through some gloriously uplifting sections and take you through the depth of their despairs.

I am usually a champion of shorter albums that hit hard and leave a lasting impression, however with Aquarius, Haken have managed to produce nearly eighty minutes of music that never outstays its welcome. The sound on the album is excellent and Jennings vocals especially, benefit from the tremendous production, where often he is leading the music from the front and dominating all in his path, whereas during some of the harder hitting sections, he is toned down slightly in the mix which allows his voice to meld perfectly with the instrumentation. It makes a nice change not to have a vocalist always as the focal point in the music and these songs benefit from that.

Quirky yet hard hitting, intense yet possessing some humour, influenced by everyone from Genesis and Kansas to Dream Theater and beyond, Haken's debut is one of the best progressive albums of the year
.

And listening to the freshly remastered version of this album released to coincide with Haken's tenth anniversary tour, the effect of Aquarius hasn't dimmed one iota.

Amazingly the band returned only a year later with Visions and those beguiled by the intensity, beauty and scope of what Haken were capable of crafting on their debut were about to have their stack thoroughly blown off. Visions taking the already fully fleshed out framework of Aquarius and ladling an even more expansive outlook right on top. It was, as my 2011 review originally published in Fireworks magazine details, something rather special…

Before I go on to extol the virtues of this excellent sophomore offering from UK prog rock/metal outfit Haken, I should point out that this review copy came my way from an esteemed Fireworks colleague who couldn't quite "engage" with it.

So with the warning that Haken may not be everyone's cup of tea out of the way, let's get on with reviewing a fantastic album by a fantastic band. Released during the early part of 2010, Haken's debut, Aquarius, found a broad spectrum of influences being mixed to create an album that combined traditional prog rock, with the harsher thrust of prog metal by way of little sparkles of fusion, or even ambient. With Visions, Haken are at it again, but this time the influences have dropped away, leaving a confident band who rely on sweet, melodious meanderings for much of the basis to their songs. That however is only a small part of the vision (sorry...) with strident riffs and punchy keyboards interjecting to leave huge smacks of controlled aggression, ensuring that even during the dreamiest of sections you are on the edge of your seat waiting for the next killer guitar blow.

Even that description only covers just a section of what is going on here with the often quirky, but never frivolous, keyboard work from Richard Henshall (who also plays guitar) and Diego Tejeida adding angular sounds to the already intricate mix, while vocalist Ross Jennings, as he did on the debut, impresses with the depth and strength of his delivery. Haken however don't need to impress with virtuosity, they do that purely through the strength of their songs and whether that be the grand scope and challenging sequences of title track "Visions", or the more beautiful, song oriented moments such as "The Mind's Eye", this album should see Haken's star continue to rise.

Ten years since the band first formed, 2017 will see Haken's first two albums, Aquarius and Visions reissued through InsideOutMusic after being unavailable for a lengthy period of time. Remastered by the renowned Jens Bogren (Devin Townsend Project, Between The Buried & Me), who worked with the band on their last two studio albums, Affinity and The Mountain, these reissues see the albums brought up to the sonic quality of their most recent output. And both of these new reissues also come with a bonus disc where each respective album is laid bare as instrumental workouts. Something that allows you to look at them afresh. Or of course you could opt for the 180g Gatefold 2LP versions (which include the album on CD) or simply a Digital Download.

Impressively Haken have continued to maintain their amazingly high standards through the 2013 album The Mountain, 2014 EP Restoration and 2016's surprisingly accessible, Affinity. However if you've never heard the band's first two albums, they are simply too good to let them pass you by a second time.



Track Listing
Aquarius (2010)
1 The Point Of No Return
2 Streams

3 Aquarium

4 Eternal Rain
5 Drowning In The Flood
6 Sun

7 Celestial Elixir


Instrumental Disc
1 The Point Of No Return
2 Streams

3 Aquarium

4 Eternal Rain
5 Drowning In The Flood
6 Sun

7 Celestial Elixir


Visions (2011)
1 Premonition

2 Nocturnal Conspiracy
3 Insomnia

4 The Mind's Eye

5 Portals

6 Shapeshifter

7 Deathless

8 Visions


Instrumental Disc
1 Premonition

2 Nocturnal Conspiracy
3 Insomnia

4 The Mind's Eye

5 Portals

6 Shapeshifter

7 Deathless

8 Visions

Added: March 9th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Haken online
Hits: 232
Language: english

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