Tag Archives: Haken

Best Albums of 2016 – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when music bloggers go through the year’s releases and highlight the best of the year. The usual caveats apply; these are the best records of 2016 I’ve actually had the chance to hear. I only have a finite CD budget, and even though I’m a part-time music writer, not every record company sends me free promos.

We’ll start with 25 to 11. Except that they’re not ranked in any order, because that would be next to impossible.

Update Because I missed out one record by mistake, this year’s list now goes up to 26. You will have to guess which one it was yourselves.

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What is your album of the year so far?

We’ve approaching the mid-point of the year.

2016 has been a terrible year for deaths, but it’s also been a tremendous year for new music. The underground progressive rock scene has produced many great albums from bands as diverse as Mantra Vega, Knifeworld, Haken, Iamthemorning, Purson, Frost* and Big Big Train. The mainstream has come up with some impressive prog-friendly records too, with David Bowie, Suede and Radiohead amongst them. And that’s before we even start on what’s come out of the world of metal.

So, what’s you record of the year so far? What other records have impressed a lot?

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Haken – Affinity

Haken Affinity Haken are one of the best of the current generation of progressive rock bands. They combine the required level of instrumental virtuosity with a degree of songcraft and compositional skills unmatched by most of their peers. The band came of age with their third album “The Mountain” when they transcended influences from Zappa to Gentle Giant to created a clear musical identity of their own. After the rather more experimental EP “Restoration”, they’re back with their fourth full-length album, “Affinity”, and it might just be the best thing they’ve done.

The album begins with clanking electronic effects building towards a barrage of percussion. Though it’s the album’s title track it’s more of an extended intro to the first song proper, the towering “Initiate” which combines pummelling progressive-metal riffery with delicate shimmering vocal sections. That sets the theme for this record; razor-sharp riffs combine with anthemic soaring vocal lines and gorgeous harmonies with the dynamics to make the disparate elements work together.

“1985″ more a more conventional prog-metal with its spiralling riff and parping keyboard solo, and “Lapse” even takes on something close to a dance feel at the beginning. The fifteen-minute The Architect, the longest track on the record, forms the centrepiece of the album, a multi-section prog-metal workout with staccato riffs, an atmospheric jazzy instrumental section and a huge anthemic climax. In contrast other songs display a less-is-more simplicity. The elegiac Red Giant is a stately thing of beauty, and the nine minutes of the dreamy slow-burning closer Bound By Gravity ends the album on another high point, based around simple repeating patterns that build in intensity into a vast sonic cathedral.

It’s perhaps not quite as eclectically varied as “The Mountain”, but as a consistent and coherent record it’s perhaps an even stronger work. There is slightly less emphasis on complex song structures and relatively few solos. It’s really the vocal harmonies that stand out on this record, with all the band contributing to the backing vocals.

The result is something that’s clearly identifiable as progressive rock, but reinvented for the twenty-first century rather than a reverential pastiche of the music from a generation ago. It’s the sort of thing that should appeal as much to those bought up on Muse or Elbow as to old-school fans of Pink Floyd or King Crimson. This is state of the art modern progressive rock at its best.

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Haken – Initiate

A new track from of of the most innovative contemporary prog-metal acts out there, a taster for their forthcoming album.

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Haken – Restoration

Haken - RestorationHaken are in the vanguard of the latest generation of progressive rock bands. The six-piece came of age with their acclaimed third album, 2013′s “The Mountain”, on which they moved beyond the obvious influences on earlier records to develop a musical identity of their own.

A breakthrough album is always going to be difficult one to follow, and Haken have chosen not to make another full-length album but an EP. Although with a running time of 33 minutes it’s not far shorter in length than many a vinyl-era LP.

There are just three songs. Opener Darkest Light is dense and complex stuff, all spiky staccato metal riffs and off-kilter vocal harmonies. In complete contrast, Earthling is a thing of fragile beauty, mellow and atmospheric, a sweeping vocal melody atop shimmering interlocking guitar arpeggios, which breaks and changes gear at exactly the right moment. The record closes with Crystallised, a kaleidoscopic 19-minute epic with jazz-inflected instrumental workouts, a cappella vocal harmony sections, eventually building to a huge anthemic climax.

You can still hear some of their influences; the frenetic left-field jazz-rock of Zappa, the quirky harmonies of Gentle Giant, the technical riffery of Dream Theater, even a hint of the Canterbury Scene at one point. But ultimately there’s nothing derivative about this record, and they stand head and shoulders above most generic prog-metal bands; their undoubted instrumental prowess is always in service to the song rather than flashy showing-off. An important element of their distinctive sound is Ross Jennings’ vocals; neither the traditional rock or metal frontman, nor the whining style of much contemporary indie-rick. Add to that the fact that the whole band sing and you get the potential for interesting use of vocal harmonies.

“Restoration” is an impressive record. Haken have the instrumental virtuosity and musical scope of the best in progressive rock, but unlike some other bands they aren’t content to create reverential pastiches of 70s greats. Instead they create ambitious and complex music that actually sounds like something from the 21st Century.

This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine.

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Haken – Darkest Light

Haken release a promo video with a track from the forthcoming EP “Restoration”.

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Haken – The Garage

Haken at The GarageHaken are one of the best of the new generation of younger progressive rock bands producing music with all the scope, ambition and virtuosity that goes with the genre label while sounding little like any band from the 1970s. Their third album “The Mountain” was a major step forward, which moved past the obvious influences (Zappa, Dream Theater) of their earlier records to develop a sound that was their own.

Support came from the four-piece My Soliloquy, with an entertaining set of highly melodic prog-metal. They made a remarkably big sound for four people, especially when they didn’t have a bassist, relying on guitarist Mike Gilpin’s riffing to fill the bottom end of the sound, and frontman Pete Morten made a strong impression both on vocals and on lead guitar. They’re a band to watch out for in the future.

Haken at The GarageThe two eight-string guitars and a six-string bass made it clear Haken were no indie band. But neither are they the sort of technically showy muso band that such things might suggest. Opening with the hymn-like but extremely earwormy “The Path”, on just piano and vocals, they proceeded to play the The Mountain in full. By the time they reached “Cockroach King” with its nod to Gentle Giant they had hit their stride. The complex material came over remarkably well live, with multi-part vocal harmonies with all six band members and the interplay between the two guitars of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths.

Despite the obvious virtuosity of the whole band there was relatively little in the way of soloing; the strength of their music is in the composition. The Mountain is an extremely ambitious piece that amounts to far more than the sum of its parts with it’s recurring motifs, huge soaring melodies and masterful use of dynamics. Frontman Ross Jennings has a fairly unique vocal style that has given rise to comparisons to Freddy Mercury with his extensive use of falsetto. The whole thing was an intense performance from the entire band than earned a huge applause when the final notes of the closing number “Somebody” died away.

After that tour-de-force they finished the show with a handful of older songs from “Aquarius” and “Visions”, encoring with the completely bonkers sixteen minute kaleidoscopic epic “Celestial Elixir” making a fitting end to to a fantastic night.

In the past couple of years there has been something of a sea change in the progressive rock world. The scene had been dominated by reverential homages to the 70s pioneers or flashy prog-metallers whose sound is typically dominated by instrumental pyrotechnics. Haken are one of the new breed of bands who are neither of those things. If you still think progressive rock is all about cod-Genesis 70s retreads, you should listen to Haken.

Haken will be returning with an UK tour with Leprous and Maschine in late October and early November.

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Haken and Leprous announce co-headline tour

Haken, Leprous and Maschine

Haken and Leprous have announced a tour of the UK and Ireland in late October and early November, taking in London, Bristol, York, Manchester and Edinburgh, among others, with Maschine as special guest.

While there’s a still time and a place for two-and-a-half shows with room for everyone’s favourite songs, shows with two or three bands each playing tight focussed sets and pulling out all the stops makes for a great gig, and gives audiences value for money.

Here’s a taste of Haken. Yes, they really do look like that…

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Continuing the end-of-year albums-of-the-year contdown with the the first six from the top ten. Like the first part from 21 to 11, I have listed them in alphabetical order rather than attempting to rank them, but if I had, they’d be #10 up to #5.

Also Eden[REDACTED]

[Redacted] Also Eden have significantly raised their game with this, their second album since Rich Harding took over as lead vocalist. Despite occasional echoes of Tangerine Dream, Porcupine Tree and even Trespass-era Genesis in the album’s quieter moments, this is a harder-edged and more rock-orientated record than their previous work. The result is powerful yet richly layered record, with Simon Rogers’ inventive guitar playing at the centre of the sound, and Rich Harding’s lyrics moving from the political to the personal.

HakenThe Mountain

Haken The Mountain Haken are another band to step up to the next level with their third album. Previous albums had displayed some obvious influences, most notably Dream Theater and Zappa. But here, aside from a couple of nods to Gentle Giant, most noticeably on the completely bonkers “Cockroach King”, they develop a sound that’s all their own. There are metal riffs, church-like vocal harmonies, deep and complex arrangements and recurring motifs, resulting in a record that both progressive in every sense of the word, and very contemporary sounding at the same time.

Iain JenningsMy Dark Surprise

My Dark Surprise It was indeed a surprise when Mostly Autumn’s keyboard player released a solo album with very little fanfare early in the year. It’s a concept album with lyrics by vocalist Mark Chatterton, and guest appearances from Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison amongst others. With its mix of hard rock and atmospheric ballads with touches of electronica it has many familiar ingredients, but it’s all put together in a different way and avoids sounding anything like a repeat of Iain’s earlier work. The way it seamlessly blends a lot of different styles demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger. A dark surprise indeed, but a very pleasant one.

IhsahnDas Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen Ihsahn’s last couple of albums have been ideal for anyone missing Opeth from the time before Mikael Akerfeldt abandoned the cookie monster. But this album sees Ihsahn leave Black Metal behind, setting course for far stranger waters. There are still moments of ambitious prog-metal especially on the first half of the record, but this album also takes in avant garde noise, with storms of clattering percussion and passages of spooky atmospherics. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it does show how the more experimental end of metal can be far more progressive than many an act labelled as “prog”.

Magenta The Twenty-Seven Club

Magenta -  The 27 Club When it comes to old-school neo-prog, Magenta are still one of the best bands in the business. They’ve never denied their strong Yes influence. There are some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry, and Christina Booth often sings in similar register to Jon Anderson. although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. Their sixth album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music it makes a very good starting point for new listeners.

Touchstone – Oceans of Time

Touchstone_OceansOfTime SMALL Touchstone’s fourth album sees something of a change of direction, with vocalist Kim Seviour and guitarist Adam Hodgson taking on a bigger share of the writing. The result is an album with a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than prog-metal instrumental workouts, and a rawer stripped-down sound with a lot more light and shade that gives Kim’s vocals space to breathe without being swamped by the instrumentation. With their most mature album to date they deserve to win themselves a much larger audience with this release.

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