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Vinyl, Import, February 10, 2017
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Haken is a new British band already creating a buzz in the UK with their live gigs in support of King's X, Riverside, and Bigelf. The band fuses metal with progressive rock, drawing influences from Dream Theater, Genesis, IQ, and Queen. Aquarius is a larger than life conceptual work filled with bombastic keyboard flourishes and purely lethal guitarwork.
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So, with that information as background, please believe me when I tell you that Haken's Aquarius album is the best prog rock album I've heard in YEARS. This is re-invigorated prog, just great melodies, hooks, rhythms, intricate time changes that somehow sound new rather than a rehash of 70s greats. If you're a fan of prog rock (especially if you're an older fan like me) BUY THIS ALBUM.
The only aspect of it that I'm not crazy about is the obligatory "death growls" often found in modern prog/metal. After all these years, it kind of strikes me as silly, really. Thankfully, it's held to a minimum here. The vocals are fantastic in spite of the few "growly" parts. This is inventive, fresh-sounding music. I'll be buying Haken's other 2 albums shortly!
Other "good's" (for me anyway)?
- Very well-recorded, very proggy, hard/symphonic/rock effort that is, for the most part, well-written and very well executed
- Not afraid to go a little over the top with the keyboards (which I usually don't mind), and the music is very well-arranged and nicely balanced between the rest of the parts (guitar, bass, drums), even trading off melody themes between instruments for variation
- Energetic and epic where it needs to be, and the occasional interplay between guitar and keyboards is quite nice. The BIG-ness of the sound kind of reminds me of certain Rabin-era Yes
- The "funny follies bumbling clowns" themes interjected in the songs seems out of place at times. Once or twice, ok, I can handle, but it seemed to pop up a bit TOO much, and therefore a bit distracting from the established mood of the piece. Rick Wakeman used to do that all the time...some epic piece about Knights Exploring Middle Earth, and he'd throw in some out-of-tune piano barroom melody that would have better worked for a Charlie Chaplin movie soundtrack
- What's with the Satanic-growling voice effect? Admit I got tired of that popping up in multiple places
- Lyrics. I've definitely heard better, and I've definitely heard worse. Some apocalyptic-ish theme about some gal who's born a mermaid, abandoned at birth, and plays some significant part when the world floods. Nice idea, but the execution didn't quite nail it for me story-wise
- Vocalist. I'm just not into nasally/whiny vocalists (a style prominent in 80's hair metal..."CAAAAAAAARRRRIIIIIEEEE" by Europe is an infamous example) and this guy is leaning that way in a few parts...but not so much I can't listen to it
So, at least for now the two tracks that will get substantial "IPOD rotation" (a joke, as I don't even own one!) are tracks 1 and 7. BIG epic sounding, interestingly structured/arranged, and fairly enjoyable.
All-in-all, I'm glad I one-clicked it.
What stands out most for me are the haunting vocals. "Aquarius" has such a sad and mournful melody. "Celestial Elixir" is powerful and epic, as fantastic a closing song as any I've heard. The singer has a great voice and adds a lot of depth and weight to the songs. The lyrics are a cut above typical prog lyrics, too. I often roll my eyes listening to prog. Thankfully, no eye rolling is needed here.
Haken loves to break up their songs with long, complex, and often just plain silly instrumental breakdowns. Silly in a good way, though, like how Jordan Rudess throws random circus music bits into Dream Theater's songs. I love these parts, when you know the band is just having a lot of fun, and isn't taking itself TOO seriously.
This is a must-own album for any progressive rock fan. I've been playing it practically nonstop for the past two weeks. It's one of those.