Haken – Aquarius – 5/5
Adagio. Redemption. Ayreon. Opeth. Dream Theatre. These are all names that any self-respecting prog fan should know and know well, and Haken deserve to be the next name on this list. A bold claim, given that there is little here that feels revolutionary, taking the same basic format used by others and performing much within its framework, layering classically inspired keyboards and a fusion frenzy of solo's to produce something oddly refreshing. Hardly surprising that this debut release feels so strong given that two of their members are no stranger to the genre; both guitarist and keyboardist from To-Mera resume their roles here as bassist and guitarist/keyboardist respectively, yet they are certainly not the only members here with talent.
In fact it is the untested vocalist that provides the biggest surprise, capable of offering the occasional growl and snarled line but altogether reliant on his more than impressive tenor capabilities and strength of voice, capable of both delicate and soft lines as well powerfully soaring vocals, and it's this versatility and emotion that comes across that place him amongst the best the genre has to offer. There is another pivotal point of versatility within this artist's construction though; the inclusion of the multi-instrumentalist keyboardist/guitar player, “Hen.” His role could easily become superfluous given the presence of a keyboardist and guitarist already, but his ability to 'float' between instruments allows for any number of tones to emerge; synths behind a neo-classical piano melody, acoustic guitar behind a gentle passage, organs, flutes, violins or whatever accompaniment the music benefits from can all be included to lend another dynamic.
There is no slack in the rest of the instrumentation either, each musician knowing their place and contributing to the end result; a fact highlighted in the two minute solo for 'Eternal Rain,' with each instrument taking it in turns to perform and demonstrate their own abilities. As much as knowing when to play, just as important is the fact that they also know when to move back in the piece's construction allowing what could easily become jarringly complex harmonies seem fluid and come across naturally; the bass comes forth in times of aggression or to produce a funky fill between passages but then is able to step back and let others steer the course of the track, and when combined with the finely tuned production, the result is a release that never feels anything less than harmonious.
To refer to them as prog metal feels a little out of place; between the “Redemption” like vocal lines, “Liquid Tension Experiment's” tendency for virtuoso performances and “Spock's Beard's” ability to get stuck in your head, the whole piece feels more suited to the rock genre. Many of the legends that make up this genre have existed for years – decades in most cases – and even fewer of them succeeded in making waves as early as their debut; both facts that make this all the more exciting as Haken is quickly shaping up to be a strong potential contender to their throne. I'll be damned if this isn't a shoo-in for my favourite album this year.
Highlight: Eternal Rain, Celestial Elixir