Haken - AffinityHaken have rapidly become one of my favorite bands in the world. Since my introduction with 2013’s The Mountain I’ve retraced their steps back through Visions and Aquarius – both slightly uneven stylistically and in terms of quality but with truly exemplary moments – and eagerly devoured their revised versions of older tracks on their 2014 EP, Restoration. I’ve seen them live twice and would be seeing them again in a month but for some pesky exams which will impact my future. It was therefore with great enthusiasm that I sat down with their fourth album Affinity. While Haken‘s core is consistent they deftly dabble in myriad other bands and genres to forge their unique identity: the only remaining questions are will there be more different sounds this time around? Would it still be brimming with progressive goodness?

The short answer is Yes to both questions. You may justifiably question the originality of a progressive band drawing on Yes – they all do. But I don’t mean Yes in the Fragile, Close to the Edge or Relayer sense. I mean Yes straight out of 1983 and 90125. The opening to the appropriately-titled “1985” screams “Owner of a Lonely Heart” through its cheery lead guitar, reverb-laden drums and bright synths. This 80s feel pervades Affinity: while not always as overt as “1985,” there’s a brilliant sense of fun and insincerity which makes them all the more lovable. The opening track “affinity.exe” bleeds in with the booping-beeping reminiscent of old-fashioned computers, which recurs at the conclusion. The lo-fi cover art looks as if it were drawn on some scrappy predecessor to Microsoft Paint. Hell, even the transition from 2:48 in “The Architect” – the record’s 15-minute epic – is pure 80s dark synthwave, the type of which is currently gushing from Blood Music’s every orifice.

Aside from “Cockroach King,” which is an entity unto itself, I view The Mountain as measured, very carefully-composed and broad in scope. That quality isn’t lost on Affinity despite its revelry. “The Architect” is huge, both musically and in duration, spanning decades and genres in unifying its whole. It has the epic orchestrations backing spacious riffs, oodles of noodles and the vocal gamut run by an increasingly varied and nuanced Ross Jennings. It’s a magnificent piece, made all the more special by it being the first time (I think?) that Haken has used harsh vocals and djenty guitars, previously beyond their range for heaviness.

Haken - 2016

As AMG noted in his review for The Mountain, the willingness to integrate poppy melodies is admirable, evocative of The Dear Hunter to me. Harmonious moments anchor the album in memorability, with sparkling vocal lines and guitar/synth harmonies which have an annoying habit of winding through my head while I’m diligently examining ambulatory constructive trusts of the home. “Earthrise” and “Bound by Gravity” are prominent examples. The former is unspeakably catchy: its leading riff is among the best I’ve heard this year, its opening vocals so bouncy and its chorus endlessly singable (“Resolve to carry on / another life awaits beyond / the horizon!”). The latter opens as a melancholic ballad and makes for a serenely peaceful listen. At both ends of Haken‘s spectrum – the proggy and the melodic – everything is executed wonderfully.

You know I said that Haken is one of my favorite bands? Well it’s in the batch behind Moonsorrow who are probably at the top of my list. So when I say that Haken released the best album this month it resonates – and when I say they released one of the best albums this year I mean it. Time will tell if it supersedes The Mountain atop their discography but the signs are very promising. Do not miss this.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Inside Out Music
Websites: www.haken.com | www.facebook.com/haken
Releases worldwide: April 29th, 2016

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  • Christian P

    Didn’t they use harsh vocals on Aquarius?

    • El_Cuervo

      If they did, I wasn’t paying as much attention. As I implied, I’ve not spent as much time with Aquarius and Visions.

      • Kronos

        They don’t use harsh vocals because they don’t have a harsh vocalist – the harsh vocals on “The Architect” are courtesy of Einar Solberg of Leprous.

        • MelbCro

          Ross Jennings did do harsh vocals on Aquarius and he has said he will be doing Einar’s part himself live.

          • Kronos

            Well then, so much for that.

    • Dan85207

      They did in one or two tracks. Streams for sure, but I think there was another on that album.

    • Bart the Repairman

      You’re right, but it was some weird effect rather than normal growl/scream.

  • Bart the Repairman

    I read a couple of laudatory reviews, and 4.5 here seems to me like the final stamp of quality. My body is ready.
    One question – the whole album sounds so leprous-y, or just this track?

    • El_Cuervo

      Nah not really. I think they’re quite different.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I have not listened to Leprous, but since you compared them to Haken now I’ll have to check them out.

      • Bart the Repairman

        After listening to the whole thing, I have to agree with El_Cuervo. I don’t feel so much Leprous vibe in other tracks. But you should check’em out anyway. IMO „Coal” is their best work (perhaps because it’s the darkest one). I like my metal multi-layered, complicated and surprising, and „Coal” is one of the very few albums I appreciate for a… so to say „tasteful simplicity”, if you know what I mean.

        Leprous is also absolutely fantastic live. Einar Solberg’s vocal abilities are inhuman. He hits every note pitch-perfectly and really have that crystal clear voice you can hear on polished studio records.

  • I got my copy coming in the mail and I think I’ve listened to about 30 sec of the advanced track, starving myself so I can get the full Haken experience…can’t wait to crack it open and dig in in a couple days!!! I never would’ve given a second thought to them if not for the review of the Mountain on AMG prompting me to check ’em out.

  • Brother Ben

    Interesting… never heard of these guys but they sound awesome. El Cuervo, you always seem to introduce me to unique bands that I never would have given a chance. VOLA’s Inmazes is a prime example; I can’t get enough of that album, or their other material.

    • Bart the Repairman

      Be sure to check out Haken’s back catalogue, you will be stunned (the title track from „Visions”, jeeez…). They are often named the best prog band nowadays, and for good reasons.

      • Brother Ben

        I’m listening to The Mountain while doing homework and I’ve been very impressed so far. I’ll check out Visions next, thanks for the suggestion

  • “The Architect” is one of the best progressive metal songs of the decade.

  • Guitarist (far right of band pic) looks like Ben Affleck.

  • tetters

    I love the music…. I’m just having a hard time getting past the vocalist’s voice though.

    • Kronos

      He can be a little off-putting at first, and his delivery style isn’t what metal fans are used to – he actually sings very quietly, or at least very comfortably. Haken vocals aren’t really belted out like they are in pretty much all metal.

      • tetters

        Thanks for the reply. I think you’ve accurately described what I’m hearing. Admittedly, I’ve heard of Haken but never given them a listen until now. (So much good metal out there to listen to!) I’ll check out some of their back catalogue to get a better feel for their sound.

        • BaboonKing

          If you want some pointers, I’d recommend checking out “Aquarium”, “Visions” and “Atlas Stone”. Those are from their first three albums, and should give you a good idea of the band’s sound and overall style.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            The fact that BaboonKing has not mentioned the Cockroach King makes me think there’s a rivalry between both kingdoms.

          • BaboonKing

            Haha… The Cockroach King is an outstanding song, but as El Cuervo said, it is its own microcosmos.

            Oh, and baboons do eat insects from time to time. ;)

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Any song that is its own microcosmos should always be recomended ;)

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      While reading the review I was listening to the embedded track and I just thought to myself: this is exactly the kind of band where you will get people saying “I like it except for the vocals”

      • Berit Dogg

        What on earth would be the point of Manowar apart from the vocals? That bass solo?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Well… If you ask me (and you just did) in Manowar’s case the vocals are the kickass icing on a very fucking Metal cake.

          • Berit Dogg

            I almost agree! Also, that’s about the only thing on this page that I understand… I’m prog-blind, you see.

          • Berit Dogg

            Yes, yes, of course. Just jumping at the opportunity ta talk about something other than …prog. In prog class I’m the retard in the back flicking boogers in your hair.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I had to pick those boogers out of my hair. Now I know who did it.

    • 1 Screaming Dizbuster

      The deluxe version is up on Spotify with all instrumental versions. . Damn good with or without vocals

  • Diego Molero

    This took me by surprise, didn’t know that Haken would be releasing an album this year. I liked The Mountain a lot, so this is a no brainer for me. Great review Cuervo!

  • Kmill

    I bought The Mountain reluctantly and was completely blown away. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. So glad to see a positive review.

  • Kronos

    Great review, Cuervo. I also really like this album, but am not sure if I like it better than the Mountain. either way, it’s a cool stylistic experiment and has great songs.

    • El_Cuervo

      Ye I think The Mountain is more… epic? It has more orchestral stuff and feels a little more poignant.

      While I really like them both, I think this one has better songs, if less flow between tracks.

      • Kronos

        Yes, much more epic, and with a bigger emotional weight.

        • 517H

          I still play Paraeidolia regularly. It’s fine work. The Mountain does feel more emotional but this new one feels a little more interesting, maybe more mysterious

  • BaboonKing

    Glad to hear it stands up to their previous work. Great review, thank you El Cuervo!

    By the way, will you guys be reviewing the new Circus Maximus?

    • Chris Timbó

      I bought Havoc. Sad to say it left me cold after the first spins. Maybe it’s a grower.

      • BaboonKing

        I can understand people saying it’s a step down from their previous work. I think it’s more pop-ish and streamlined, but still enjoyable. I’d be curious to hear what AMG & co think about it.

        • robpal

          New CM is clearly a grower but, sadly, it’s their weakest effort. Nevertheless it’s fun to listen and “Loved Ones” is one hell of a song. That’s why I love this band.

    • We received promo after the release date. It may get a TYMHM.

  • Meriyas

    Great review El Cuervo. I’m so happy this album turned out great. I gave it a listen this morning and holy shit 1985 is a fucking brilliant song. I love the retro vibe to it all.

  • Iain Gleasure

    I must admit that progressive metal and rock often bore me, turning in to musical wankery sessions. I get it their great musicians but it seems so many are poor song writers.
    That said, I am always pleased with the reviewing skill of this blog. Cheers, and keep up the good work, even if I don’t love it.

    • MelbCro

      Your view of prog is a stereotype. When I listen to a bands like Leprous, Riverside, Anathema for example, last thing that comes to my mind is wankery.

  • MelbCro

    Love this album, its perfect.

  • Levly

    I gotta say at first I felt quite let down by the record, and thought it was a big step down from the absolute brilliance of The Mountain. With repeated listens I have warmed to Affinity and it indeed contains great songs.

    That being said, I maintain it’s not nearly as good as The Mountain, not as coherent or epic – and the 1980s fetish can feel a little gimmicky at times. Still, Haken remains one of the best prog band today, and this remains a very good record that they can be proud of. It’s just that The Mountain was a rare masterpiece :).

    • MelbCro

      I thinks its their best album. Honest question though, the mountain has some quite nice 70s worship. Why is that not gimmicky as opposed to the 80s stuff?

      • Levly

        I guess it’s the way they use purposefully dated electronic and synth sounds that don’t convince me (as well as the way the way the album is presented, cover, opening and ending satellite sounds, etc).
        I would also argue that the 70s prog rock influence is such an integral part of the sound of so many modern prog metal bands that it doesn’t stand out so much when Haken does it. 70s prog is in effect the basis of prog music, which still stands true today.
        In the end I guess I just like 70s rock better than 80s rock, personal taste and all that ;).

        • MelbCro

          You don’t like 80s synth? We can’t be friends bro.

    • Well said. As I was listening to the disc, I found myself struggling a bit. The emotional appeal of The Mountain is missing for me on this one. Atlas Stone, Falling Back To Earth and Pareidolia all gave me chills when listening to them the first time (and continue to do so now). I miss that feeling here. Still enjoy it, just not quite on the same level as the previous release, to my ears.

      Now I’m going to have some haken, I mean bacon, for breakfast.

    • 2_Wycked

      Same here. I’ve come around to it after more spins but it’s not going to top The Mountain for me. For what it’s worth I think The Mountain is the best album Haken will ever make, honestly.

  • beurbs

    90125 is the best album there is

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      You must surely own a lonely heart…

      • beurbs

        No. I’m in the city of love listening to the changes in our song.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Hold on! nah… Leave it.

  • mmmmm k when’s the new Gorjira out?

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      You say that like Gojira are objectively better than Haken, without any reasoning. Keep pretentious comments out of the thread, dude.

      • Don’t get all butthurt about it. Haken does nothing for me. Too much pseudo intellectual rubbish and high pitched clean vocals.

        • MelbCro

          Haken is a band that actually has a lot of fun with their music, they like taking the piss out of prog clichés. So you are completely off the mark by calling them pseudo intellectual.

          • I don’t think I am having sat through a few lyrics videos of theirs.

          • MelbCro

            Ah yeah, and you think that gives you a full range of their content or the context of what they do?
            And given you are a Gojira fan, what about their on the nose environmentalist lyrics and themes? I could make an argument that they are a band that takes itself way more seriously than Haken. But I think those kinds of reasoning are pretty shitty to be honest.

          • Shrug could be they have written things I wouldn’t find dull and pretentious. Affinity doesn’t seem like it’s that album though. And I’m not against bands taking themselves seriously, I prefer it when they do. What i don’t have patience for is whiny music about: “We’ll make this dream last forever and ever

            Tears will run dry

            From my ever wandering eye

            But I’m prepared to stay

            ‘Til my dying day”

            Hahaha. Yeah no.

          • MelbCro

            That’s whiny? Damn dude, you must hate all melancholy music. I can only imagine what you think of someone like Steven Wilson.

            Anyway it sure is no song about saving a lazy ass whale. Why can’t the whale save himself? Needing a handout from the goddamn French.
            *disclaimer: I’m not entirely sure if Gojira actually has lyrics about saving lazy ass whales.

          • Diego Molero

            They have lyrics about flying whales. I’m a big Gojira fan (I also like Haken a lot), and I have to say that lyrics aren’t exactly Gojira’s strong point.

    • robpal

      June 17.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Haken are one of those bands I should probably like but just can’t seem to get into. The vocals are not the problem; I love Rishloo and Caligula’s Horse. But I feel if any album were to get me into their music, this would be it. Very intrigued by what I have heard so far.

    • garion333

      This is me. Exactly me.

    • Ein Sophistry

      Same here, but I’ll keep trying. Took me years to get into Rishloo, and now I can’t get enough of them.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        Rishloo likewise took me a while. I’m just afraid if I give Haken the time of day now, I’ll have to drop everything and go discog hunting!

    • GrandmasterB

      Rishloo and Caligula’s Horse are my favorite bands at the moment — the former for the vocals while the latter for the guitarwork

  • robpal

    When I heard the mentioned transition in The Architect I instatntly thought MASS EFFECT.
    Also, they had some harsh vocals on the debut, pretty unnecessary in my opinion.
    Anyway, album of the month and probably year-ending Top 5.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Synthwave? In my metulz? Yes!

    Jokes aside, I loved The Mountain (which I would never have listened to if it wasn’t for this here website) and I’m definitely going to check this one out as well. HYPE!

  • junkyhead

    Kinda reminds me in a weird way of contemporary Anathema but heavier. Cool stuff.

    • MelbCro

      Not weird at all, I think a lot of the melodies on this one are very Anathema-esque. The 2 ballad type songs on it, red giant and bound by gravity give off major Anathema vibes

    • El_Cuervo

      I would say this is more true of The Mountain but I definitely agree with you.

  • El Lado Oscuro

    Definitely, record of the year material. Amazing work. Good review

  • Chris Timbó

    Great review! I’m loving this one, and it growed on me faster than The Mountain. These guys are on a roll!

  • First run through for me went smoothly, the album feels fluid and natural, I can already tell that this will be one of my favourites this year. And as like everyone else has already mentioned, “The Architect” is so god damn good, a real contender for song of the year

    • Bart the Repairman

      I’m listening to “The Architect” right now. Robert Fripp would be proud of that middle section.

      Whoa! Finally some vocals with balls!

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I like Jennings’ vocal work, comparable in its quality to Soen’s Joel Ekelöf. The Mountain was epic indeed. I’d compare it in quality and emotional weight to Guilt Machine’s On This Perfect Day. But…. The Cockroach King? I tend to skip that track every time. It sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise perfect album.

    And I always like a band that has the machine that goes “Ping!”

  • If anyone is curious, the band’s name is suppose to rhyme/sound like “bacon.” I did not know that until recently to be completely honest.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      I thought it was something like “Hah-ken”.

      Anything that rhymes with bacon instantly gets 10 points in my book.

    • Barry Neilson

      Last time I saw them they were selling a t shirt with Kevin bacon on it…. Love this band. The album is a masterpiece

  • ARelativelyNewPerson

    Reminds me of Tesseract, ill give it a spin

    • Tom Hardy

      Only diff Tesseract being better.

      • Barry Neilson

        No

      • Not even close.

      • terran236

        Psyche. Haken is beyond tesseracts capabilities, technically and melodically. Tesseract seems shallow and 1 dimensional in comparison.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Funny you’d call Tesseract one dimensional, being that in geometry the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube…

  • 517H

    Awesome review, dude. The Mountain was my first exposure to these guys. And it will be pretty hard to measure up to it. Can’t wait to put on the headphones, pour some wine, and lay back and get lost in this one

  • The Metal Pigeon

    I’m new to Haken, Affinity being the first promo I’ve received for them, but I’m very impressed, and if “Earthrise” somehow doesn’t make my best songs of the year list then we’ll have had a treasure trove of great music this year. What a song, that chorus (they should’ve made this their first single, the second at the very least)!

    • El_Cuervo

      “Earthrise” is in the running for top songs of 2016 for me. It’s just sooooo catchy and I love the “One step back… take 2 leaps forward!”

    • JMoherPerc

      I, too, am hooked on “Earthrise”, as well as “1985”. These songs are so warm and such a farcry from the standard “we’re metal so everything has to be in minor”, yet they have such weight and power!

  • beurbs

    1985 is my shiiittt right now. I’d love to hear this thing on vinyl.

  • beurbs

    Music this intelligent shouldn’t be a slave to this caveman single-digits DR paradigm. Excellent album that, production wise, doesn’t even exist in the same universe as Signals.

  • Jaba

    Thank you for the great review!
    I must say it’s harder than expected to stay away from this album and wait for my vinyl copy to be delivered…
    Reading all the laudatory reviews and comments – not helping at all!
    I’ve been following the band since the release of Aquarius and they have never disappointed. To be honest I wasn’t impressed with the first two singles from this album, which makes me a bit worried but also intrigued to give this a spin finally!

    (It has arrived while writing this comment! :))

  • Apsodia

    One problem I’ve had with The Mountain was that it felt too mechanical… Somehow all the pieces were there but taken as a whole it was missing that extra oomph of emotional impact.
    Excited to hear if this album would do better in that department. By the way, any of you know Karnivool? I don’t see them mentioned much here. The best modern prog has to offer, imo.

  • terran236

    I couldn’t get into the mountain as much as Aquarius and visions. To me this album is much more colorful, organic and overall interesting.

  • Dillon Richard

    The harsh vocal section comes from Einar Solberg from Leprous. Some of the best vocals in the business in my opinion

  • Jeremy Freeman

    Favorite bands in the world? Pretty bold statement from this guy. And yes this does remind me of Leprous, perhaps to much? hmm

  • Dan Blomquist

    Definitely worthy of a 4.5, I’m pretty sure they briefly revived dubstep on “The Endless Knot”. At least I think those were wubs in the bass synth.