Haken - The MountainThe worst thing that ever happened to London’s Haken was that someone once compared them to Dream Theater. In fact, enough reviewers compared the band to Dream Theater that on Metal Archives the only “associated act” is the unfortunate Berklee Music School graduating class of nineteen eighty-boring. “Why,” you ask, “is it a problem to be compared to DT? They have a long and storied career!” Because I am not alone in finding the band’s music to be void of creativity. It is insipid, lacking in feel, and often only an exercise in form. So when someone says to me, “Yeah, man! They’re like Dream Theater!” that’s an instant cue for me (and many others I’ve met) to shut down; to tune out; to back out of the room slowly and look for a shotgun. Still, being the daring man I am, I couldn’t help but listen to Haken‘s new album The Mountain when it landed in my box a few weeks back. Honestly, the band has such a fantastic loyalty from its fans, that I felt like I had to at least give them a chance. In general, InsideOut is a trustworthy label and they put out good material [With a few notable exceptions, of course — F.t.A.G]—so what choice did I have?

What makes Haken so loyalty-inducing and good, in fact, is that they don’t quite sound like any one other band in particular. Their style is an amalgam of interesting, progressive tendencies that could be referenced from all over the map. Going between the sparkling cleanliness of modern Kaipa on opener “Atlas Stone,” while straddling the legacy of Mr. Bungle on “The Cockroach King,” or even wandering into what sounds like Leprous territory on “In Memoriam,” Haken never fails to be interesting and cool.

Haken 2013

Like so many of the best progressive metal bands—and certainly The Mountain lands Haken among the very best in modern progressive metal—it is the band’s ability to mix in beautiful melodies and pop structures into music that is intellectually stimulating and unpredictable that gives the band its appeal. They vacillate easily between funky weirdness and metal on “Falling Back to Earth,” while dropping into a full-blown free jazz variation in “Atlas Stone.” “Somebody” screams MarillionAnathema and Porcupine Tree, while never feeling even remotely derivative of any of these bands. A lot of this has to do with the vocals of Ross Jennings, who is talented and has a good range, but doesn’t fall for any of the horrible tropes of post-Dream Theater progressive rock and metal—way more Danny Cavanagh than metal-influenced prog vocalists. His presence gives the record a consistency through all the variation, and his sense of melody and harmony is brilliant, often with melancholy undertones that are heart wrenching.

It goes without saying, though, that it’s not just the vocals that make this record brilliant; the band is obviously highly talented and the record is produced in such a way as to make Tom MacLean’s bass not only present, but standout, producing some of the best moments on the record. Both guitarists balance their work beautifully, while being able to play heavy, fascinating riffs next to jazz solos and funky minimalist work. The production is also good enough that the keyboards and guitars never run into each other’s territories, instead working in harmony. The one complaint that I have is that the drums are quite flat and buried at times; the use of Neil Peart signature tenor toms and bongos don’t carry the dynamic range and breadth that one would normally expect. This flatness is likely because the record is on the loud side. While it’s not as compressed as it could be, the drum tone falls victim to this.

Haken is one of those rare bands that can write a 70 minute record that is entertaining for every minute while wandering between all sorts of different styles. The record feels fluid, flowing seamlessly from one awesome variation to the next; sometimes heavy, sometimes somber, sometimes funky or jazzy, but always excellent.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
Label: InsideOut records
Websites: haken.fr | facebook.com/HakenOfficial
Release Dates: EU: 2013.09.02 | US: 09.17.2013

  • Excentric_1307

    Wow. I’ve never heard of them, but the song posted is really excellent.

    • Glad to hear you like it. This record is excellent. Totally worth your time. :)

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Is this year backloaded or what?

    • Funny, I said the same thing to Steel Druhm yesterday. Yeah, pretty insane how backloaded it is, actually.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Yeah and you wouldn’t really think so, since there was a fairly steady stream of releases from “big” bands throughout the year. In the end it just turned into a steady stream of tears and dissapointment.

        Which is not really giving enough credit to all the smaller acts out there who are trying hard to stand out, but still, the quality is definitely going up.

  • Raven

    Scale the Summit’s wannabes

    • Realkman666

      Eagle wannabe.

    • Wait, what? These guys are definitely not Scale the Summit wannabes. And given Scale the Summit’s style, I’m not even sure how you can draw that conclusion.

    • David Rosales

      Not sure in what standard are these guys like Scale the Summit

  • Realkman666

    Every time a band is being compared to DT, I always hope I’m about to discover another Shadow Gallery (1000x better). This is interesting, but it’s not for me. Ironically, what I like the most about this track is the part that sounds like ’99 DT. :p

    • I loved Shadow Gallery’s Tyranny album!

      • Realkman666

        Sick musicianship and vocal harmonies to this day! They’re a gem.

        • OK, gonna give Shadow Gallery a shot, then.

          • Goldshredder

            Shadow Gallery album “Room V” is on my all time greats list. Then again I also like Dream Theater despite some people coming up with humorously subjective reasons why I shouldn’t.

    • You should give this record a shot, man. It’s really good. If you dig Riverside or Leprous, it’ll be up your alley.

      • Realkman666

        Had a few listens here and there. It’s just so ambient! It’s like I can’t sink my teeth into it. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Really not liking the vocals either.

        I also listened to Falling back to Earth, and the part I liked the best, again, is the one that sounds like DT. :D

        They can’t win!

  • Muffhead

    Dafuq did I just listen to?

    I can’t really put into words the feelings I get from this album other than this is pure mind-blowing-awesomeness!
    It feels like I’ve been taken on a journey through a surreal yet beautiful sideshow carnival land, with two-headed clowns, mold covered lollipops, mermaids, rainbows and everything in between.

    Great review and once again thanks AMG.

    • Mold covered lollipops?

      Anyway, yeah, it’s pretty damned great, right? Actually feel like that song I posted here kinda reminds me of Orphaned Land’s best material at times.

      • Muffhead

        Dude, I dont know. I just know that Haken made sweet sweet love to my ears.

        Alright, I will have to check them out.

      • Muffhead

        Dude, I dont know. I just know that Haken made sweet sweet love to my ears.

        Alright, I will have to check them out.

        • It’s all good. I know that feeling. This whole record rocked my world.

      • David Rosales

        Orphaned Land? how?

        Btw, Orphaned Land’s best is a good example of music that IS NOT patchy, despite some very obvious Middle Eastern folk interludes.

  • yerayseminario

    No wonder they are compared to DT. They are the main reference in current Prog rock (on its heavy side anyway), and they are probably a great influence to them. I agree that DT late work it’s been uninspired, boring and very annoying on the vocal department. As for Haken, I think it’s their best work up to date (by far). I don’t think the singer has a “great” voice or that sings that good (sometimes it gets short of reach, like in Atlas Stone, I think), but works very well with the music they do and the melodies are beautiful. I didn’t realize it, but true, the drums are buried in the mix.

    • I think he does, he just has a different voice. It’s not a classic prog rock voice, but that’s also what makes it good.

  • Feu Arsenault

    Seems nowaday every band that sounds progressive are compared to DT, and honestly this is closer to Leprous. Anyway, great review, and thank you, would’nt have discovered the band otherwise. Great music.

  • Andrew Bennett

    I, too, was disappointed with the loudness of the mastering when knowing Haken’s disdain for the loudness war and deliberate efforts to master Visions dynamically. Their testimony means I have to blame their new label for “blackmailing” them into it. And we all know what happens when labels mess with successful bands’ formulae.

  • Excentric_1307

    Wow. That song, Aquarium, is essentially the equivalent of a metal version of “Jessica”.

  • Piet

    Felt like I was on shrooms again at some points…too bad the vocals are really weak imo. Still, great listen

    • sathriel

      Yeah, have to agree with you and many others, vocals are definitely the weakest spot of Haken.

      Great music nonetheless.

  • Juan Esteban Mendoza

    I have mixed feelings about the vocalist. He sounds great in “Somebody” and “Cockroach King”, but there are moments in which he sounds as if he had a runny nose. Still, the music is fantastic and its definitely one of the best records of this year. It will probably be in my top 3 below Pelagial and The Inheritance.

    P.S. Love your site, I’ve discovered some great music here
    P.S.2. It’s Berklee College of Music ;)

    • Glad you dig it. I like the vocalist, but he seems to be the big complaint for those who aren’t as fond of the imperfect/non-power prog vocalist things that I dig.

  • Kyungmi Nam

    AMG, thanks so much for letting me discover this masterpiece. All I have to say is “WOW, this was something I was not expecting.” Shit is flawless.

    • Yeah! I agree, this is one of the best records I’ve heard this year.

      • Kyungmi Nam

        Me too, alongside Omnium’s Beyond!

  • Sui

    I’m new to this band and I quite like the instrument parts, catchy, ethereal, dramatic. Definitely good stuff. But vocal puts me off at some points. Particularly when hitting the high notes (e.g., Atlas Stones), it seems that firm, forceful and leading the rest parts should be the ideal effects. In stead it sounds losing its strength and puting itself in the background with that falsetto-y method. I almost feel that vocal works against the instruments in those parts. In the low and medium range, vocal sounds good though.

    ‘insipid, lacking in feel, and often only an exercise in form’–that’s a little harsh on the DT side. They put out quite a few top albums, images and words, metropolis part 2, train of thought, six degrees. Then again, I’m a big DT fan.

    • What I like is that this guy isn’t a tenor. A good, clean tenor is great, for sure, but many of them just irritate me and distract me to no end. That’s why I’m such a big fan of Anathema, for example. Dude ain’t perfect, his voice stretches and cracks and (live) he goes flat. But he’s got a cool voice and a unique sound.

      On the other hand, DT has a ‘great’ vocalist by many standards, and he makes me wanna scream. His tone is icky.

      • Sui

        Yeah it also bothers me if a tenor takes initiative excessively.

        I actually like James as a vocalist. I don’t hate his voice, and more importantly his performance (including live) interplays with the instruments really well imo.

  • Hrvoje Krsnik

    Damn it, the are too many great prog bands both old and new.. it’s hard to keep up.
    Actually I hear a lot of Pain of Salvation (remedy lane-perfect element era) in the track posted here in all but heavier parts, which is awesome. Funny how associations work.

    • Yeaaaah. It’s true. I didn’t even mention Pain of Salvation, but they’re definitely in this mix. Haken is just a really great band.

  • David Rosales

    I really like the album, but patchy work is not “excellent”!

    • Not sure what’s “patchy” here. It all sounds fantastic to me.

      • David Rosales

        Yes, AMG, everything is performed fantastically and written creatively. But the writing is still patchy in the sense that it is not all consistent. For example you have entire pure Jazz or Fusion sections within their their songs. The style is not integrated, it rather is just a patch of jazzed sowed into a rock mantle. Atlas Stone is a good example of this. That’s what I mean by patchy. You can contrast this to a classic like Yes’ “Heart of Sunrise” where even when different extremely different moods are visited, the style and very consistent, they never lose that “Yes sound”. Yes not always accomplished this, granted, they also had some songs that were a little patchy. But on some occasions they did reach this integrated, consistent and coherent ideal like on the track Close to the Edge.
        They do have some sections that sound like their own native language, you know it because it is a particular style that is recurrent throughout the album, but it is covered with very distinguishable patches from other styles in different sections. The three-part voice section on Cockroach King (very reminiscent of Gentle Giant) is not something that is part of their style, really, they just kinda borrowed it for that moment.
        I know it might be a matter of personal taste, but I do not like that. Same reason why I wouldn’t give Witherscape’s album a more than mediocre score. I’m not comparing this to Witherscape, mind you, I think The Mountain’s a much more creative album.

  • Aleksandar Živanov

    “Yeah, man! They’re like Dream Theater!” that’s an instant cue for me (and many others I’ve met) to shut down; to tune out; to back out of the room slowly and look for a shotgun.”

    Ha, ha, ha…It’s so true! Gald that I’m not the only prog fan feeling like that…Anyway, the new Haken is, IMHO, their best stuff…“The Cockroach King” is a masterpiece… :-)

  • Guest

    Bad ass! I stumbled across AMG a couple of weeks ago and have thanked the Dark Gods ever since! Haken is mind blowing awesome!

  • Rob

    Amazing album! Really glad I discovered AMG during a quest to find the bitter ends of the internet. I knew there was a ton of amazing music out there and the Dark Gods pointed me in the right direction to discover it! Thanks AMG!

  • Watersports Drew

    While I don’t think they are anything like Dream Theater, saying DT was devoid of creativity lost respect from me. I’m done reading the review. There is a having a different opinion, and there is being just ignorant. That’s like saying Pink Floyd, Rush, or any other great Prog band is devoid of creativity. I’m not putting them on that level, but you get what I am saying.

    • Vinod

      Dream Theater is a popular band, almost (gasp) main stream in their appeal. So, you know, to praise them would be uncool. If any new band released an album of DTs quality you know AMG would be jizzing in his PJs.
      Anyhoo, Haken is good. The mountain is good. Go listen to it.

      • I like associated acts (Liquid Tension Experiment, for example), but I find Dream Theater as a general rule to be boring and I can say that James Labrie is my least favorite vocalist in progressive music.

        As I’ve said elsewhere: Dream Theater is the musical equivalent of a master chef making a grilled cheese sandwich. Amazing musicians making banal music.

        • I have said for years that LaBrie is the weakest part of Dream Theater by a wide margin. Say what you will about their music as a whole, but Petrucci, John Myung, Portnoy, and Jordan Rudess are all extremely talented at their respective instruments.

          • I totally agree. They’re ridiculously good musicians, always have been. That’s why I think it’s kind of sad.

          • Randomdude

            Tbh I differ when you say DT is devoid of creativity when you look to their early works. Up to scenes DT was excellent, even Falling Into Infinity which tried to appeal to more mainstream were just awesome, the best being A Change of Seasons, but yeah pretty much after scenes DT started to decay until now which is pretty much garbage…

  • Leo

    Lol Dream Theater is “void of creativity.”? lmao someone take this website down. This moron has no credibility.

  • brutal_sushi

    Slept on this for a long time… Im trying to do my year end review of albums and after listening to this one I need to completely change my list…

  • TexGuy

    No emotion, no feeling, you fu..ing deaf? You speak out of ignorance!

  • boiledburgers

    It took me 2 years but i finally get this album. Its beautiful and cohesive.

  • GWW

    Just reading this review now, so…i wanted to add that this record is a masterpiece and is even inspirational in parts. I hope nobody lets out that they often have a positive profound message! That might be the worst advert possible for a metal band.