Haken is one of modern prog’s most distinguished bands. They, along with colleagues like djent-adjacent Caligula’s Horse or Tool-inspired Soen, have developed a drum and bass-heavy style that pushed prog metal beyond its narrow ’90s sound. My introduction to the band was on The Mountain, which found them dropping incredible songs with deeply creative compositions and amazing performances. But The Mountain‘s follow-up—Affinity—has never really established itself in my listening rotation. Unfortunately, while Affinity was full of ideas I loved and things I appreciated intellectually, it was like the girl who’s “perfect” for you but that you can’t get into. So I’ll admit mild consternation when Vector arrived. I wondered if Vector would continue in Affinity‘s footsteps or if Haken had stayed on the move.
Vector displays a Haken on the move and interested in emphasizing their heavier side. Though presaged by Affinity’s “The Architect,” Vector fully commits to investigating chunky riffs, polyrhtymic breakdowns and trying to make it work with Haken‘s unique sound. To that end, they decided to work with Adam Getgood—formerly of Periphery—whose production places Vector in the djent-adjacent-prog category (see: “A Cell Divides” or “Puzzle Box”). While different than its predecessor, Vector is, therefore, equally as defined by its production as Affinity was. Rather than an ’80s retro sound palette—excepting the funky bridge in “The Good Doctor”—Vector is defined by a djenty timbre. Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths’ guitars sport a thick, chunky sound. Connor Green’s bass is submerged beneath other elements while sporting a tone that will make the most of your subwoofers. Green is felt but not heard: adding thickness to the production but often hidden in the mix. Ray Hearne’s drums are heavily compressed and frequently sync perfectly with Connor’s bass, creating a pummeling and syncopated rhythmic approach reminiscent of Caligula‘s Horse.
Vector is an album defined, then, by its timbre and flow. The album smoothly drifts through its seven tracks. Thematically linked, these tracks are well-composed, coherent and catchy. While the production defines the record’s tone and crushing feel, Vector features many of the idiosyncratic joys of the band’s writing and creative profile. The aforementioned funky breakdown in “The Good Doctor,” is complemented by Green’s standout bass work toward the end of the song. “Host” evokes Perdition City‘s noir sound to start with and the slow, moody prog calls to mind late Opeth. And, of course, songs regularly drop in breakdowns and bridges that catch the listener off guard (“Puzzle Box,” “Nil by Mouth,” and “A Cell Divides”). These peaks create instantly memorable and interesting moments. Ross Jenning’s keen melodic sensibility and the interplay between his voice and Diego Tejeida’s keys and texturing makes for some of the most moving and memorable material on the album. “Puzzle Box” features an inventive glitch breakdown, for example, and the various polyrhythms and feel changes work to keep listeners on their toes.
That Vector is an album so strongly defined by its production, however, is also a weakness. Each song features interesting bits and pieces and the whole album is fun to listen to, but it’s disconcerting how much it reminds me of In Contact. The riffing is heavy and tricky—working with complex time signatures and committing some nerdy groove (“A Cell Divides,” “Veil,” “Nil by Mouth”)—but the record’s production rests like a pall over these tracks. Despite being an inventive album and interesting listen, Vector lacks a sound that is uniquely Haken. I’m reminded occasionally of previous highlights like “Cockroach King” or “Darkest Light,” but mostly I’m taken back to “The Cannon’s Mouth” and “Graves.” The album is intense and loud—produced perfectly in line with the expectations of a djent production job—but that also robs it of dynamics. A lack of dynamics drives Haken away from their strength: balancing the different aspects of their compositions to create a fun, innovative sound that’s all their own.
Haken’s Vector is an artful and interesting album with an undeniable charm. Vector‘s flow, combined with a vinyl appropriate runtime, make for an instantly accessible and enjoyable listening experience and I loved it immediately. But while a well-composed, well-performed and well-produced record, Vector features some choices that I think would have been done justice by a different sonic approach. While Affinity had a retro sound that worked to define the album, it didn’t feel dated negatively. Vector‘s production, however, does a disservice to the band by niching and dating it. While I still really like the album and consider “Puzzle Box,” “A Cell Divides” and “The Good Doctor” among three of the best songs I’ve heard this year, time will be needed to know where it sits in Haken‘s discography.