Album review: HAKEN – Virus

HAKEN - Virus

Inside Out [Release date 24.07.20]

Following the release of their fifth studio album “Vektor” back in October 2018, the members of the British Progressive Metal sextet Haken have rightfully been in the receiving end of various rewards and accolades.

For most average bands, this would be the ideal time to take a short break and try to figure out which musical direction to follow next but Haken are hardly an outfit that deserves to be considered as such (average) anymore.

Slowly and methodically, as most British bands tend to do, they begun working on a new musical project and many months later came up with an wealth of material of pure Progressive Metal pedigree that listens to the name “Virus”.

Richard Hensall (guitars) and his colleagues are a group of musicians that are capable of many things, however, I would be quite surprised if anyone were to mention ‘psychic sensitivities’ amongst their strongest attributes (no offence lads).

This concept began taking shape more than a year prior to the album’s release and, back then, the story behind “Virus” was already defined as the continuation/evolution of that featured in “Vektor”. In view of that, the fact that three months prior to the album’s release (the release date was postponed twice) the world found itself in a state of lockdown due to COVID-19 can only be attributed to sheer luck, or better yet, total lack of. So, what is “Virus” really all about and how does it fare in comparison to the band’s previous releases?

Even if you, like myself, have been following the band’s career since the release of “The Mountain” (2013) it will still be really hard to miss the fact that their musical evolution has been following a slow but pretty steady upwards trajectory course.

It is not only that these lads are pretty skilled in their respective instruments that makes them an attractive outfit but also the fact that they are not afraid to wear their influences on their collective sleeves.

Listening to massive repetitive low-chorded riffs of the opening composition “Prosthetic” one will immediately recognize John Petrucci’s (Dream Theater) influence in the music on offer. Powerful in its delivery and filled with impressive melody-driven vocal lines, the opening song of the album is followed by “Invasion” – a six minute composition whose clever drum beats and layered vocal lines are reminiscent of those used by the mighty Cynic around the end of their short but pretty illustrious career.

Opening with a US Radio-friendly harmonic guitar theme but soon developing into a different musical monster, one characterized by heavy repetitive riff and adorned by haunting keyboard melodies in the background, “Carousel” is one of the most varied compositions of the album – one that allows just enough space for bassist Conner Green to showcase his unique skills on the four-string.

“The Strain” and “Canary Yellow” are two compositions that may be musically and thematically connected but operate on different musical environments. The former is a rhythmically challenging piece based on Dream Theater sounding riffs while the latter is a harmony-driven offering that would even fans of bands of more a mood driven approach like The Pineapple Thief will find themselves attracted to.

It is exactly half way through its fifty minute duration that we are presented which what can only be described as the album ‘magnum opus’. Though split into five parts, each with its unique approach to songwriting and execution, “Messiah Complex Pts I to V” can only really be treated as one piece of music and it is only really when you begin to invest in it and transcribe it’s ‘musical hieroglyphics’ that you truly realize how special this body of music really is.

Filled with beautiful vocal harmonies courtesy of Ross Jennings “Ivory Tower” is a beautiful opening theme blends well with the follow-up “A Glutton For Punishment” – a ‘put the pedal to the metal’ piece of music which clearly showcases how beneficial the opening slot offered two years ago for the Devin Townsend tour was to the band.

In the last three parts of the composition, “Marigold”, “The Sect” and “Ectobius Rex” the band goes from deeply emotional to totally bonkers and back, courtesy of the various Opeth and Dream Theater influences on offer, while the closing composition “Only Stars” is more like a little breather – a slow and harmony-driven piece that attempts to re-establish some sense of normality following the musical madness that preceded.

I have spent countless hours these last few years reading articles on magazines and over the internet and/or joining music-related discussions where people were debating as to whether there is really any future left for Progressive Rock/Metal now that most classic bands begin, slowly but surely, to ‘call it a day’.

Well, with albums such as “Virus” under their musical arsenal, Haken are without doubt one of those groups of truly talented and much inspired musicians who are more than capable of ‘carrying the torch’. If you like your Progressive Metal to be melodic and technical in equal measure do invest in this album –it will for sure be one of the genre’s highlights of the year! ****1/2

Review by Ioannis (John) Stefanis

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