Saturday, September 21, 2013

Haken - The Mountain

The Mountain
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although they may not be the biggest name within the progressive rock/metal scene, London based outfit Haken have certainly been hailed by many in the underground scene as the next big thing to emerge from the U.K. purely on the strength of their first two full-length efforts. Obviously others thought so as well, as the band have made the step up the label ladder, with the band moving from independent U.S. based progressive label Sensory Records (Who released both 2010’s ‘Aquarius’ and 2011’s ‘Visions’) to the mighty Inside Out Music for their all-important third full-length effort ‘The Mountain’.
Although I always found Haken to be an interesting act, I can’t say that I was totally over the moon with their first two albums. So with the arrival of ‘The Mountain’, I wasn’t expecting to be completely blown away with what the band had to offer. And while the six piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Ross Jennings, guitarist Charles Griffiths, guitarist/keyboardist Richard ‘Hen’ Henshall, keyboardist/sound designer Diego Tejeida, bassist Tom MacLean and drummer Raymond Hearne) haven’t completely won me over with ‘The Mountain’, I can honestly say that this album is by far the band’s most impressive effort to date.
The album starts with ‘The Path’, which is a relatively short track that’s hinged solely on piano, atmospheric keyboards and Jennings’ emotive vocals. It’s a fairly simple piece, but Jennings’ use of choral back up’s and the theme running through the lyrics are what transforms what appears to be something so simple into something much more.
‘Atlas Stone’, which was the first single from the album, initially had me thinking that I was listening to an IQ album, with Jennings and the band starting out the track very much like Peter Nicholls and his crew would. But the song soon changes direction and the band bring all of their various influences together under the one track, without losing the song’s core identity. Through a series of quirky time changes and splices of direction change, the band inject elements of jazz, metal, classic modern era progressive rock (In the vein of Spock’s Beard) and some offbeat quirkiness (I’m thinking Leprous) into ‘Atlas Stone’. But while the mix of styles and influences sound like a mess on paper, the song is surprisingly strong, and stands out as one of the album’s real highlights.
Next up is ‘Cockroach King’, which is the one track that I struggled to enjoy when I first heard the album. The song is without a doubt one of the album’s strangest, complex and experimental efforts, and for those reasons alone, is one that I can now sometimes listen to, and other times can’t. Jennings’ multi-layered and diverse vocals are a real showcase for his talents here, and the band’s ability to twist and turn in every possible direction throughout on the musical front demonstrates just how versatile, quirky and playful they can be at any given time. But while the song does have its moments, I can’t help but feel that the song tends to overstay its welcome in terms of running time (A touch over eight minutes), and that the scattering of ideas on show aren’t enough to hold my interest.
Perhaps it’s the added metallic aggression on the guitar front, the Leprous sounding delivery of vocals and keyboards or the song’s rather short running time (In light of the bloated running time of the track before it), but either way, ‘In Memoriam’ is definitely a personal favourite on the album.
Another interesting track is ‘Because It’s There’, which takes the melody and sonic template of the opening track and builds upon it with the use of multi-layered choral a cappella vocals, sound manipulation/effects and enhanced stirring melodies. Again, this track is another firm favourite.
The epic twelve minute track ‘Falling Back To Earth’ sees a return to the heavier and more metallic sound Haken showcased a couple of tracks ago – particularly on the first half of the track ‘Rise’. On the second half ‘Fall’, the band taper a lot of the aggression to make way for a more atmospheric sound, which helps give the song a real sense of two halves that flow from one piece to the other. Surprisingly enough, even though it’s the longest track on the album, the song actually stands out as one of the more thought out compositions, which means that it’s truly enjoyable throughout, and avoids the pitfalls that plagued ‘Cockroach King’.
After the brief piano based ‘As Death Embraces’ (Which is not unlike ‘The Path’ in direction and style), the band deliver another stunning epic with ‘Pareidolia’ (Which is the psychological phenomenon of seeing ‘faces on the moon’ or hearing hidden messages when music is played backwards). Technically challenging, complex, melodic and full of emotion on the vocal front, the song is reminiscent of Pain Of Salvation in a lot of ways, and another true highlight on the album.
Finishing up proceedings is the moody, slow building and emotive ‘Somebody’, which sounds like a cross between Steven Wilson, Anathema and Leprous, and which finishes the album in a suitably dramatic fashion.
While ‘The Mountain’ is far from a perfect album, I couldn’t help but feel that on their third release, Haken had finally managed to put together an album that really impressed me in ways that the band hadn’t been able to in the past.
Overall, ‘The Mountain’ is a great release. And if the band can keep the consistency up, I will certainly be looking forward to seeing where the band goes from here on their next full-length release.

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© Justin Donnelly

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