by Justin Gaines
Featuring members of To-Mera and Linearsphere, Haken is a London-based progressive rock band has quickly gained a good deal of buzz. They’ve recently opened for Riverside, King’s X and Bigelf, and they signed to Sensory for the release of their debut album Aquarius.
The band bills themselves as a progressive metal act, but Haken owes a lot more to bands like King Crimson, Rush and Queen than they do Dream Theater or Fates Warning. Aquarius is a keyboard-oriented album that is huge on atmosphere and nuance. It’s one of those albums that requires a good sound system and a pair of noise-canceling headphones. It’s not remotely catchy or all that accessible to the average listener. The fact that the album opens with a 17-minute song tells you that much. If you’re into this kind of mammoth, symphonic, atmospheric demonstration of technical proficiency and positively haunting vocals, “Celestial Elixir” is the mother lode. It’s definitely an endurance test for anyone not so inclined.
There really aren’t any rocking moments until the third track, “Drowning in the Flood,” which recalls some of Porcupine Tree’s heavier songs (or Katatonia’s lighter ones). It’s one of the album’s most effective tracks, and makes you wish the rest of Aquarius packed a similar punch. Later songs “Aquarius” and “Streams” have a bombastic flair reminiscent of Spock’s Beard and the Flower Kings. That is, until the death metal growling comes in halfway through “Streams” and makes you wonder if Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt stumbled into the wrong studio. The 11-minute closing track “The Point of No Return” finishes the album with a flourish, recapping just about every element and theme present on Aquarius and recalling most of the band’s influences.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of this album is going to come down to your tolerance for 10+ minute progressive rock jams with lots of subtlety and nuance but little power.
If that sounds like your idea of heaven, then you’ve probably found your new favorite band. If you tend to think most prog bands are self-indulgent and don’t rock hard enough, you’ll want to steer clear of this one. Aquarius is not one of those crossover albums with the potential to win over skeptics. It’s an album for progressive rock purists who still worship at the altar of King Crimson, Queen, Genesis and lately Porcupine Tree and Riverside.
Label: Sensory Records
1. Point of No Return, The
4. Eternal Rain
5. Drowning in the Flood
7. Celestial Elixir
Ross Jennings – Vocals
Richard Henshall – Guitar, Keyboards
Charles Grifiths – Guitar
Thomas MacLean – Bass
Raymond Hearne – Drums
Diego Tejeda – Keyboards
Hardrock Haven rating: 6.5/10