In a society of cookie-cutter bands and pretty faces devoid of substance, creativity and skill should be treated like a form of currency. So when a band like Haken cranks out another fantastic album, you can bet it’s something to be excited about. Considering that they have only been around for just under a decade, Haken have already produced more quality material than a lot of established musicians out there. Since their 2008 demo ‘Enter The 5th Dimension’, Haken have produced one very solid EP and four full-length albums, including their latest masterpiece, ‘Affinity’, due to be released at the end of April.
Now, in case you haven’t been paying attention to pop culture lately, the 1980s seem to be making a comeback: whether it’s in the neon colors of yoga attire, or in the appreciation of electronic tampering in music. One look at the cover of ‘Affinity’ is proof enough that Haken is venturing into vintage territory, and not just in the usual, chock-full of classic 70s prog-rock influence kind of way. Imagine what a band like Dream Theater should be doing with their technical chops, and add the heaviness that comes with having your album mixed by the legendary Jens Bogren.
The opening minute-and-a half of ‘Affinity’ consists of an intriguing, spacey intro, which leads perfectly into what might be my favorite track, “Initiate”. The mellow verses are extremely groovy, thanks to the talented rhythm section comprising Ray Hearne and Conner Green, along with the emotional melodies provided without fail by singer Ross Jennings. About halfway through, the builds beautifully, getting heavier and more technical. The three-minute mark of the song then launches the listener into a really great polymetric vocal section on Jennings’ part (which he told me in an interview was actually drummer Hearne’s idea) that I just can’t get out of my head.
Following that, we come across the aforementioned 80s influence with the aptly titled, “1985”. This is easily going to be one of the album’s more popular tracks, as it possesses some of the catchiest licks on the album. The chorus itself is enough to win me over, not to mention all of the crazy guitar riffage and Hearne’s always-solid, accented beats. Also worthy of note is the glorious motivational movie montage section about five or six minutes in.
Every Haken album has at least one epic, –alengthy track with emotional ups & downs and diverse, contrasting movements. On ‘Aquarius’, it was “Celestial Elixir”; on ‘Visions’, it was the title track; on ‘The Mountain’, it was “Falling Back To Earth”; on ‘Affinity’, it is the nearly- sixteen-minute long “The Architect”. Beautifully structured, and showcasing exactly what it is that fans love about Haken, this is definitely a song to pay attention to. There is some really amazing musicianship on this track in particular, between Green’s bass solo, the intricately-placed and well-performed guitars of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths, and the way Ray Hearne always ties everything together with such dynamic precision. It’s difficult to focus on just one element – a feature that can so easily go wrong, but not with these guys. The creative and sporadically-used double-kick provides a real backbone to this track as well, specifically when combined with the guitars. A bonus that brings “The Architect” to a whole other level is a 30-second guest spot by Einar Solberg (known for his captivating vocals with Leprous, and his live work with Ihsahn and Emperor).
Another expected feature of a Haken album is the happy and triumphant sound that they do ever so well, which brings me to “Earthrise”. It may be one of the simpler tracks on ‘Affinity’, but the change in tone is still quite pleasant. The chorus is straightforward yet uplifting, and when the hi-hat jumps in on every other eighth note, combined with that 80s synth sound, it’s hard not to move to the rhythm. “Red Giant” also has a danceable groove that you can’t ignore, since the electronically-accentuated beat is what really makes it so. “The Endless Knot” however, is probably the most technical song on the album, with its opening riff pulling you in instantly. Diego Tejeida’s keyboards are wonderfully complex, and the creatively automated sound is just the cherry on top. The final track, “Bound by Gravity” is, in my opinion, the weakest song of the album, being a ballad. To be fair though, most of us will need this track to wind down after the surge of progressive perfection on ‘Affinity’.
The exemplary performances by every member of Haken throughout the hour-long masterpiece that is ‘Affinity’ would be astounding, except for the fact that this is simply what they do. The labyrinthine tangle of organized instrumental chaos – with layers of soothing melodic vocals – is precisely what I hoped I would find in this album. The band has brought in heavier aspects and new influences which gives even more depth to their discography. With each release, they get more technical without losing any emotion, their style maturing and evolving beyond comparison. The sound is huge, the songwriting is superb, and Haken is bigger and better than ever with this release.