After the release of their excellent LP “Affinity” in 2015, Haken have spent most of the time touring around the world and delighting fans, new and old, with their diverse and delightful discography. The recent tour commemorates their ten years of existence, and as someone who was fortunate enough to catch the band live in Paris and enjoyed the night thoroughly, I am stoked to give you a sneak peek into what to expect from their first live album, ‘L-1VE’, scheduled to release on 22nd June this summer.
Let’s kick off with a discussion on the setlist. The band has till date put out four LPs and one EP, each unique and memorable in its own way and choosing what to present to an eager audience is a challenging task. Safe to say, though, that the album is THE best combination of tracks I can think off – classics aplenty alternate with needed highlights from the new album. It is a great way to introduce the band to someone who has been missing out on some of the best prog metal of this century all this while. It starts off with “Initiate” and goes onto to include most of the tracks off ‘Affinity’ with softer tracks “Red Giant” and “As Death Embraces” (from ‘The Mountain’) acting as breaks from the longer, heavier tracks of “1985”, “The Endless Knot” and “The Architect”. Mainstays included are the quirky “Cockroach King” and the hard-hitting pair of “Atlas Stone” and “Visions” (which is the encore), fan-favourites off ‘The Mountain’ and ‘Visions’ respectively. The biggest delight is “Aquamedley”, a succinct musical and lyrical summary of the concept of their debut LP, ‘Aquarius’. For this review, I cover only the CD version entirely filmed during the final gig at Amsterdam of the recent tour, but the DVD promises more live tracks, such as “Falling Back to Earth”, “Earthrise”, “Pareidolia” and my personal favourite “Crystallised”, performed at Prog Power in 2016. If ever you need a compilation of the band’s works, you needn’t see far beyond ‘L-1VE’.
Moving on, let’s explore the overall sound and live execution of some of the most talented musicians of our generation. Right from the initial bits off “Initiate”, you get a good idea how crystal clear every instrument sounds in the mix (‘L-1VE’ is mixed by Jerry Guidroz). Subtle cymbal crashes, tickling licks off the keys, hard-hitting riffs and roaring bass melodies can be all be discerned with pinpoint precision. Compositionally, “Aquamedley” uses recurring vocal and rhythmic motifs present throughout the album while basing itself off their first epic, “Celestial Elixir”, and lasting for more than twenty minutes. It is undoubtedly one of the most difficult songs to perform live, yet Ross Jennings hits all the right notes, and his performance is almost indistinguishable from the studio versions, even during the occasional harsh vocal moments. The fact that this was the last gig in a long and surely exhausting tour makes his energetic performance even more noteworthy.
“Cockroach King” is as playful as ever and the different vocal superimposition’s are achieved perfectly, even though they seem even more disorientating here. The audio includes extracts of Jennings encouraging the crowd with “Which year is it?” (I’ll let you guess this precedes which song) and “Party with us one more time” before “The Endless Knot”. Live performances are not as fun without a few improvisations: Diego Tajeida’s slightly happier tone during the extended bridge of “Aquamedley”, a slow-mo lick by Richard Hensell off “The Cockroach King”, and a far-reaching final note for Jennings on “The Architect” are just a few examples. There were a few instances where I thought the mix could be better: The bass is a bit too loud on “Initiate” and “In Memoriam”, the vocals get drowned at times on the final few tracks, and the dubstep section of “The Endless Knot” sounds a bit clunky: Chances are slim, however, that you’ll even notice most of these points simply because of how much of a fun ride it all is.
Finally, a note on what to expect from the video accompanying this wonderful album. On paper, the video should give fans that couldn’t make it to the gigs an idea of what it is to be at a Haken concert, and it surely does that, while including some cool features along the way. Aptly fitting in with the concept and ‘retro’ theme of ‘Affinity’, “1985” has a VHS / Cassette throwback editing effect during its breakdown. The band cheekily further insinuates that they opted for a DVD-only version to go with the concept, though darker reasons such as elevating costs could be why a Blu-ray version has not been in the works. The video starts off in a ‘blooper’ manner as the initial intro music is accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage of the members getting ready to rock the stage. The videographer and editor do a good job switching things often, from member POVs to instrumentalists during their respective solos, just as a metal live video should. You also realize just how involved most of the members are while covering the backing vocals. The editing does miss a beat from time to time, such as not giving Connor Green more focus during the sensational intro section off “Initiate”, but this is hardly noticeable. Other fun bits include Diego Tejeida’s keytar entrance and Ross’ flashy spectacle gimmick during “1985” but let me not spoil everything for you.
‘L-1VE’ is an outstanding live album from Haken, the forerunners of modern progressive metal. It combines a dynamic setlist with immaculate execution and bombastic sound, creating an experience not to be missed by fans or newcomers alike.