One of the true rising stars among young progressive metal bands is England’s Haken. Since their formation in 2007 they have released four full length albums, an EP, and, earlier this year, their first live DVD. Now they are set to unveil ‘Vector,’ their fifth release in late October. Coming just two years after the highly acclaimed ‘Affinity,’ this new album feels like the natural follow up to that album while surpassing it.
Like some of their early work, ‘Vector’ is a concept album based around an inmate in a mental hospital and the doctor who is probing him. I won’t give away much more as that would take away from the fun of a listener hearing it and deciding his fate themselves. What becomes very clear from the start, though, is that this is easily the band’s heaviest and most riff-based album to date.
After a brief instrumental intro the album jumps into “The Good Doctor” and we are introduced to the main characters and their situation. The fast paced, hyper manic nature of the music also comes at the listener in spades. In many ways their approach and sound is everything we know and expect from Haken. Their music has long resembled the classic prog band Gentle Giant if they played metal. What has changed subtly is the music and approach clearly is more riff driven and focused than ever before. The result is a much heavier song and album than we have heard from them.
This is immediately followed by the second single the band has put out, “Puzzle Box,” which is a bit longer and lets the band stretch out their chops even more. Thematically it continues the story and the patient’s inner “puzzle box” is explored. This leads directly into “Veil,” the longest song on the album and one that feels like two songs in one as the song segments are clearly separated and distinct. Although the band always shines, drummer Raymond Hearne has a very strong presence throughout the song and at times his intricate, complex drumming really drives the power and heaviness of the song more than ever.
Although I am loathe to go song by song when reviewing an album, this album is quite short (45 minutes, the shortest of their career), and only has 7 songs so this becomes harder. “Nil By Mouth” is a fast, kinetic, 7 minute instrumental that for me is an album highlight. The precision and skills displayed here are as high and impressive as you find in any band. The guitar interplay between Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall is very impressive, and bassist Conner Green keeps everything solidly grounded like only the best bassists do. And of course the key flourishes of Diego Tejeida brings everything together perfectly.
“Host” is by and large a slower, quiet song. It features some effective trumpet work as well, giving it a slightly Spanish flare. The song is dominated by Ross Jennings’ vocal performance. He sings a goodly portion of it in a lower register than he usually does, only opening his more typical higher registered voice for the end of the song when the tempo begins to pick up; the effect and mood transferred works very well.
The album ends with “A Cell Divides” and it is a return to the heaviness and speed that dominates the album. The story is wrapped up and, although a bit ambiguous, the album closes in a quite satisfactory manner.
With ‘Vector’ Haken have put out an excellent album and it is the heaviest of their career. It is also one of the more exciting and engaging prog albums put out so far this year. It is an album that long time fans will find a lot to enjoy and dive into, and repeated listens will unveil new things each listen. And while I don’t think that this is likely to unseat ‘The Mountain’ or ‘Visions’ in most peoples’ minds I liked it more than ‘Affinity.’ For people unfamiliar with the band, this is an excellent introduction to them, and one that could lead to a new favorite band. Recommended.