The first time I heard Haken, I remember thinking that it was the perfect blend of classic and modern prog. Admittedly, while albums like ‘Visions’ and ‘The Mountain’ remain a part of my regular musical rotation, their more recent albums failed to make as much of an impression upon me – which is why I’m glad to see the band returning their gaze to those prog rock roots with ‘Virus’. According to Haken, ‘Virus’ and 2018’s ‘Vector’ are connected, one picking up where the other left off. In a way, there is a resemblance, and not just in terms of the cover art. At the same time, where ‘Vector’ was almost hard and rigid like a scalpel, ‘Virus’ is fittingly more airborne and fluid.
“Prosthetic”, the first single from ‘Virus’, initially made me very excited for the material to come. The heaviness with which it opens the album is captivating and intense, but then it dips down into ‘Affinity’ territory, and launches into quite a catchy chorus. “Invasion” is another big tune, with Ross Jennings’ harmonies atop an alternating 6 and 7/4 verse, and subtle yet thick drums courtesy of Raymond Hearne.
The token ten minute track this time is “Carousel”, which, despite having plenty of quality sections, is a weaker track in comparison to some of its fellows. That being said, it does possess heavy aspects, along with a shredding guitar solo. The following track, “The Strain”, definitely grew on me. The verses have an alluring funk, the guitar work is noodley in a fantastic way, and the song as a whole is fast-paced and highly interesting. With a smooth transition, the second single, “Canary Yellow”, emerges, bringing the energy down without sacrificing rhythm.
Now, when one releases a ‘Virus’ into the world, one can only expect a “Messiah Complex”. This is a collection of movements that flow so perfectly into each other, it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. The first movement, “Ivory Tower”, is one of my favourite spots on the whole album. So much so, that I would have loved for this to be its own “Visions”-like 20-minute epic. However, since its core melody is echoed later on in “Messiah Complex”, it could be argued that that’s exactly what Haken did. Part two, “A Glutton For Punishment” is an intricately woven segment filled with clinically placed guitar and keyboard runs, background choir, and catchy patterns. “Marigold” might be the best movement in context, and happens to be the most reminiscent of the “Visions” era. It flows invisibly into “The Sect”, thick riffs becoming video game blast beats and essentially a summary of “Cockroach King”. The finale comes in the form of “Ectobius Rex”. Memorable, powerful melodies combined with frantic precision and rhythmic pulse closes the majestic track off with a nod to the “tower of ivory”.
The vivacity dies down with “Only Stars”. This is a two-minute piece that I find bland on its own, but a good way to end the album, for ‘Virus’ is so full of musical proficiency and lively themes that it’s calming to finally take a deep breath at the end of the line. Because I must say, Henshall and Griffiths have seriously outdone themselves this time.
‘Virus’ is an album that is sure to please both old and new Haken fans, paying homage to the cockroach king while delving deeper into the evolution of a band that just keeps getting tighter. A relatable piece of art in trying times, and a great representation of Haken’s ever-growing catalogue.