Well they say that the third album from a band is where they often hit their stride and show the world what they’re really all about. Think Genesis’ Nursery Cryme, Yes’ The Yes Album, or hell even Bruce Springsteen with Born To Run and you get the idea. So now we’ve got the U.K.’s Haken and their third album in just three and a half years, The Mountain and ,after exploding on the scene with their two earlier albums on the indie U.S. progressive label, Sensory Records, the band is now on the venerable InsideOut label. All we can say is that the promise shown on the earlier albums has been more than fulfilled here by a sonic experience that is so much deeper and more fulfilling than anything we’ve yet to hear from this band. On their earlier albums, (2010’s Aquarius and 2011’s Visions), their talent was undeniable – tremendous flights of prog rock inventiveness, long epic songs and a penchant for a fun, joyously melodic style that firmly placed them equally between prog rock and metal (to see what I mean, just check out the wonderful Streams off of Aquarius – easily one of our favorite songs from that year. Even the death growls on that song come off as pretty positive – not an easy feat to accomplish!).
Luckily for us, the band is going strong, really strong and has had the same lineup for all of their albums with former (UK tech metal band) Linear Sphere guitarist Charlie Griffiths, vocalist Ross Jennings, keyboardist Diego Tejeida, keyboardist/guitarist Richard Henshall, bassist Tom MacLean and drummer Ray Hearne (Henshall and MacLean are also both with another top-notch UK prog metal band To-Mera). So, with all that talent and experience under their belt – we now have The Mountain and as (main composer/band leader) Henshall has put it “We are really starting to believe that “The Mountain” will be the one we’re remembered for in years to come. When writing the framework for the album, I made a conscious effort to give each song its own identity so that they could stand alone or as part of the album as a whole, unlike Aquarius and Visions, which could be seen as two large pieces of work.” I couldn’t agree more – the album feels like a very cohesive whole, both lyrically and musically about struggle and attainment.
Stylistically, all of the best elements of the earlier albums are here but there is also so much more. For starters, the first song, The Path, sets the tone of the album with a beautiful vocal melody over a simple chorus and piano. Simple but very effective and more so as the theme is restated in several places throughout the album. This leads into Atlas Stone, an upbeat, complex song that could easily be on one of the earlier albums. But then we get the surprise of The Cockroach King, a really fun and exciting piece that has a cool Gentle Giant inspired vocal round throughout. After the dramatic heaviness of In Memoriam, we get the powerful 11 ½ minute Falling Back To Earth which again echoes the new deeper melancholy that the band touched on in the opening song. The band then echoes that original melodic theme even more explicitly on the beautiful, spiritually majestic Because It’s There. Haken doesn’t disappoint fans of the earlier albums on longer epics like Pareidolia or Somebody with their Dream Theater-esque flights of instrumental wildness but I’m actually more entranced by the simple beauty of the vocal/piano duo of As Death Embraces and the final restatement of the album theme on the instrumental The Path Unbeaten which uses the great combination of cello and French Horn (real instruments or keyboards – you can never tell these days) instead of vocals. Fittingly, the album closes out poignantly with the elegant, melancholy ballad Nobody and it’s a great end to an album by a band that has kept to its signature style but now has added a much deeper layer to their music. I could go on a lot more about all of the subtleties and fantastic sections on almost every song, but there is just so much amazing music on this 62 minute album that I’d rather everyone just listen to and absorb it themselves..
Honestly, it’s just great to see bands mature and grow stylistically as well as Haken has done in only three short years. We saw that growth earlier this year with the new Aeon Zen album Enigma (also, perhaps not coincidentally, their third album) and, with The Mountain, we easily have a contender, not only for album of the year but beyond that, one of those rare albums that can become a true classic of the genre. The Mountain is due out next Tuesday, Sept 2 and you can pre-order your copy as well as listen to some soundclips via the Amazon.com link below.
review by Jeff Stevens
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