Haken - Affinity
Prog metal stalwarts continue their spellbinding evolution
Words: Phil Weller
Spanning everything from the light and whimsical to the disastrously heavy and everything in-between – taking detours down the bi-roads of video game music, dubstep and unashamedly quixotic 80s pop – Haken are a band which plays progressive music by the very definition of the word. Of course, having such a wide breadth of musical styles playing out across long, decadent songs rich in the obscure, the complicated and the overwhelmingly technical doesn’t make them accessible to everyone. But patience is a virtue and those wanting to hear a sense of adventure in their music with more plot twists than an omnibus of Coronation Street, then Affinity is a triumph of music at its most imaginative peak.
Even for the band that dropped jaws with 2013’s epic The Mountain, they manage to push themselves further than ever before, exploring new territories and stamping their authority over it all with an enviable ease. From 1985’s Michael Jackson disco ball pomp to its King Crimson eeriness, its airy, TesseracT fashioned djent and a chorus straight from James LaBrie’s rule book, each track spirals through a plethora of sounds, evoking countless images bursting with colours. Eathrise is a lighter, uplifting composition, baked by summer vibes and bathing in a stunningly infectious melodiousness while Initiate is instilled within a polyrhythmic gust, a much more foot-to-the-floor song battered by extended guitar freak-outs in its latter stages.
A synthesiser meltdown opens the bombastic The Endless Knot, a song that typifies both the aggression that 7 and 8 strings have had on modern progressive metal along its transcendental nature, flitting through time signatures and dynamics with a reverence that has to be applauded. It is a song most firmly embedded within the sonic genetics that we have come to mostly expect from the band, who even manage to inject some dubstep anarchy into proceedings before a more Animals As Leaders passages takes centre stage.
Much has already been said of, The Architect, the record’s 15 minute centrepiece in the press. With it being so long, it vies for your undivided attention, but if you are so kind as to oblige, you will not be disappointed. Beginning with Systematic Chaos era Dream Theater, with algorithmic synth runs underpinned by algebraic guitar chugs, it spirals off into a universe of its own. Dark and augmented by so many detailed nuances that it takes several listens to really appreciate, understand and admire the depth of diligence present here, The Architect represents a band firing on all cylinders, where the impossible isn’t so much an unattainable, distant dream, but a challenge which they revel in taking on. Ross Jennings really comes into his own here, eschewing many clever vocal hooks that help keep the song’s feet on the ground and its epicness from floating too far away from our own world. Charlie Griffiths meanwhile is fuelled by the potent grunt of Messugah, utilising his 8 string with some downright outstanding and visceral riffs. Leprous frontman Einar Solberg even lends his pipes for some soaring screamed vocals; just one of the new stones turned over here.
Indeed, this is thinking mans music, a nerdy approach to encompassing a dizzying span of musicality into one cohesively delivered package. While there is an innate focus to make the music memorable and catchy, it isn’t an album for everyone. But prog, despite everything, has a massive fanbase and those wanting a new odyssey in which to dive head first, Affinity is practically flawless. In that regards, mission accomplished feels like an understatement. Not only do they travel through different textures, genres, emotions and tempos but they do it so fluently that it never feels over indulgent; each song iced with enough infectious moments to make this a thoroughly addictive record.