Haken is a band name that in progressive circles is known for quality, musicianship, and an attention to their craft that is being praised by not only their own fans, but fans of all eras of progressive music. For a band to be able to transcend that many levels of distinction in their respective musical field is a somewhat rare feat these days. So as you can imagine, expectation levels for their new album “Affinity” are at an all-time high. The promotion for the album, the constant online chatter, the overall buildup to the release of said album; it’s reaching a fever pitch. The popularity of the band has grown steadily over their first two albums, and with the release of their last full-length “The Mountain”, their praise got even higher and even more interest was garnered. After the release of their EP “Restoration” and their first North American headline tour, the band took on the daunting task of writing the album I am about to review.
And so, where do I stand? It would be hard to not have my expectations on high since they are fast becoming one of my favourite bands. Well after giving this release a thorough aural digesting, I can honestly tell you that the hype is real, and the band is even more on top of their game than at any time in their talented career.
Starting off with “affinity.exe.”, we get an astral presence, something otherworldly, which leads the buildup into “Initiate”, weaving back and forth between beautiful atmosphere and a nice back-and-forth chugging between all the instruments. Ross Jenning’s vocals give an immediate presence and help guide the listener through the start of the journey. Switching gears into what might be one of the big highlights of the album is “1985”, which is not just a year, but a song that embodies many of the various musical trends that helped to shape eighties music as a whole, while the band puts their own twist on it and brings it into present day. Electronic drums and retro synth fit in seamlessly to the whole idea put forth in this song of then vs. now. Blending the nostalgic with the new has very rarely, if ever, come off this well. It’s surprising as hell to hear, and very rewarding. “Lapse” with it’s playful fusion-like elements and impressive guitar solo serves as a tasty appetizer of the upcoming main course of “The Architect”, which clocks in at a meaty 15:40. This is what most will view as the epic song on this album, and it will take a few listens to fully appreciate as there’s a lot to digest, but it runs the spectrum from atmospheric and sullen to heavy and deliberate (as well as the return of the vocal growls not present since the debut album, courtesy of Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg). This song is almost indescribable as there is just so much to take in, but imagine all of their styles and influences making appearances throughout this piece. It’s a fulfilling listen which will almost want you to start listening again from the start to try to take everything in once again and pick apart it’s many layers. Pairing down the sound after such a weighty composition is “Earthrise” which is poppy in a sense and powerful in a positive light. “Red Giant” presents the most basic and stripped-down track of the bunch, but don’t let that deter you as there are lots of cool effects to compliment the electronic atmosphere contained. “The Endless Knot” is punchy as hell. The excellent syncopation gives way to a song that is fluid as hell during all parts. Album closer “Bound By Gravity” is a 9 minute ballad which shows off beauty and tranquility, and as that brings calm to the listener as it finishes, we get an old-school internet modem sound to remind us of the nostalgic throwback aspects of our concluded musical voyage.
What I can tell you is this band isn’t repeating itself. The band continues to constantly evolve with each album, but more in growth and maturity and not in a way that alienates listeners. Having said that, the band still wears their influences on their sleeves, but not in a blatant or damaging way. They make the sound their own, which is what learning from your peers and having influence in music should always be about. The remarkable thing is that they’re still able to give us a great middle zone between prog rock and prog metal, which is no easy task to handle.
Every member of Haken is just as important as the last, all contributing to a sound that would not work half as well if it weren’t for all involved. Their collective talents shine and they have never sounded as on point and driven as they do on “Affinity”. The one magical thing you can take from this product is it’s a real grower of an album. It has many different layers, different flavours, and lots to hear and many things you’ll newly discover on future listens. And for those that thought topping “The Mountain” was a daunting and almost impossible task, you will be surprised at how much higher the band has raised the bar. This is Haken doing what they do best; making engaging, thought-provoking music that demands full attention and deserves enormous praise.
05. The Architect
07. Red Giant
08. The Endless Knot
09. Bound By Gravity
Playing time: 61:25
Release date: 29 April, 2016
Label: Inside Out Music
Website: Haken Official Website