Power of Metal.dk Review

The Mountain
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Release date: 2 September, 2013
Playing time: 62:54

“Life is a dream: a gift we receive”

“Once upon a time, there was a band named Haken”. The story of Haken really should begin that way because this band is showing the world time and time again that they have the chops, the maturity, the composition skills, and the sheer emotional enunciation to be put at the top of the prog pile. As Haken's new album, “The Mountain”, approaches; the prog world holds its collective breath until one question is answered: “Will they be able to do it a third time?” The answer? “But, of course”.

Yet, I would argue that this is the fourth time that they have wowed us: Their original demo from 2007-2008, "Enter the 5th Dimension", is a masterwork in its own right, and I believe that “The Mountain” can best be understood when this demo is considered, too. You see, Haken has proven themselves to be masters of styling music around a theme. With “Aquarius”, Haken explored fantasy which involved very fluid and epic arrangements. Next, they experimented with psychedelia in “Visions”; which, obviously, involved one heck of a mind trip and a very circular, technical style of music. With “The Mountain”, however, they are exploring much more palpable material; as the style is very raw, personal, and almost adventurous.

The songs often center on the vocals, but the instrumental passages are as lively and creative as ever. We get the well-known Hakenisms; such as the acrobatic riffing, the amazing and appropriate drumming, and the delicious bass that bounces all over the place. One thing that changes on each album, however, is the keyboard style. This time around, the keys are very ethereal, airy, and atmospheric. Yes, you can almost feel the cloudy cliffs all around you. Sometimes, there is even a neo-prog style to the keys that takes an incredible track and lifts it to new heights. Along the way, “The Mountain” gives us even more creativity with jazzy portions, choir arrangements that make you feel like you are on a mountaintop, raw and emotional ballads, and plenty of horns.

But, why do I say that their original demo is needed in order to absorb this new album? I think that one of Haken's original influences has been brought back into play: Gentle Giant. Haken's original demo is very folksy, medieval, and features a vast amount of vocal harmonization. This is exactly one thing that sets “The Mountain” apart from the rest of Haken's albums: a Shulman brothers style of vocal harmonization that Haken's vocalist/lyricist, Ross Jennings, pulls off by himself. Thus, metal fans might be surprised to hear "a cappella" passages, vocal portions that seem to answer and supplement each other, beautiful vocal-sustain portions, and other surprising uses of Jennings' voice. Is this a turn-off? Not in the least. Haken has always been notorious for their quirk, and now they are becoming not notorious, but endearing and impressive. Jennings has one of the best voices in music. Period.

Now, let's talk songs. Everyone wants to know, “Is there an epic?” Emphatically, there is not. This album does not fall into the structure of their previous albums, and with good reason. This album doesn't need an epic because it is highly personal and candid. It does, however, feature nine amazing tracks that range from quiet and pensive (“The Path”, “In Memoriam”, “As Death Embraces”) to heavy and technical with jazzy and quiet interludes (“Falling Back to Earth”, “Pareidolia”, “Atlas Stone”). A couple tracks are in between (“Because It's There”, “Somebody”) and may even include horns or a touch of pop, but both center around Jennings' voice.

However, there's just one more track to discuss, and I believe it is not only the best track on this album, but also the best track I've heard this year: “Cockroach King”. I could write an entire review on this track because it is powerful both musically and lyrically. This is the definitive track on “The Mountain” where we get a little bit of everything I've mentioned so far. However, on this track, Haken really brings the quirk. The bouncing and odd vocals, the psychedelic keys, the epic chorus, and the general Middle Earth feeling all combine to make this the definitive track, not only on this album, but also of Haken's career. It perfectly covers all of their albums to date, and it could even be called a tribute of sorts. In addition, this track has one of the most thought-provoking themes I've heard this year, so I believe that “Cockroach King” will be the song that everyone is talking about on “The Mountain”.

So, as you view the solitary peak on the front of “The Mountain”, know that you are in for a journey lyrically, musically, emotionally, and even spiritually. The music is a bit heavier than before, but the album also features a few tracks that might be the softest that Haken has crafted yet. In other words, “The Mountain” has a stunning balance to it. There is something for everyone here. I also feel that everyone will be able to relate to the incredible theme that Jennings has created: The album covers the trials, tribulations, battles, goals, and successes that we each have on our own journey up the mountain. This album is about life. It is about death. It is about the human experience. I won't spoil anything here (though, I will be spotlighting this album on my Facebook page, The PROG Mind, soon), but suffice it to say that you will find yourself tearing up, nodding in silent agreement, and falling in love with this album. I'm truly beginning to believe in this band, and I certainly hope the ending to Haken's story, “And they lived happily ever after”, is a long way from now.

1. The Path
2. Atlas Stone
3. Cockroach King
4. In Memoriam
5. Because It’s There
6. Falling Back to Earth
7. As Death Embraces
8. Pareidolia
9. Somebody
Label: InsideOut Music
Distribution: EMI (Denmark)
Artwork rating: 90/100
Reviewed by: Jason Spencer
Date: 17 August, 2013
Website: www.haken.fr