Progressive metal is in many ways a niche within a niche.
Critics often dismiss its sound as musical noodling complete with complex time signatures, lengthy tracks and endless self-indulgence on behalf of the musicians. But there’s no doubting the absolute talent of bands that follow this path to push musical boundaries, along with the excellent music they create. Among them are some of my favourite artists - Dream Theater, Opeth and Porcupine Tree, to name a few. Along with them is the subject of this article - Haken.
Haken was formed in 2007, originating out of casual bedroom jams between guitarists Charlie Griffiths and Matthew Marshall, and singer Ross Jennings. Their first demo was released that year, and three years later in 2010, they released their first album, Aquarius. Since their formation, they have released six more albums - Visions (2011), The Mountain (2013), Affinity (2016), Vector (2018), Virus (2020) and Fauna (March 2023, last month). The current lineup is Ross Jennings on vocals, Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall on guitars, Peter Jones on keyboards, Conner Green on bass, and Ray Hearne on drums.
All the songs on Virus are exceptional, with killer riffs by Henshall and Griffiths
Haken demonstrates remarkable consistency with their music, and every release by them thus far has been stellar. My favourite Haken album is their 2020 release, Virus (a coincidence, the band elaborated in an interview). All the songs on Virus are exceptional, with killer riffs by Henshall and Griffiths, dynamic drumming by Hearne, and Jennings’ vocals telling us tales of institutional woe and trauma of the human psyche. There’s a thrash metal vibe on ‘Prosthetic,’ melodic harmonies mixed with crushing riffs on ‘Invasion,’ ‘Carousel’ and ‘Canary Yellow,’ and a sombre ballad in ‘Only Stars’. Haken also follow the ambition of progressive metal and put a 17-minute epic in there with ‘Messiah Complex’. Their influences are easily recognisable on the album, from fellow prog metal giants Dream Theater and Meshuggah, along with older bands like thrash legends, Slayer, and prog rock pioneers, King Crimson.
Then again, this is hardly a band you can go wrong with regarding their albums. Every album has its high points, and the rest are nearly as good as Virus. They transcend genres and push the envelope of music, putting the ‘progressive’ in ‘progressive metal’. They are very capable of ambition (their longest song, ‘Visions’, is 22 minutes!), while hardly incapable of shorter material. ‘In Memoriam’, ‘Taurus’ and ‘Initiate’ are my favourite of their shorter stuff. At the same time, they are capable of lighter material, particularly two songs off of Fauna; ‘The Alphabet of Me’ and ‘Lovebite’ which demonstrate almost pop sensibilities while not straying far from the band’s sound.
They are proof that technical music by talented musicians can be quite the earworm. I urge all of you reading this – give them a listen. You won’t regret it.