Release Date: April 29th, 2016
Genre: Progressive Metal
Whenever you take a click-filled, boredom-inspired cruise through YouTube’s suggested videos sidebar, and you’re taking a lean towards the prog-ier side of the musical spectrum, eventually you’ll land upon a comment thread island inhabited by the disgruntled old-timey elitist. He or she glances up at the music video you’re watching and scoffs, their face wrinkling with disgust before declaring bitterly, “Prog is dead. These whipper-snappers don’t got it like Pink Floyd and Camel used to.” Deep down, however, in your solo-craving, tricky riff-loving, and catchy groove-hankering heart, you know you have an unquestionable retort to the ho-hummer’s statement in the form of Haken, especially with their newest release “Affinity”.
British progressive metal outfit Haken, (that’s pronounced “Hay-ken” by the way), are relatively new on the prog scene, only being around since 2007, yet the extremely impressive track record of album after album of proggy goodness shows that they mean business. I am more than pleased to report that “Affinity” continues this trend, and I will tell you up front that it is currently the prime candidate for my personal choice of album of the year for 2016. Its hour-long run packs considerable punch, without feeling cumbersome or tiring, a feat that is rare in this genre of music. Haken has a certain knack, if not jaw-dropping skill, to fuse intricately beautiful melodies in harmonies with moments of whip-snapping, headbang-able djenty heavy metal guitars, and seemingly out-of-place, yet delightful snippets of many other musical genres, which typically draws from a central source of inspiration from one release to the next.
In “Affinity”, this theme seems to be the 80’s, as well as 70’s- style progressive rock, which is epitomized in the track “1985”, appropriately enough. Whirring synths and boomy drum kicks transport the listener to what at first seems like a throwback Europe concert, and the intricate solos and polyrhythms scattered throughout bring evoke images of Yes and Rush, but somehow Haken impeccably blends this musical atmosphere with modern metal tropes, progressive or otherwise. This theme is undoubtedly different from their prior full-length “The Mountain”, that offered a darker, more jazz-influenced tone, yet the sound of “Affinity” is still unmistakably Haken.
On vocals, Ross Jennings once again demonstrates his very capable range, easily belting high notes with a noticeable “oomph” and power without sounding forced, and then creating soothing, punctual lows that pair well with the slower sections of “Affinity”. Even for those of us who prefer screams in place of cleans, the talent in these vocals shouldn’t go unrecognized and unappreciated. In terms of musicality, Haken avoids the pit-falls of several other progressive albums, that may boast incomprehensibly difficult material to perform, yet little substance or organization to them. Instead, “Affinity” is carefully orchestrated, both the incredibly fast and downright mellow moments, with seemingly meticulous detail and passion. There was not a single note in the entire release that appeared out of place or thoughtless to me.
“Affinity” is not necessarily the release that will “secure” Haken’s place in the scene; rather it is an undeniable, catchy, and frankly incredible reminder of why they are in the place that they are. “Affinity” is a testament to the band’s maturation of sound and style that gives homage to their many influences, yet adeptly showcases their own unique and stupendous musical voice. To full-time proggers, “Affinity” is no question worth a purchase, if at the very least a listen, especially to the aforementioned folks who think that prog has been a long-dead genre; give it a fair chance and Haken may prove you wrong. To non-proggers, “Affinity” is a very accessible release, with multiple genres of music making a notable appearance without a gimmicky or coerced feel to it. Ultimately, Haken has created another stellar statement of progressive metal music that offers a tantalizing combination of depth and accessibility that makes it nearly impossible to put down once the first track begins to roll.
by Chad Brown
Take a peak at the music video for Initiate from “Affinity”!