Review Summary: Haken have reached the summit.
It’s somewhat common knowledge- and perhaps even cliche- that in life, everyone has their own personal mountains to climb. Whether it be relationships, the economy, the job market, or even personal issues, humanity is in constant turmoil trying to scale the hardship-laden trek known as life. Sometimes it seems as though the world is a monotonous, wearying place. It might seems as though there’s no solace or reprieve from the dreariness. It is this struggle that Haken examines on The Mountain.
After coming off of the somewhat high critical praise of their last two albums, Aquarius and Visions, Haken had their own personal mountain to climb. With their third release, they had expectations to meet, and hopefully, surpass. With their sophomore album, Visions, Haken proved that they had the talent to create excellent progressive metal- however, it was somewhat visible on that album that without the right decisions Haken could easily fall into the traps of progressive metal and lose the spark of creativity that made Aquarius feel so fresh. With The Mountain, Haken pushes past those proverbial pitfalls and creates an album that feels new and inspiring in the realm of progressive metal.
From the very start of the album, we are introduced to a different sort of Haken. The opener, 'The Path', begins with a beautiful piano melody that eventually builds to complement Ross Jennings’ vocals. Paired with inspiring, somewhat philosophical lyrics, The Path serves its purpose well, introducing a theme- both lyrically and musically- that continues throughout the entire album. This theme is reintroduced in 'Because It’s There', a gorgeous vocally-centric piece that begins a capella, building on Ross’s vocals by incorporating various harmonies. The lyrics are essentially the same as the ones sung during 'The Path', but done in a different, albeit interesting, way.
'Falling Back to Earth' continues this theme of attempting to climb the metaphorical mountain, although in a more negative way. Being the heaviest song on the album, it showcases Haken’s progressive metal prowess well, utilizing the concentrated vocal melodies paired with lyrics indicating hardship and perhaps failure with crushing guitars and a general feeling of uneasiness. A similar feeling is felt on 'Cockroach King', arguably the most quirky and eccentric song Haken has produced. Already commonly compared to Gentle Giant, 'Cockroach King' is an odd, off-beat song that is backed by a powerful chorus and a wavering melody that is unsettling, yet fun. The peculiar lyrics and the disconcerting atmosphere create a world of their own, and Haken lure the listener into this world with their storytelling prowess.
After repeated listens of The Mountain, it seems somewhat apparent that Haken really concentrated on the intensity of the vocals. Many of the songs are vocal centric; 'As Death Embraces' showcases Ross’s most emotional performance on a song thus far, while the previous mentioned 'Because It’s There' shows how much his vocal ability has improved since their demo. Album closer 'Somebody' is also a passionate affair, centering around a man who feels as though he lost his chance to be the person he truly believed he had a chance to be.
Haken could have gone in many different directions with this album, but centering the focus around beautiful melodies and lush soundscapes while still experimenting with new ideas and exploring new territory truly seems like the right decision. It would have been easy to create an album with the same structure and dynamic as Aquarius or Visions; however, Haken took the road less traveled and forged new ground. It stands that Haken have refined their songwriting ability, improved in almost every capacity, and shown the progressive realm that despite being relatively new to the scene that they are a force to be reckoned with. With The Mountain, Haken have reached the summit.