Review Summary: "Adapt to this world, It's a chance we must take, We'll play our hand"
I had never heard Haken before this album. Quite frankly, on first listen of the early-released song "Atlas Stone" I wasn't hooked on it and sort of brushed it aside in my mind. However, after reading a few reviews of the album, I decided to give The Mountain another look. Please don't think I'm a total poseur, but one of the reviews I had read offered a comparison to Dream Theater (one of my all time faves) and this particular reviewer made the case that Haken was magnificently wonderful while Dream Theater was stuck in "nineteen eighty boring." Now that kind of talk got me wondering and lead me to check out the album one late night, just me relaxing with my headphones. Ultimately, I'm not looking at comparing the two, because while Dream Theater's S/T album (also incredible)had been released around the same time as this, and the comparisons are inevitable, Haken has truly created something wonderful here. No matter your reasons for checking it out, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of The Mountain, a good pair of headphones, and give this a thorough listen repeatedly, start to finish whenever possible.
The Mountain is a prog metal journey meant to be listened to from the beginning, in this case "The Path" which is a soft vocal/key track that prepares you for the wonders to follow...the musical theme here is repeated periodically during the album's hour-long course. It's almost church hymn-like. This leads into the explosive "Atlas Stone," which is a song that totally embodies The Mountain's cover art. "Carry the weight of the world on my shoulders!" It is on this song where perhaps the Dream Theater comparison sneaks in, as the guitar solos are straight-up Petrucci, but that's really about it. During the course of "Atlas Stone" Haken show off plenty, but are under control 100% of the time as they shift styles. It became apparent early in the album that unlike a lot of prog-metal bands, Haken place heavy emphasis on their vocal attack. The melodies these guys come up with through voice as well as through their instruments are as jaw dropping as the guitar riffs and the off-the-wall keyboards.
But if you think you've figured out Haken through "Atlas Stone" you are mistaken, as they follow up that song with the even more insane "Cockroach King." This particular track is lyrically all about anti-establishment, anti-greed, and musically Haken aren't afraid to test the patience of anyone without an open mind. Again with the layered vocal attack to start, the song progresses through a dark-jazzy interlude, a majestic chorus, and then a crazy bridge section that at times calls to mind Primus in spots, video games in others but with an atonal melody hook that really makes me feel like there are cockroaches scurrying around on the wall. The song seriously sounds like what the Muppets would make if they made a prog-metal song...much to Haken's genius they went and made a video for "Cockroach King" featuring the band as Muppets and a not so subtle nod to Queen...check it out on the youtube if you haven't already.
From there, Haken aren't done showing you what they're capable of. "In Memoriam" is a shorter track focused more on heavy extended-range guitars...I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when Haken launched into a Meshuggah-like breakdown, and the frantic staccato progression that carries the tune through the end had me reeling. Afterward, "Because it's There" brings back the theme from "The Path," but this time with full instrumentation, and serves up inspiration for anyone that's looking to either climb The Mountain or else overcome life's challenges....uplifting for sure.
Rounding out the album are epic-length tracks "Falling Back to Earth," "Pareidolia," and the somber "Somebody" with another short interlude "As Death Embraces" in between. I will stop short of describing each of these songs in detail, other than to say that each is an appropriate, engrossing piece of the puzzle that is The Mountain, and I was reminded of Opeth's finer moments more than once.
In the end, plenty of ear candy for the prog metal fan, lots of sounds to discover with repeated listens, but also huge ear-worms that you will hum all day, even after listening to other albums. I can't recommend this album enough to any prog rock/metal fan. This album is at the top of the heap for my 2013 listening, easily.
Favorite Tracks: "Falling Back To Earth" and "Pareidolia"