Haken
Affinity


3.5
great

Review

by Thompson D. Gerhart STAFF
April 29th, 2016 | 296 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Caught in the shade of The Mountain.

It's always interesting, if a little harrowing, to see how a band follows up a true magnum opus. Do they repeat the same formula and risk growing stale, or do they change directions and risk alienating an enamored audience? In either case, the result is rarely as well-received as their previous effort, inevitably leaving the band in the shadow of their own colossus.

There are rare exceptions, yes, and Haken's Affinity does well to stand on its own the downslope from the pinnacle of 2013's The Mountain. But a second opus, it is not.

That said, given the facts at hand, there's not much to be disappointed about with Affinity. Well, maybe short of a full-on Opeth impersonation right around the 10:30 mark on obligatory long prog metal track "The Architect." That aside, Affinity is a strong prog metal album that opts to tread its own path rather than follow the wispy and natural hiking trail of The Mountain.

On Affinity, Haken follow a decidedly sharper, faster, and darker route more reminiscent of a highway than a trail. The lows are lower, the distortion is heavier, and the overall sound is insulated from the wind that could be so easily felt whipping around The Mountain. Bright keyboard melodies and several electronic drum parts are intentionally dirtier and less organic, with the apparent intention of conjuring up the sound and image of the early '90s. And as a tone, it works, jarring as it may initially be to those expecting Haken to repeat the opus formula.

But is there as much space to play in the 64 megabyte mainframe of old as there was on the peaks and summits of the world's tallest landmasses?

Not quite. Affinity is a finely-crafted progressive metal record - best at its most progressive, as Haken are - but it feels more constrained than its predecessor. Some of that is bound to be by design, of course, but it simply feels as though Haken are better taken with a wind in their sails than they are with a current in their circuits. While the group execute with precision on the dystopian, hacker-y concept dreamed up for Affinity, the broader space for dreaming on The Mountain seems to have allowed for more big and sprawling ideas to come forth and flourish, while it's the quick hits that deliver the statement of Affinity most articulately.

The progressive quirks that showcase the best the band have to offer are plenty present, of course, but where these elements experienced wondrous long-term evolution on tracks like "Cockroach King" and "Pareidolia" on The Mountain, they're either concentrated on Affinity's briefer tracks or used more as a "bell and whistle" effect on its longer tracks. For example, the stutter-step and open, positive tonal shift of "Earthrise" easily make it one of the album's best offerings despite being one of its shortest. The drawn-out and oddly timed "Red Giant" places it as another shorter track that's a cut above the mean, while "1985" serves up Haken's best long-form prog (just keep an open mind with the dubstep section and remind yourself that the theme du jour is "dark electronics").

Meanwhile, elephant in the room "The Architect" feels as though it grows self-indulgent and repetitious without ever exploding with a truly unique sticking point. There are plenty of intriguing elements, of course - bass, keyboard, and guitar solos among some truly impressive drumming - but these are sparse peaks in an overwhelmingly flat landscape. While there's not necessarily anything bad to any of the tracks presented on Affinity, much like on "The Architect," I can't help but feel that the opportunity to make a lasting impression is somewhat squandered in the name of indulgence.

Haken are definitely at their best when focusing on their progressive side, but their experimentation with some constraint and structure has resulted in a good album residing in a long shadow. This is clearly a band that's still ambitious, powerful, and skilled and I think it's more reassuring than not that they're also a group not comfortable to rest on their laurels. That said, playing more to their progressive strengths may better suit them than playing dark, heavy, and long. Haken certainly don't need to climb The Mountain again, but letting some of that high altitude air inflate their headspace could be all it takes to put their next release on the path to making another big splash.



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user ratings (375)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Brett Wodon (5)
I guess you could say I've caught an affinity for this record....


Comments:Add a Comment 
AtomicWaste
Moderator
April 29th 2016


2700 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is me coming to grips with monumental albums not being followed by monumental albums. And that's okay.

Insurrection
Contributing Reviewer
April 29th 2016


24396 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

didn't expect this to be as good as the mountain but the "darker" angle has me interested. will check

Digging: Protest the Hero - Pacific Myth

elcrawfodor
April 29th 2016


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

lol at that 4.2 average



Hearing it for the first time, this review seems pretty spot on so far. It's fun, but it's coming across as an electronic Images and Words, without any of the zany creativity that made me fall in love with The Mountain.

Toondude10
April 29th 2016


11322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

this is awful

Digging: Arcane Roots - Melancholia Hymns

AtomicWaste
Moderator
April 29th 2016


2700 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@toondude - Nah.



@elcrawfodor - That's a solid quick-hit summary.

dbizzles
April 29th 2016


9812 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

'lol at that 4.2 average'

Usually the people that really like an album are the first to rate it. You shouldn't be surprised.

Digging: Botanist - Collective: The Shape of He to Come

Toondude10
April 29th 2016


11322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

with all of the horrendous synth work and incredibly bland production, yeah it's awful. seriously I want what the people who 5'd this are smoking



I feel like you could merge those 1 sentence paragraphs with the preceding ones but other than that the review's good. completely agree with you on 'The Architect".

smaugman
April 29th 2016


4323 Comments


dat graph

elcrawfodor
April 29th 2016


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The average doesn't surprise me right now, just hilarious it's currently above The Mountain. I'll be shocked if it doesn't quickly go down.

Friday13th
April 29th 2016


5851 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review, Atomic. I actually like "The Architect" even if the styles are a bit hodge-podged. It has a couple catchy melodies which are oddly few and far between here.

Digging: Fleming and John - Delusions of Grandeur

elcrawfodor
April 29th 2016


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"Good review Mongi"



errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Friday13th
April 29th 2016


5851 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh haha lol Idk why I put Mongi

Toondude10
April 29th 2016


11322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

ya done fucked it up

Friday13th
April 29th 2016


5851 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

*looks frantically for excuses in The Mountain comments*

AtomicWaste
Moderator
April 29th 2016


2700 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"I feel like you could merge those 1 sentence paragraphs with the preceding ones but other than that the review's good."



I could do a lot of things, but it's about visual spacing and making those sentences stand out gives them more power. For what it's worth, I think the production does what they want it to do and the same could be said of the synths. A lot of the tone on this is deliberate. I guess you just don't like what they were going for?



I can't believe the 5s, though. That's some foolishness.

AtomicWaste
Moderator
April 29th 2016


2700 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@Friday - It's not a bad track, I just think it overdoes itself and there's not enough for me to really latch onto within the sprawling frame of the track. And the Opeth ripoff is weird.

Toondude10
April 29th 2016


11322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

for the most part, it just sounds so bland to me and the synths are goddamn painful to listen to. '1985' and 'Earthrise' are two of the worst songs I've heard so far this year.



I'll admit, the last two songs are great though.

elcrawfodor
April 29th 2016


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I hear what you're saying, that bit's backing riff sounding straight out of Blackwater Park, but I enjoyed the solo on top of it. Track definitely felt disjointed though

Mongi123
Contributing Reviewer
April 29th 2016


18830 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Fantastic review NOT ME! Nearly agreed on all accounts, except for Earthrise. I hate that song lol. But Red Giant and The Endless Knot are splendid tracks.

Toondude10
April 29th 2016


11322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

also, the guest spot was completely unnecessary



and THANK YOU! someone else who hates 'Earthrise', seriously fuck that song



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