Review Summary: With only their second release, progressive metal band Haken cements themselves a position among the greatest artists of our time.
They must have cheated. It’s as simple as that. Somehow, in a mere two albums, the progressive metal outfit Haken
has done something most bands struggle to do their entire careers. They’ve defined themselves; carved themselves a style and sound that’s not only fresh and unique, but layered with the polish that comes only after the release of a plethora of albums and years of experience. Yes, Haken’s sophomore effort is a grand one. Visions
simply vaults over the impossibly high bar Haken set for themselves with their debut release.
For those of you who don’t know, Haken emerged from London in 2007 as one of the most appealing new prog metal bands around. Their debut album Aquarius
shocked audiences with its top notch musicianship and song writing. Their sound was fresh, yet reminiscent of progressive legends such as Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation. All agreed the band’s next album would hard pressed to top its predecessor, but here we are less than two years later, and Haken has struck gold yet again.
Visions is a very different machine from Aquarius. While Aquarius showed some restraint when it came to technical wankery, Visions barrels forward with reckless abandon for this sort of self control. If you ever doubted the skill and talent of Haken’s individual members, prepare to have your doubts beaten repeatedly into a fine dust and then scattered to the wind, never to be seen again. Violins, cellos and brass instruments accentuate the albums details perfectly, and with the inclusion of two entirely instrumental tracks and a multitude of extended solos, Haken’s making sure there’s no room for argument; these dudes can play.
Of course, technical proficiency does not equal quality. Yet fear not, because song writing isn’t about to take a back seat. In fact it’s improved by leaps and bounds. Gone are the awkwardly placed death metal growls and circus-like passages of music that plagued Aquarius’ flow. Instead, Visions relies on incredibly dynamic passages that can change from the gut-wrenchingly powerful to the heart-tuggingly beautiful in moments. Perhaps the album’s greatest example of this can be found in its second track, Nocturnal Conspiracy. One moment Haken is pummeling away with a superbly heavy sound, while the next we’re treated to a mellow guitar track that overlays perfectly with Ross Jennings’ soothing, soaring voice. The album as a whole is also brilliantly constructed. Being a concept album, ideas are revisited just enough to give the whole thing a cohesive feel, and I’ll be damned if the final track doesn’t tie the prettiest little bow I’ve ever seen onto this incredible package, closing the album in the same beautiful manner with which it started.
So there you have it. Another astounding entry into a bands discography that I hope to see expand dramatically throughout the coming years. There are flaws in Visions; the inclusion of some odd sound effects (Super Mario Brothers, or something?) can raise eyebrows at points, and the concept behind the album could be viewed as cheesy, if taken too seriously. But such qualms don’t mar the surface of Visions in the slightest. After all, Haken had to leave some room to improve because as far as I can see, they’re pretty much at the top already.