Review Summary: Consistently reaching dazzling heights and pushing their sound to its absolute limits, Haken's Virus is the best album of their career and a high benchmark for prog as a whole.
Back in the eleventh grade, my friends and I decided to tackle an assignment on interpreting the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby
, by filming a movie trailer for our imagined sequel, The Great Gatsby II: Dragon’s Fury
. In it, Owl Eyes would unravel a government conspiracy that went all the way to the top and the literal eye of Dr. TJ Eckleburg would wander and gaze around a police hellscape. It was ridiculous, nonsensical, and ultimately satisfying to explore such a rote and useless concept. In fact, we ended up getting an A for deconstructing and strippng away virtually everything from the original novel, to the point that our teacher commented that we had to have understood it well enough to counter it with such absurdity.
Which is a fitting transition, in many ways, for Haken’s sixth full-length record, Virus
, which is a direct sequel to their 2018 effort, Vector
. That record found Haken at their most refined and restrained despite the underlying concept of looking at their best known song, “Cockroach King” which was a cautionary tale on greed and the pursuit of happiness and imagining ‘but what if he was actually a cockroach?’ It was silly, hardhitting, and, most importantly, the best album of their career.
finds Haken pushing their unique brand of prog to its absolute limits and daring you to keep up with its dizzying heights. Being the second part of a larger musical tapestry, there’s a lot of ground to cover here sonically, but Haken waste absolutely no time with opener “Prosthetic”, the most unrelentingly aggressive song in their career. It’s a fitting tone setter that packs a bit more of a straightforward punch than many Haken fans may be accustomed to, but has enough electronic flourishes and trademark weirdness to make it unmistakably their own. “Invasion” follows suit with incredible restraint by building and cascading upon a simple, haunting melody that squeezes blood from a stone by changing and convulsing around its relatively simple lines with machine-like precision before culminating into a crushing climax that continuously dances around the song's main grooves.
In fact, most of this record is far more straightforward and restrained than even Vector
. “Canary Yellow” and “The Strain” are two songs that, while undeniably great, really don’t require a lot of listens to dissect and “get”. But when the band lets loose, they conquer. “Carousel” is a ten minute labyrinth that packs more ideas than a lot of albums into its runtime, while making everything coalesce so effortlessly. It’s a trademark Haken epic, with all the anthemic choruses, proggy passages, and instrumental wackiness worthy of that title.
Which makes it even more bonkers that really the whole album is essentially window dressing for the real attraction here, “Messiah Complex”. Throughout its five parts, Haken inject everything from 8-bit shotgun blasts and djent-y breakdowns to into what is surely the best song in their already storied career. There are times where I came close to bursting into laughter from how ridiculous and tight the band sounded. What else can you honestly ask for in a song about a literal king that is a cockroach? It’s the kind of statement that -quite literally- borrows heavily from elsewhere in their discography and just doing everything….better.
And that’s really the name of the game here. It certainty seems a bit disingenuous to call it merely a refinement of their sound because it does manage to push things into exciting new territory, but Virus
smooths out any rough patches the band had leftover from Vector
. For anyone not accustomed to the genre, the journey may be a bit much to swallow but this is the best album in Haken's already impressive career and will surely cast a wide shadow on prog in the decade to come. It's an instant classic.