Review Summary: Bored Ape Prog Club
While their first two full-length albums were acclaimed in their own right, 2013’s The Mountain
began a snowball effect for progressive sextet Haken, conjuring up a small, yet fervent amount of reverence among fans that has only grown in stature as it’s rolled downhill over the past decade. What’s curious about this development is the group’s artistic response to it; the ‘70s prog-influenced theatrical ethos of The Mountain
hasn’t been outright abandoned, so much as it’s been unstably paired against increasingly recent musical trends. The unabashed ‘80s pastiche of Affinity
and the more modern progressive metal leanings of Vector
have certainly polarized listeners. Many have lauded the group’s ability to progress while remaining loyal to their musical origins, while others have derided their increased affection for djenty breakdowns and anachronistic Roland synth sounds. I’m an outlier in the sense that I believe each Haken album since 2013 has been stronger than the last, with Virus
being their most complete and artistically accomplished project thus far. Undoubtedly, this burdens Fauna
with a plethora of expectations, few of which went unmet for me. With the exception of one major misstep, Fauna
has an argument as Haken’s strongest effort yet, a dense thicket of diverse sounds that functions as both a nostalgic trip down memory lane and a confident step into the future.
Throughout its promotional cycle, Haken have been referring to Fauna
as their “sonic rainforest”, a metaphor they have wholeheartedly committed to, to the point where it may come off a bit heavy-handed. From the record’s intricately detailed Bored Ape Prog Club artwork to its symbolic lyricism, Fauna
thinks of itself as an aural jungle for listeners to strand themselves within, as sounds of Haken’s past eras echo while the band attempts to tread new ground. Narratively, the band celebrates the glory and resilience of nature while condemning humanity’s attempts to conquer and destroy it; this is nothing new thematically, although one could argue that the dual meanings of most of the songs add further thematic value. The album is certainly at its best when narrative and instrumentation collide, such as on unforgettable opener “Taurus”. This track is further evidence that the band’s heavier sections, refined on Vector
, remain a huge strength, with the deceptive cadence of its punishing opening riff absolutely stomping
, much like the migratory stampede it describes.
A sub-5 minute blast of metallic energy, “Taurus” encapsulates many of Fauna’s
most praiseworthy elements into a compact, territorial, and enraged package. Often a point of criticism among listeners, Ross Jennings continues to come into his own vocally, successfully limiting odd enunciations and misplaced vibrato and utilizing harmony to great effect. The track’s technicality isn’t used solely to impress, nor is it shoehorned in for the sake of itself. Every jagged off-time riff scattered throughout the album’s runtime is memorable and can be enjoyed on the surface before being dissected into its component parts to further maximize its wow factor. For some of the most noteworthy examples of this phenomenon, see “Beneath The White Rainbow” for a drum-n-bass inspired refrain, or the 11-minute “Elephants Never Forget”, which opts to attack the listener with some Ringling Brothers circus dissonance before pivoting into an earworm of a hook. Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths’ guitar playing can certainly be described as busy, but I would be remiss to describe it as overkill; some of their artistic choices throughout Fauna
exude instrumental maturity, such as their quiet staccato unison sections on standout track “Sempiternal Beings” that suddenly explode into the wildest solo on the album. Their mellow, arpeggiated introduction to closing track “Eyes Of Ebony” immediately transports the listener into a vulnerable headspace, a suitable choice for the most emotionally evocative track on the record, which is dedicated to the memory of Henshall’s late father. And of course, none of this would be possible without the consistently jaw-dropping performances of drummer Ray Hearne, whose metric fu
ckery must be heard to be believed. It always cracks me up how sparser sections of Haken songs, like the intro sequence of “Sempiternal Beings”, are always punctuated by some of his most insane drumming. Nevertheless, he succeeds at all dynamic ranges, sending tracks like “Taurus” or the soaring “Nightingale” into the musical stratosphere.
Not all members of this iteration of Haken are mainstays of the group, as Fauna
marks the return of keyboardist Peter Jones, who last played with the band before they had released a single full-length album. He’s an undeniably talented player who elevates many of these songs to new heights; I’m particularly fond of his Rhodes playing on “Nightingale” and his queasy circus synths on “Elephants Never Forget”. However, Haken’s decision to feature him so prominently sometimes makes him stick out like a sore thumb. Enter single “The Alphabet Of Me”, a throwback to the spirit of Affinity
that features its bouncy EDM keyboard front and center in the worst way. If you haven’t heard it yet, imagine if Calvin Harris accidentally changed the length of every single measure in his Ableton session before he bounced it, and then continued his foibles by emailing the track to an Englishman named Ross Jennings instead of Rihanna with the subject line “thoughts?? ;))”. It’s made even cheesier by its hollow and cliched lyricism; I’ve never thought of Haken as a particularly strong lyrical band, and even with the fauna theme, they’re hit or miss here. There are some big winners, like the stirring “Eyes Of Ebony”, but “The Alphabet Of Me” and the incredibly corny “Lovebite” completely miss the boat, although “Lovebite” fares better than “Alphabet” due to its strong instrumentals.
These strong instrumentals are exactly why Fauna
succeeds as a whole, and why Haken will continue to succeed as a band for years to come. No offense to Jennings, whose improvement as a performer is self-evident, but this will always be Haken’s draw; sometimes you just want to hear some Berklee-ass musicians throw down some 11/8-ass riffs and juxtapose them against some badass polyrhythms. There are some occasional stumbles throughout the tracklist, but Haken’s songwriting and arrangement skills take these bursts of technical energy and transform them into compelling musical ideas, and Fauna
can easily be considered another triumph in that department.