A variety of currents and undercurrents exist in the Progressive Metal universe. You get the thoughtful ones, those hauling emotion around like a shitload of bricks. The Reticent comes to mind. You have the experimental dudes like Wilderun, walking down the steps, towards alternative and avant-garde laden pastures.
And then you get the djent division.
Those who think that good prog inevitably must be stuffed with a goodly measure of djentability. Leprous or Vvon Dogma I are somewhat of an extremist example of those. And you’ll find many others of the same ilk, and their ardent supporters.
Haken kind of err just on the good side of overloaded djentism, but just about. It is this famous, yet blurry red line that you don’t really want to cross. Lest you overwhelm the audience with same-of-same of the boring kind for some 50 minutes. Now, Affinity already rode very close to this line. And we all wondered what Vector will deliver to our turntable this fall.
Were we going to get much of the same?
If you remember, Affinity kinda felt like being in HAL’s prison cell, complete with grouchy and age-old mainframe systems. And burpy internet connections that always failed us all the time. The record exuded this impression of a fucking Sputnik on steroids, beeping about the scenery. And they did everything to create this atmosphere of long-gone times, wet space dreams included.
Now, Vector surely retained some of these retro qualities. But the comparison stops there. Right off the bat, Haken impresses with a new meaty, downturned splendor. An electronic, kinda cathedral sound that really is impressive. Already The Good Doctor at the beginning of the album sets the tone. A wild mix of the ’80s electronic synth-spammers Electric Light Orchestra and a weaselly incarnation of Steven Wilson high on substances.
Yet the interesting parts really start later, when the Haken bug earnestly takes on steam. Starting with the prowess displayed on Puzzle Box, chaotic and complex as it may be. Yet, this one suddenly descends into an impressive refrain that could come straight from Strawbs.
I was also impressed by the subtle (or not so subtle) intrusion of the bass. It is a voice/no voice affair. More perceived than heard, the bass is always present. And does – at times – set the tone. Not to make a point, as in some Black Metal offerings, but to pull this ship along. And THIS is pretty stellar.
And it all fits.
Vector wraps itself around the tale of an inmate in a mental hospital. A highly serious theme. As usual poured in concrete, Haken style. It starts with this sort of Rorschach test on the album cover. And ends with this intense, yet varied delivery the band dispels. The band fine-tunes the intensity and complexity of their tracks depending on the subject matter.
This all manifests itself in highly technical eruptions of pretty stellar prog. Djents mixed with polyrhythmic injections and frantic shredding jockey for space in a seemingly overloaded soundscape. What puts Haken apart is the grit and virtue of delivery. Not many of them Progressive Metal specialties out there will really be able to compete with that.
The epic Veil of 12+ minutes firmly sets the tone in this department. Which then the instrumental Nil By Mouth ensconces into the depths of the human psyche. Now, these two tracks together with The Good Doctor form the main pillars of Vector, no doubt about it.
Now, let’s not forget that despite all this savoir-faire, a lot of Haken‘s elements were already somehow mixed and mastered somewhere else. In some way and form at least. Some of that stuff eerily reminds me of Lucassen’s concoctions in Ayeron or Guilt Machine. Or sometimes you get the crazy intensity of a Todtgelichter on a Monday morning.
And then again, Haken dug deep and collected some ideas from times (way into the) past. I actually had to dust off old Genesis records and listen to them again. Lo and behold, these old prog masters really had something to say that still resonates to this day, and it shows in Vector. And – whilst getting old – most of them are still among us.
Yet still, we all understand that this genre has been in existence long ago, first solely based on rock and later migrating into metal. So in this light, Haken really brewed a potent potion from the past to the future. And firmly put their own stamp on it.
In conclusion, Haken have again confirmed their position as a heavyweight in Progressive Metal. Vector artfully dispels them dark vapors and adds a certain and delightful level of meaty crunch to a quality we already tasted in their last album. There is no doubt that djents still form an important part of their prog diet. However, the band artfully expanded into a more technical and – methinks – more mature type of delivery.
And this makes all the difference to the quality of this record. To drive this point home, none of that is overdone in any way shape, or form. To the contrary, this band knows how to dole out these tracks in a measured way. Without endlessly overloading the mix with unnecessary elements that nobody will detect anyway.
Thus, Haken created a complex and demanding record that for sure will resonate with the community for this year. And beyond.