Wow, Haken must have the mother of all crystal balls. Ever since we learned of the inception of their new record, the chosen name Virus was slightly disturbing to us. But this took on a whole new meaning once the Coronavirus pandemic wrecked our lives, a very dark and ominous one. A story studded with lyrics that are way too prophetic than they ever should be. But eerie as this may be, there’s no connection to the current crisis. Even if some of the statements found sound way too close to the current situation.
In truth, ’tis a sequel to the 2017 piece Vector. And once the Haken marketing machine got underway and they started to churn out videos seemingly by the dozen, the RMR deck crew really took notice. This new album already started to grow way beyond the confines of its jewel case before it ever became visible to the grand public.
Why is it we’re never learning from all the mistakes we ever made?Invasion | Haken, Virus – 2020
So, the occupants of the office suite over here developed some huge expectations. Which bears the question: Does Virus deliver the goods?
I was bitching lately that no good prog would head our way anymore. And in a way, the Progressive metal genre is kinda going down that slippery path that Symphonic Metal already traveled through. As a result, many a good prog band quit the pvre path of progressive wisdom to look for greener pastures.
And for cause. What once was great practice, now grows stale with way too many imitators crowding the grounds. So, these folks inevitably move on, which may not necessarily be to their benefit, though. Ain’t it, Steven Wilson?
But not so with Haken. They just stepped into that mushy mess of gazillions of prog lookalikes and hit the restart button. The one that will redefine good Progressive Rock and Metal.
You certainly remember Vector‘s last song A Cell Divides. Well, Prosthetic – Virus‘ first track – just steps in where its predecessor abruptly stopped. Right back into the asylum1) with a piece that – at first – stuns you with furious drum bursts and then delights you with a totally aggressive brand of prog. A sturdy, scratchy, and totally delicious confusion of rhythms, drums, and a vocalist in his prime.
Virus packs a level of intensity that just wasn’t there on its earlier releases. In a way, this band improved their maturity and skill yet further away from the already pretty snazzy Vector. And surely, they largely surpassed that vile prog bog with all its soundalikes and rarely a good ‘un about them.
Haken‘s mastery in songwriting really bubbles to the forefront. It is this knack to keep your attention with elaborate arrangements from hot progressive, over alternative passages down to surprising soft melodies. Those that echo into those choruses to dream for, all whipped along by Ross Jennings‘ elastic voice. One that has no need to revert to growls.
You’ll often find some sort of a rhythmic fruit salad, some of that embedded in subtle polyphonics and juicily arranged and very palatable djents. A daunting complexity that would defeat most of the wannabes out there.
Yet, this band just uses this outstanding musicianship to fascinate their fans to no end, and keep them glued to their earphones. As opposed to bludgeoning them into submission, the way many less-skilled bands often do. And this would not be possible without the outstanding stick work of Raymond Hearne that continued to awe us.
Oh, and did you smoke that one? A ton of easter eggs found their way into the record. Virus truly gorges with them and they’re too numerous to list them. But the die-hard fans here will relish the pains Haken took to create all that elaborate detail.
Yet, not everything is dandy in the land of the virus and the Cockroach King. Carousel – for instance – will induce some trance in you, but its lengthy noodling about the soundscape ain’t really helpful. Yet, the first five tracks are nonetheless extremely strong.
From the sturdy action on Prosthetic to the softer o-tones on Canary Yellow, this whole selection headed straight for total stardom. With Invasion2) at the very top of this particular mountain. A stunningly muscled display of glorious prog that Porcupine Tree never managed to achieve.
On the other hand, the Messiah Complex series sports more potential for contention. This is where Haken sails a tad too close to that dangerous reef of overheated metal tunes. The band might have done better to lighten the load some and give the tortured ears of their base a break. Even if the parts of true excellence in that section delighted this deck crew over here. From absolutely outstanding bouts of riffing to melancholic, but perfectly haunting melodies, you got it all. Oh, and do let me know in the comments below, where exactly in this section Haken hid this reference to The Mountain.
Now say what you will, but Virus is a true Progressive Metal tour-de-force, one that only Haken can pull off. A real Holy Metal Cow moment, an exploit that caused shivers down my spine at certain instances of the record.
Haken are truly leading the pack3) – for now at least. This record is the work of alpha wolves, not just some measly followers regurgitating what others did before4). My faith is duly restored, Progressive Metal still has a life – and a future.
Only, how Haken will ever top that one I cannot conceive. The future will tell for sure. But until that happens, shell out a few greenbacks and enjoy the show.
And yes, Virus really did deliver the goods, and then some.
|1.||Apparently some years later, they said.|
|2.||I almost pissed myself once The Mountain appeared in the video that goes with the song.|
|3.||No, Lucassen is way behind, pending their new Ayeron piece.|
|4.||So, if you have another view, do tell who should be the lucky one doing better. And it – for sure – ain’t Dream Theater. Good luck.|