Visions has already earned itself some serious praise on online forums and prog blogs, and seems to have cemented Haken’s status as a commanding presence within the progressive rock/metal community. They made a name for themselves with last year’s debut, Aquarius, and Visions has vaulted them to the top of the A-list.
For the most part, to me, as an outsider to the progressive metal scene, it sounds akin to many of the big names in the scene today: Dream Theater, Symphony X, Et Al. I know that type of blanket generalization is inherently unfair and to those with ears dialed in to a different frequency than mine, it is probably highly erroneous as well. Such are the pitfalls of over-genrefication though; sometimes things end up where they don’t belong. There is some element of truth in that comparison though: Like other progressive metal bands, there are parts that are brain-damagingly intricate and interesting and beautiful, and there are also parts that are duller than Dylan. (Jakob, not Bob.)
The best parts, to me, are when they don’t sound like other bands they sound like. When they get a little weird, and let themselves get carried off into a place that only they inhabit where their sound, to me, truly takes on a shape of its own. For example: the herky-jerky breakdown that occurs about two minutes and forty five seconds into “Premonition” and lasts for almost half a minute; the Nintendo-sonics about halfway into “Insanity” leading into the solo (and the solo itself, both are tight); any and every instance where a Theremin can be heard, as in the aforementioned “Premonition” breakdown, and extensively on “Visions,” just to name a few. Just the inclusion of an instrument like the Theremin is enough to earn you four stars in my book. The rest is just window dressing.
“Visions” is almost an EP on its own. The epic title track is essentially a recapitulation of the album thus far. It travels from one end of the sound spectrum to the other and halfway back again, accomplishing in twenty-two minutes what “Nocturnal Conspiracy” was able to achieve in nearly half the time. There are interesting parts (the bassline from 4:47-5:12; more Nintendo-tronics around 6:30; Arab-esque bridge introduced at 7:45, pretty much everything that goes on from 15:24 to 16:51, you get the point), but you have to excavate them from the layers of sediment that make up the rest of the album’s closer. Great for a live show, too much to include on an album. It’s almost like coming out to do an encore, only to play the songs you played in the first set again. This single track (out of eight, total) accounts for roughly one third of the album’s total length.
Haken have hit a comfortable creative stride with Visions. They have deftly avoided the sophomore slump that plagues many bands, earning their place at the top of the contemporary prog-rock heap. For such a ‘young’ band to make such an impact on a scene the way Haken has is cause to take notice, and after spending some time with Visions, fans and newcomers alike may be left asking “what’s next?”
Key Tracks: Nocturnal Conspiracy, The Mind’s Eye, Portals
December 6, 2011