November 18, 2013

Review: Haken-The Mountain

At the start of this review, I should make the point that I had heard this album by Haken, The Mountain, before it appeared as a review item and my initial impression was that it was ok, but nothing special. Having now spent some serious listening time on this album, have I discovered a way inside the music of Haken, or were my initial thoughts correct?Haken is a London based prog metal band formed back in 2007 who have released three albums thus far, from Aquarius (2010) through Visions (2011) and now this new release, The Mountain (2013).

Haken is a 5 piece band comprising, Ross Jennings (vocals), Richard Henshall (guitars, keyboards), Raymond Hearne (drums), Charles Griffiths (guitar) and Diego Tejeida (keyboards) although Thomas Maclean (bass), who was one of the original members, left the band in October of this year, and does appear on The Mountain.

The Mountain is a 9 track album (at least on the limited edition) with a total playing time of around 69 minutes with “The Path Unbeaten” the shortest track at 2:12 minutes and “Falling Back To Earth” being the longest track on show at 11:51 minutes. 

The initial two tracks on The Mountain, “The Path” (2:46) and “Atlas Stone” (7:34) form an excellent opening duo. Orchestral strings, piano and the plaintive vocals of Ross Jennings, which can make the hairs on the back of your neck twitch a fair bit, take the short track 1 on into track 2. This track starts with a more insistent piano melody before the band explode into action and drive the track along with a superb choir behind the musicians. Back into play come the vocals with a persistent guitar riff in the background and then the sound builds before an almost discordant synth appears to jazz things up a bit before the vocals provide some “light” relief with a little “scat style” interlude. The guitar then sets about some serious riffing before the almost gentle floating vocals, both lead and background, take the track forward. There then follows an amazing instrumental passage, synth, guitar and rhythm engine in perfect sync before the vocals become very breathy behind the bass and into short synth flourishes between the vocals and guitar passages before the track takes its leave fading out to piano only.

“Cockroach King” (8:14) is certainly a reminder of the quirky prog band from the depths of time, well the 70’s, Gentle Giant, with acappella vocals, quirky time signatures, jazzy jagged keyboards and by the time its 8+ minutes were over, I felt that I had gone a couple of rounds with Muhammad Ali, so disorientated had I become. “Cockroach King” is a fascinating track, but one which I am still not quite sure about.
The longest track, “Falling Back To Earth” (11:51) is certainly a milestone on the album, drawing as it does from multiple musical areas, such as the “let’s see if I can do some fret melting” guitar, vocals from the gentle, dreamy style to the manic, time signatures chopping and changing and even that forgotten prog instrument, the flute, appearing. Throw into that mix, some synth passages that sweep here and there and again Haken seem to have provided another musical conundrum.

The album, The Mountain, will certainly appeal to a whole range of prog enthusiasts as there are examples of “old classic” prog a la Gentle Giant, some neat moves into prog metal and even a nod to plain old heavy metal, assuming such a genre still exists. I have not heard either of the previous releases from this band, so I approached The Mountain, with no preconceptions of what to expect. What I did discover was a band that are unafraid to experiment, and I was drawn into a lot of the music on this album, but I did find passages that I felt just did not work and although I am now amending my original impression, it probably isn’t an album I would find myself playing much.

To sum up The Mountain, it is best to misquote a relatively famous saying as “ aural beauty is in the ear of the listener” and suggest that The Mountain is worth listening to several times, after which, you may find you get much more from it than this reviewer has.  

3.5/5 STARS

Key Tracks: Atlas Stone, Cockroach King, Pareidolia

Jim “The Ancient One” Staff

November 18, 2013

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