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HAKEN Aquarius ratings distribution
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(43%) Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%) Good, but non-essential (16%) Collectors/fans only (5%) Poor. Only for completionists (3%) Diffrent beard styles.
HAKEN Aquarius reviews
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Smashing symphonic metal mastery.
Haken, a young progressive metal band from the UK, has emerged from the hordes of modern progressive metal bands with an iron conviction and a fantastic reason to have one. The band knows their stuff, about prog metal, how to please a fan (like me!), and just about music in general. They can whip out a 17 minute long epic with no effort, and break down into an emotional ballad with ease. The music is dynamic, symphonic, fun, and creative. No doubt these guys will go very far, and I cannot wait for the new album.
The Point of No Return opens up with a quick symphonic riff with plenty of orchestration, keyboard work, and proggin' epicness. The song has spectacular dynamic, with soft ballad like sections and crushing 7-string metal sections. The 10 minute epic is one of the best debut tracks I've heard from a new prog-metal band in a very long times, surpassing that of Dream Theater, Periphery, and all my other favorite prog metal bands (at least in a debut!).
Streams is a much lighter and even more dynamic song.Opening with a light flowery pop-like piano melody with some happy-go-lucky pop backing instrumentation, then modulating into a much more minor tone, you can see the band knows how to mess with music. The song has no trouble switching from joyful exuberance to depressing choruses. The song continues the concept, telling how the mermaid now finds herself enjoying a river with all her fishy friends. The song even modulates and a scary death metal phase, then effortlessly exits that back into minor then back to major. Wow!The song does touch a little bit of uncomfortable pop regions with some doo-woping backing the verses, but can be virtually overlooked entirely because of the song's overall epicness.
Aquarium is the "title" track, with some more melancholy riffing and melodic and sad musical work. Again 10 minutes long, the track keeps up a pattern of deliciously long tracks. Musically the song is spectacular, with some really cool keyboard passages and effects added. Vocally the song shows Jennings' more compassionate side of singing, with his dynamic voice getting very low and emotional at sections. The song is still able to deliver incredible strength and instrumental prowess.
Eternal Rain breaks the 10 minute motif with a meager 6 minute track (gasp) but still smacks you in the face. The track is spectacular. Everything from sweeping bass and guitar solos, great vocal work, rhythms, dynamics and all that great musical jazz is compiled into a funky track full of fantastic music. This track showcases some of Haken at their best, with strong instrumental prowess, vocal capacity, and just overall damn good music. Jazzy passages and funky backing melodies and modal keyboard work peppers the song with some great dynamics. Overall, one of the strongest tracks on the album and a great ride too.
Drowning in the Flood is actually the first track I ever heard from the band, and it's the track that got me hooked. Metal, progressive, symphonic, experimental, melodic, and so much more, the track has just about everything I could ever want. The vocals sound a little protracted and strained, but Jennings relieves himself of whatever strain he was feeling in the great melodic chorus. The instrumental section is slap-yourself-in-the-face fun, with another show of great musicianship and musical ability, really reminiscent of Dream Theater.
Sun is the ballad of the album, with a much slower tempo and much more melodic and melancholy feel to it. A really cool fretless bass is thrown into the mix with a great solo. Low and compassionate vocal work accent the track. The song as a strong Latin feel to it also, with some bongo/conga work and some Latin-jazz inspired riffing.
Here we have it, boys, the 17 minute monster of the album. Celestial Elixir is a truly infectious track. The song utilizes every little bit of mastery the album had to offer in one concise track. With some really creative keyboard work and some great Dream Theater-esque harmonizations, the track is truly a masterpiece as prog metal epics go. I could easily rank it with A Change of Seasons and The Divine Wings of Tragedy. The song has metal influences, symphonic influences, jazz influences, funk influences, blues influences, and just about everything else you can think of. The lengthy instrumental introduction is spectacular, showcasing the band's incredible talent (once again). As the vocal section comes in, you can see what a great track it will be. At points it seems like a bit of pop rock has been sprinkled in, but really that just adds to the incredible dynamic the song has. The next instrumental section is... interesting, with some almost carnival-sounding sections breaking to sweeping circus-sounding sections breaking to amazing metal sections, with prog rock sections, with augmented chords and so much more my hands are getting tired typing it all. Overall, the track is easily the best on the album, mainly because of its length (and my affinity for long tracks) and also because of it's spectacular dynamic and broad (and I mean BROAD) musical synopsis. The track ends this album with a huge blast of fun, as you can see the album will go down in history as one of the best prog metal debuts of all time.
ALBUM OVERALL: WOW. That is really all I can say. Sometimes, when I review and album I discover little things about that I wouldn't have exactly noticed before, and this is one of them. I had loved the album previous to reviewing it, and as I did, I truly realized how great an album it really is. The band has such ease in putting a magnanimous amount of effort into such a great album. The album contains seven gems that will go down as being fantastic prog metal tracks. 4+ stars.
I was born under the sign of Aquarius, so this album's name is subconsciously affecting me. I don't believe in astrology though (I'm more into astronomy).
There are melodic parts, which are almost Symphonic. They are usually of high quality and great originality. Haken aren't afraid to change styles quickly on this album, that's good for sure, even though this means that you will probably dislike some of them. (Death Metal parts for me, because they simply doesn't fit with other parts of this very long album).
Mentioned originality isn't to be taken lightly. It's one of the best things about this album. It's hard to believe that it's their first album. I've heard quite a lot of music in short time span. I can say that I heard a lot of good music, but not a lot of them had so "different", yet extremely accessible (this is album that can be listened by virtually everyone, another advantage), while maintaining quality.
Story of this album is again (I admit) something that I will understand (by myself, without anyone telling me) in future (after many listens, it's not something to be forced), but I suppose there is some kind of story. Or at least concept. Hard to tell, as many chapters are told by instrumental songs only.
There is also certain Rush influence, even it's not that easy to correctly determine. I more feel Aquarius as melodic Prog, this stands over all other influences and traits. That's what makes it powerful and emotionally striking. Even it can, it is able to be Heavy (as it is its home genre), it's melody that's touching me here the most. That's what I've been looking for so long. Unique mixture of elements that makes it as it is. Enjoyable from both likeness and Prog point of view.
5(-), Death Metal parts are downing this.
I like these circus sounds like parts that are present in some parts (for no more than one minute in average), reminding me Beardfish, but not strongly, only a little bit). Some heavier parts aren't also exactly to my liking, but some of them are.
One great release of 2010, and possible the greatest debut album I heard this year!
This album combines old prog legacy with modern sound, and the result is really better than average. First of all, their strong side is melodies and composition: I didn't heard such successful composed melodic (without being cheese) for a long, especially from new generation bands.
Musicianship is very competent, and I like arrangements as well - rich, but not over arranged. You can hear each instrument on full-bodied album's sound. Music in whole is very eclectic, with main influences coming from melodic prog metal, symphonic heavy prog and some smaller fusion and dark metal ones. Possible some melodic symphonic prog fans will be not very happy with few vocal growls in some places, but for me their addition isn't a bad decision: album's music is very melodic, well arranged, sound is well rounded, and few darker, heavier or sharper moments are all welcome to save the music from being polished listening to aged dreamers. For sure, it's a question of taste first of all, but such small spices doesn't destroy whole sound in all cases.
Complex compositions' structure in combination with great songwriting makes their songs really attractive listening. For sure, the music in whole is a contemporary melodic heavy prog without even traces of experimentation, so just know what to expect there. But if you're searching for excellent album, using melodic prog metal and heavy symphonic prog legacy for playing such music nowadays, this album will be a pleasant surprise for you!
When thinking of a prospective 'album of the year,' bands that I have followed for years come to mind. Generally, an established band at the peak of their creative finesse, or an older band making a big comeback will take the cake. Very seldom however, does a new band on the scene ever get a chance at releasing something that makes most of the other albums released so far this year shallow in comparison. The fine musicians of Haken may have acheived this with their debut album 'Aquarius,' and while their breed of progressive metal is certainly nothing new to the scene, they do a brilliant job of emulating established acts, and in parts, even trump the giants that have influenced them.
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While Haken can easily be likened to the sound of Dream Theater or Symphony X, it is astounding that such young musicians can stand up to even the best, most experienced musicians the genre has to offer.
Regardless of their derivative nature however, 'Aquarius' is for all intents and purposes, a technical, meticulous and emotional masterpiece. With much progressive music these days seemingly trying to hard to pull a facade of intelligence over our heads, Haken manages to give a listening experience that only grows with time, while still developing a set of catchy and seasoned melodies in the mix.
Of special merit are the guitarist Charlie Griffiths and the vocalist Ross Jennings. While every musician is at the top of their game here, it seems that 'Aquarius' really showcases the talent of these two musicians over all else. There is soulful, yet brilliantly technical guitar work that would make Petrucci proud, and while there is certainly alot of time here where the band struts their instrumental wizardry, the overall direction of the song and composition seem to be always kept in mind. No soloing goes on for too long, and no ego gets out of hand.
While the album maintains a high level of consistency throughout, the highlights are arguably the first and last track, 'Point Of No Return' and the epic 'Celestial Elixir' respectively. For anyone who hasn't heard any music from this band yet, either of these tracks are certainly worth looking into. While not having the apparent 'sections' and sonic variety a more well-known epic might have, it flows seamlessly, melding beautiful anthemic choruses and frantic instrumental sections together in perfect function, and always too keen to throw something unexpected and pleasantly surprising our way.
One thing that may deter many potential listeners from this album and band is the presence of 'death growl' vocals, a musical trait most often found only in the more extreme forms of metal. Despite the fact that these growl sections have received a fair bit of flak from other listeners, I actually found them to be among the most intense moments on the whole of 'Aquarius.' It shows that Haken aren't constrained to following in any bands footsteps, and have only their own sound at heart.
Despite adopting a pretty familiar sound through all of this, I can safely say that Haken is one of the best new bands that has come out onto the progressive metal scene in years. To those that might simply write off the band as a 'dream theater clone' however, twenty years before this album was released, Dream Theater was taking it's first steps, and sounding all-too much like Rush. However, it took until their second album to find their trademark sound. Like the old masters of the genre held their influences in high regard, as does Haken, and with 'Aquarius,' they have crafted the best-possible first impression for me. Even if I'm wrong, and Haken does not become one of the flagship bands of the genre in years to come, the band has still imprinted it's mark upon the music scene for this majestic work alone. Simply put, one of the greatest debut records I have ever heard.
Haken presents a turbo-charged debut of metal pandemonium and jazz infested chaos, THIS is what makes Prog great!
Haken's debut is a knockout metal virtuoso rock jazzfest. The best debut I have heard in a long time. In fact it is not easy to break this album into songs as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. After listening to this, one may be forgiven for thinking the band are sending up the prog genre, such is the ferocity of eclectic jazz styles, however this is no doubt one of the most innovative slices of creativity I have had the pleasure to experience, heavenly headphone bliss.
The first track encompasses everything great about prog. Jazz infused insanity, with carnivalesque whimsy and all out instrumental prowess. Haken are among the fast growing prog soaked movers and shakers of today, alongside colossal titans Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree and Opeth.
The band capture a broad coverage of the genre, melancholia, psych prog, permeated with heavy metal chords and frenetic jazz blasts. Then there are the mellotron washes flowing lucidly over the soundscape, enhancing the ambience. It doesn't last long as around the corner is a maelstrom of chugging riffs or jazzy drumming to send everything off balance. It certainly isn't background music.
The band launch into frenzied machine gun riffing on guitars and at one point there are some brilliant razor edge lead breaks on the album that fly off the scale, with speed picking, high string bends and screams all played with precision and finesse.
The death metal Opeth growls are surprisingly out of place, like a fish out of water, but they present a level of dark intensity. They appear on two occasions only on the album and on both really darken the atmosphere. Overall, however there is a humorous light weight edge with light hearted flings where many different instruments are added to the syndrome, such as a banjo, accordion, xylophone and perhaps even a kazoo.
It is a fun romp getting through the album. Everything bar the kitchen sink is thrown in to the mix. I like the fact the band don't hold back in their energy and creativity and take massive risks. Not everything comes off but it doesn't matter as this is so enjoyable. You are never sure what is going to happen next. At the end of the first listen I could not recall a single melody and this is true prog in the "Tales Of Topographic Oceans" vein. You know you have heard a prog album when afterwards not one melody springs to mind. However, on the second listen a lot of pieces come flooding back. I was waiting for the death metal growls and they really infiltrate the soundscape, like another song wanting to burst through the music. Surprisingly, although the band are not focussed on death metal, they certainly are able to measure up to the likes of stalwarts such as Opeth.
At times though it may appear the band are sending up the genre, injecting so many styles into one album, but that's like Mohavishnu Orchestra meets Dream Theater with a smattering of Opeth and Spock's Beard for me, and I can't complain. The weird bass lines are totally off the scale at times even sounding like a different time sig to the guitars. The drums are chaotic in places and downright fracturing the rhythms and I love that the song is driven in different directions by off beat sporadic drumming. I was reminded of Pain of Salvation's 'Fandango' drumming style at one point. The time sigs are interchanging constantly and just when you latch onto one sig, another breaks through without remorse. It is quite amusing listening to how the time sigs shatter into one another in a tongue in cheek fashion. The bursts of xylophone are particularly funny and the accordion actually made me laugh, like a bizarre theme park ride with that jaunty rhythm you hear on a merry go round, perhaps that was the band's intention, to create a side show of prog. The music is allowed to breathe though in the ballad sections with straight rhythm patterns and a nice vocal style, so it's all not all jazz disorder.
The Neal Morse-ian reflective vocal performances are well ordered and bring the intensity down. Indeed the voice has a nice range from high octave to straight balladic. There are moments that are curiously light hearted and sound more like an amusement park side show alley than a rock song. These moments are strange and the bizarre riffs with off kilter drumming show the band are into high voltage jazz fusion styles. You might think of King Crimson in these sections or even Triumvirat, though the Hammond sounds are used at a minimum.
Favourite tracks? Well, without looking at the tracklist, I loved the first 2 songs and the last epic in particular but I really don't want to split this into sections as it's so enjoyable from start to end. And the quieter ballad songs in the middle are great to break up the pandemonium, and I quickly got used to the vocal style of Jennings.
A word about the booklet, wonderful art work throughout, and very nice colours that are consistent and thematic of the mermaid carried by the shrouded figure. It works as an iconic image for the band and of course has adorned magazines and forums to herald the entrance of Haken onto the scene. I only want to say that this is the start of something very special. It could have been a masterpiece from a band who had been producing albums for years, and rightly sounds like it too, however this is a debut! It buries a lot of new albums from bands that have become tired and devoid of creative energy. Here, Haken have created a compelling dynamic listen, a stunning debut that should be given credit where it is due. If I were to be involved in a debut, this is the type of album I would dream of. Make no mistake, this album is packed with some of the most awesome innovative prog on the planet.
The Celestial Elixir of Modern Prog
Throughout 2010 I've been searching for a masterpiece. An album I could confidently give 5 stars without any hesitation or doubt. I'd found plenty of good ole 4.5's this year, but nothing that I could rank up there with the best of the best. That has changed with Haken's Aquarius. This is an album shining with originality, bursting with power and energy, and filled with emotion and passion. Similarly to a band like Mr. Bungle or Pain of Salvation, Haken is absolutely impossible to categorize. Just when you think that this is a progressive rock album, you'll be greeted with a jazz rock riff followed by a doom metal passage. Also like the aforementioned bands, Haken manages to transcend genre labels while still maintaining a high level of coherence and consistency. This is precisely what makes this album a masterpiece. Not only have these talented five lads created some great tunes, they manage to perform them with a stunning amount of originality and distinction. Like all debuts, there are a couple (albeit small) things that could be slightly tweaked, but I still don't hesitate in calling this album of the year 2010 and one of the best debuts to come out in the last few years. If you like your progressive rock with metal, jazz, ambient, and even the occasional ragtime influence, we have a winner here!
Haken's adventurous sound is really special in modern prog metal. Partially because calling this band "prog metal" is misleading, and partially because these guys really do have something special about them. There are a few slightly awkward transitions on the album, but they are few and far between. Aquarius can transition from progressive rock to be-bop jazz in the blink of an eye without any penalty. The closest band comparisons I can give to these guys are Dream Theater, Kansas, and Pain of Salvation. However, these comparisons are also slightly misleading. Just listen to their music and you'll understand why tagging this band is a waste of energy.
Aquarius is a seven-song, 72:43 album. Surprisingly enough, the album doesn't tire once throughout its gargantuan playing time. I couldn't pick a favorite song from the seven, but I will especially mention Streams, which is an incredibly unique track. There's neo prog tendencies, jazz sections, and Dream Theater-level virtuosity mixed with even a short death metal-like section. Before you turn away because of the short growling section, keep in mind that it's extremely infrequent and it's used more as an effect than a vocal style. It's also worth noting the ending epic, Celestial Elixir. This has some truly beautiful sections in it, mixed with that unique "Haken sound". Drowning in the Flood has an especially Dream Theater-feel to it, especially during the vocal harmonies. I could actually mistake that for James LaBrie singing in harmony with John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy if I weren't paying attention.
The musicianship is some of the best I've heard in a long time. These guys are complete virtuosos, but they also know how to be melodic and beautiful at the same time. They play as a very tight unit, and no musician ever lags behind in terms of quality. Seriously, when I talk about great musicians, these guys fit everything. The vocals are incredible, and every musician is so far above average that words fail. To think that this is only a debut album is shocking. I can't wait to hear what types of things Haken will be doing in 10 years.
The production is terrific as well. It has the right mix of atmosphere, power, and emotion, without being over-produced. This isn't the cheesy-sounding type of production we're used to from modern prog metal, I can assure you that.
Aquarius has left me speechless. I've been searching for an album from 2010 to confidently call a masterpiece, and this is definitely it. If you like progressive rock, progressive metal, or just about anything else, this is absolutely essential. This is one of those cases where you have to believe the hype. It's really that good. Although I rarely give debut albums 5 stars, I'm going to make a huge exception here. I have a pretty good feeling that this is an album that we will be looking back on 30 years from now and calling it the definitive debut album from this era. This is an essential masterpiece that you don't want to miss!
I've given this quite a few listens prior to reviewing, and that is right and proper, because it is not an album that can be taken in all at once. In fact, it is not going too far to state that it is most definitely an acquired taste.
Aquarius is the debut album by British outfit Haken, who are classified as heavy prog on this site, although, in reality, there really are all sorts of influences on this work, so much so that I would be tempted to describe them as eclectic. In fact, during the opening few seconds of the opener The Point Of No Return, I actually thought that I was listening to a Flower Kings album, such were the strange circus noodling effects, and these are repeated on a couple of occasions in the track and elsewhere on the album. At turns symphonic. heavy, definitely neo, and quite jazzy, this should, in theory, have enough to appeal to virtually everybody. In reality, I can actually see people being slightly annoyed because it does in parts virtually rip off Stolt, Reingold and company shamelessly. That said, it's very well performed, and I do like the majority of Ross Jennings' vocals, even if I could have done without the growling. When he sings melodically, he has a very good voice, and I would suggest that he keeps to this.
Streams is another long track, at over ten minutes, and is pure symphonic prog, albeit, again, extremely reminiscent and clearly influenced by the likes of The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, with a smattering of Dream Theater thrown in for good measure. More pointless growling thrown in halfway does really grate, and I think that leaving the instrumental passage on its own, featuring some excellent keyboard work by Diego Tejeida, would have been better. In addition, I think the track is at least four minutes too long.
Aquarium is a magnificent track, and definitely provides the listener with strong proof that there is huge scope for development and improvement on subsequent releases. Very melodic, very well played, and even better sung, this is a clear highlight. This track appeals to fans of melodic and heavy prog, because when the melodic half gives way to the faster and heavier tempo, it is executed extremely well and seamlessly. No growling either, and the keyboard work by Tejeida is once again extremely good and the track closes with an exquisite guitar solo.
Eternal Rain is the shortest track on offer, at just short of seven minutes. This is a standard piece of prog metal, and is fine for what it is, without being in any way exceptional, although the jazzy section, with choral effects very strongly influenced by classic Yes, is fun.
Drowning In The Flood commences with deathly riffs, and the return of the growl. This is another track which, although well performed, strikes one as being disjointed, almost as if the band couldn't quite decide what they wanted to do with it. Very similar to the opening track and as annoying in parts, this is a track which, in the main, will appeal to those fans of the extremely heavy end of the prog spectrum, although some of the more melodic instrumental passages are the ones that appeal most to these ears, and this is the direction I personally would like the band to explore more fully in future releases
Sun is a fine track, and features some excellent symphonic musicianship by the whole band. Melodic and understated, this is a joy to listen to. In fact, seven tracks like this would definitely have made this album a stronger contender for a five star review.
The longest epic on the album, Celestial Elixir, closes proceedings. It opens in fine, bombastic and operatic style, with a Flower Kings pastiche included again. In the main, however, this is a hugely impressive track, with some lovely moments in between the overblown ones, and those are enjoyable as well. It is large in scope and execution, and works very well, and is a fine way to finish a debut which is, overall, impressive.
I like this album, although I have to state that I do not find it attains masterpiece status as others on the site have. It delivers an enjoyable and eclectic listen, and, more to the point, makes you look forward to how the band will develop. I hope that they concentrate on their more melodic side, because this is when they are at their most coherent and effective. They are most certainly a very fine group of musicians.
Three stars for this, but 3.5 on such a rating system. A good album amongst a crop of very strong releases in 2010, and a strong pointer towards future glories for this band.
Aquarius is a mind-blowing tour de force of Progressive Rock.
A long time ago, in the 1980's a band called Marillion was founded to bring back the old glory of Progressive Rock. From there, the new wave of Prog Rock music began, that has extended until today. We have different bands that, let's say, were dominant in specific periods, and Haken might be the leader band of all prog rock in the future. Their energy, their songwriting, everything about this band is completely original, something that is rare to find in such a young band. No wonder "Aquarius" comes close to being a masterpiece.
The talent of these musicians is impressive: keyboards, guitars, bass, vocals, everything is sublimely performed. These artists together make a blend of progressive metal and progressive rock, but it's much more complex than that, every moment is extremely rich and lush, every single sound is extremely well cured,the production is ambitious and just gorgeous. It's a masterpiece of complexity, an outstanding achievement of progressive, no doubt about that. The eclectic side of the band is well shown, especially in the keyboards, so many different sounds and synth programs are used, it just makes a single song sound absolutely complete in every way. But it's not only about the keyboards, amazing guitar sections, tons of time changes, great vocal delivery, that can change from a nice tone to a death growl. Everything changes in this album, it has an amazing flow that you rarely find in an album.
Aquarius is a tour de force of Progressive Rock/Metal, an amazingly solid release that promises so much for this band. Surprisingly enough, this doesn't sound like an early album for a band, as a matter of fact it sounds so mature this could be a magnum opus of great bands. But when you do hear the following album "Visions", you realize how this has actually a lot of moments that might be a little nave. But these moments are really hidden, and you need to listen to the next release to figure that out.
The album has many highlights, but my favorite moments are for me "Streams", a perfectly executed 10 minute track that has nothing but great hooks and mind-blowing arrangements, and "Drowning In The Flood" is a just as good, flawless track pretty much as brilliant, the opener "The Point Of No Return" is an epically written piece with so many haunting moments and beautiful passages.
"Aquarius" will be considered a prog metal classic in the years to come, a seminal release for many future prog releases. If you're a fan of the genre, this is strongly recommendable.
If somebody wrote down the bullet points of Aquarius on index cards, laid them in front of you, and told you to make an album incorporating each point, you'd probably be scratching your head trying to figure out how to combine them in a way that made any sense. Not only has Haken managed to do just that, they've crafted an incredible piece of music, and one that I think you should absolutely hear.
By all accounts, Aquarius is an album that could've easily turned out very mediocre, and downright odd. Taking a large number, and very wide range of styles, sometimes sounding unmistakably like Dream Theater, and throwing in a clichd story line, the content found here looks a little silly on paper. However, something special happened when everything came together, and a clichd story line takes a clichd phrase: Aquarius is really an album that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Haken is categorized on this site as Heavy Prog, although the majority of the music found on Aquarius is Progressive Metal. There is enough eclecticism that I agree with the distinction, as the different styles thrown into the mix are plentiful, but they provide some of my favorite moments during the 70 plus minute journey. It would be a lie to tell you that I recognize all of them, but the difference between the metal and Genre X is always different enough to drastically change things up, and put a smile on your face. Besides the standard prog metal, there are some jaunty keyboard passages, occasional folk-like acoustic guitar, and even something that sounds like polka if electric guitars had been used. The mix of styles is a little odd, but surprisingly effective, and helps to keep things feeling fresh and exciting.
While the different styles at play are fun, the core of the music is prog metal, and it is great. Yes, it can sound awfully like Dream Theater at points, especially the singing, but there are few enough of these points that Aquarius doesn't come off as sounding derivative. Coming from someone who hasn't been able to get into DT, nor much prog metal for that matter, I find myself liking the music of Haken so much more. The solos are exciting and adventurous, and they never get so far off the melody that they just become endless rapid trills and scales. That's not to say that there's not virtuosic playing here, but it's done in a more subdued manner. The only moment where I tired of it was at the end of Drowning in the Flood, but that was more a case of being out of place, and it at least doesn't linger for long. When not soloing, there are great melodic, and well structured passages, especially coming from the keyboards. The piano is a great compliment to Ross Jennings' voice, and helps to create a lot of emotion.
The vocals, which are used plentifully on Aquarius, are one of the strongest components, as Jennings has a really great voice. Even at times when the music is not particularly complex, the vocals still make these memorable moments, and keep the softer sections interesting. There are two moments where growling comes in, again, something that usually turns me off, but it's used contextually in the story, and doesn't stay around long enough to bring anything down. The story, if not already evident from the cover art, is about a mermaid, and her journey through life. It follows a predictable path, but manages to be dark and serious without becoming corny. The music reflects the mood of the storyline well, beginning with fun and playful songs, and as the story takes a dark turn, so does the music.
Wrapping up the plot as epically as it was introduced, the final song is simply amazing. It reprises many previous sections, and nearly brings me to tears with how powerfully and beautifully it brings itself to resolution. Each song is strong and has memorable melodies and moments, with the strongest being the opener and closer. The middle five are almost as good, but this is definitely a well structured album, giving you a great first impression, keeping it interesting in the middle, and leaving you with a wonderful final impression.
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Just as the album closes, so do my thoughts on it. There's really nothing I find bad about Aquarius that last more than a fleeting moment, and there's so many more great moments that these few are far out of mind by the time it ends. This is really a special album, and even if prog metal has never been your favorite, you should pick this one up, because it just might surprise you.
Delicious Concept Album with Fishy Aftertaste
2010 newcomers Haken have broken on the scene in a quite ambitious manner, releasing the sci-fi story album AQUARIUS. The album has gotten quite a bit of praise and I must admit that this is a very impressive debut. I also want to offer just a little bit of pause before we annoint the band the next great metal hope. I suppose what excites people the most about Haken is that they seem to be doing what many wish Dream Theater was still doing. Indeed, AQUARIUS is quite clearly a descendent of DT's classic SCENES FROM A MEMORY. I'm not a big SFAM fan, however. I actually prefer the Haken album on almost every front. It has a much better sense of humor. The displays of virtuosity are much more musically relevant. And lead singer Ross Jennings, while clearly influenced by James Labrie, has a less irritating and more versatile voice.
The story surrounds the life and dissolution of a mermaid, which is fairly obvious from the cover. It's not especially deep or surprising, but it's a fun little story that doesn't try to do too much. The music, however, is really the star of the show. Haken utilize and nice variety of heavy riffs, circus-like interludes, shades of light and dark, and plenty of chops. Some of the chord choices are more adventurous than typical prog metal fare, and some of the speed lines are better composed than even Symphony X, who does a good job in this regard. Jennings uses harsh vocals sparingly, but when he does they are truly monstrous and scary. Both the guitars and keyboards perfectly hit the balance in tonality between classic and modern sound. No section overstays its welcome, and my interest is still going strong when the album ends. In fact, if anything, Haken suffers from the modern habit of changing too frequently in places.
My biggest problem with the album came when I took the time to actually look up all the lyrics. While the storyline turned out to be pretty interesting, I think it's clear that the music and the lyrics were written separately. And sometimes, the tone of the music doesn't match up with where the story is at. The light-hearted circus-y moments that I liked some much on casual listen have very little relationship to the quite dark storyline. (There is one section that might relate, but the disconnect is actually a recurring theme for this album.) Sonically, the moods move quite nicely, but not necessarily with the rise and fall of the story line.
So we have some great music which I'd say is a superb example of modern prog metal, but with no new elements. We have a nice sci-fi concept story. Overall, I say bravo. Great job to the rookies. In a relatively weak 2010, they've earned their spot in the top 10. (maybe not top 3 though)
On a sidenote, I see absolutely no reason that this album is currently in heavy prog. It's prog metal with some dabblings of symphonic ideas and a pinch of Bunglish circus. But it's less diverse than many bands that (rightly) are classified straight prog metal. I suspect the band and this album will land there eventually.
Haken's debut has certainly made an impression on the progressive rock community and why wouldn't it? The album features great melodies, skillful instrumental arrangements and virtuosity that can only be matched by the best of the best in the Progressive Metal sub-genre. What's that you say? Not Progressive Metal? Take that up with the team in question, I just describe the music as I hear it.
So why the average rating after all this praise, you might ask? Well, there are quite a few small things that I have been nitpicking for the last couple of months. You see, I really liked this album upon my initial run through the track list but that romantic feeling slowly began to fade over time and turned into a love and hate affair. I might not be the best relationship counselor out there but I'm a great listener and listening is what I'm been doing during my entire affiliation with Aquarius.
Let's begin with the album's length. A 73 minute debut album is bound to have a few filler moments, especially since Haken haven't incorporated any of the material from their previous EP-releases into this studio effort. It's not so much the individual compositions but rather the sub-sections of the tracks that sometimes simply don't work for me. The performances are much too long for their own good, the parade example of this is the 7 minute ballad titled Sun. This is a beautiful performance that would have worked a whole lot better as a 3-3,5 minute tune. The expanded length just doesn't add anything to the overall experience. This can of course be attributed to the band's inexperience, at the same time as others would argue that this is a concept album and Haken needed the extra space to flesh out the story arc. This is of course where you're completely wrong and let me tell you why!
After reading through other reviews of Aquarius, it became very clear to me that none of the previous 33 reviewers could mention a single solid thread of this so called concept album's storyline. The record's Wikipedia page only barely touches on the subject with the words, "It is a concept album about a couple who has a mermaid daughter". I'm with you so far, but what is this story all about? Let's dig down into the lyrics!
After reading through the lyrics to the album's first two songs, The Point Of No Return and Streams, I immediately recognized the writing style that I associate with Mikael kerfeldt. This became quite understandable after visiting Haken's website and seeing the individual members favorite music lists. All the lyrical content is attributed to Ross Jennings and there isn't anything particularly wrong with his writing style if you only look at a few passages here and there. The problem arises once you try to connect the dots and see the conceptual float of his work. Here is my main problem...
Warning! The next section can only be classified as a rant for the sake of a rant itself. You have been warned.
Stop making it sound so deep and profound, just add some real meaning to the words! I mean Gabriel and Hammill did use some fancy words back in the day, but at least I could understand the underlying themes behind their lyrics! I actually blame it all on Opeth, since they are the granddaddies of completely gibberish lyrics that sound poetic and beautiful, at first glance, but turn out to be void of actual meaning upon further investigation. Still one can't be too hard on kerfeldt & Co considering that English is not their first language. Haken, on the other hand, has no excuse! Ross Jenings' lyrics sound profound when read out loud, but all I really want to do is to understand what he's actually trying to say with all these words. The rest of the band isn't any better. Remember that passage from Rush's Freewill - "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"! This is exactly the case and point here. The least that was expected of them is minimal proofreading and questioning of the bland content of Jenings' contribution since this would be the product all the six members would be promoting in the years ahead. So don't blame Ross Jenings, they are now all equally guilty of the charge!
Musically there is really nothing wrong with the music, that is unless you start to nitpick all the different "inspirations" behind the music. The intro to Streams just screams Kansas to me, while my favorite track of the bunch - Eternal Rain has Yes' Sound Chaser written all over it. And don't even get me started on all the Dream Theater and Pain Of Salvation references, this review is already becoming my lengthiest yet! So the main question is - are they all merely cheap puns or carefully crafted tributes? I think that it's a combination of the two, most of the sections are well written and have a purpose to them, others not so much. The worst example of this happens to be the intro to Drowning In The Flood where Haken really tries to sound heavy but comes off sounding more like a cheap Linkin Park knock off! There is really no reason for all that heavy hitting during the first few minutes of this song since it all eventually dims down into a grand ballad towards the end. This polar difference of arrangements just doesn't work for me. If you wanted to write two different songs then just do it and don't combine them into one 9+ minute composition by calling it a concept album!
I should really end this before I reach the 1 000 word mark. Let me conclude by saying the unexpected! I don't hate this album, in fact I find it quite enjoyable. Still it's those few irritating nitpick moments that manage to ruin what would otherwise have been an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.
The ambitious 72 minute debut from London based outfit, Haken.
The Good: Progressive metal has been well established for many years now, however recently there I have noticed a general lack of creativity. Whilst the likes of Redemption, Threshold and Vanden Plas are all top quality acts, they also rely heavily on the old Dream Theater formula and the sub-genre could soon turn into a dying breed.
But then came along Haken. What a breath of fresh air! Whilst the album is categorized here as heavy prog, I personally see it deeply rooted in prog metal with a little bit of everything else, including neo and symphonic. Turn it on at different points and you don't know whether you're listening to Edge of Sanity or Spock's Beard! Whilst the overall album is fairly lengthy, the individual songs are also quite long with shortest clocking in at well over six minutes. This is a fairly risky strategy especially on a debut release, however they pull it off superbly with each track flowing and developing the album as a whole whilst still retaining individual characteristics. It would be hard to a pick a favourite as they each have great moments (like the absolutely bitchin' solo on Aquarium!) but the most accomplished is probably the album finale Celestial Elixer.
The Bad: Some of the growled vocals sound totally out of place and the production could do with a bit of polishing, especially in the drumming department.
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