British progressive outfit Haken have slowly but most assuredly built themselves something of an avid following over the past couple of years. This might be stating the bleedin’ obvious but this is hardly a surprise for those of us who follow this sort of thing. And, if you’re reading this, I suspect that you are the sort of person who does follow that sort of thing.
Thanks to two solid records (the last album, Visions, in particular, being something of an underground classic) of open minded and open hearted progressive sounds, enhanced by a reputation for a stunning live show, it would be fair to say that the band have got to the point where there are now definite high expectations around them.
The Mountain (InsideOut), the new release from the band, doesn’t find the band at any sort of crossroads but it does feel as though there is something to prove, that they can make the great leap forward. Breathe easy, fans and the unacquainted alike, The Mountain is a colossal record.
Those of you with a penchant for this sort of thing will have doubtless searched for and found the lead track for the album, ‘Atlas Stone’. Intended as some sort of amuse-bouche for the rest of the record it contains all the elements that you are going to find on the rest of the album but, rather like an amuse-bouche, it doesn’t give you the full range of the satisfaction that you will get from what is a veritable feast of musical intelligence, dexterity and innovation.
Because ‘It’s There’ sounds what might happen if Midlake decided to overdose on Camel records by way of Opeth; ‘Cockroach King’ has a creepy, relentless melody that sounds initially jarring but grows, inexorably, to be a track of sinister elegance.
‘In Memoriam’ is probably the most straightforward of the songs on the record but don’t make the mistake of assuming that it is simple. It’s packed to the gunnels with riffs galore and enough melody to open a music shop and driven by a pile driving energy that you cannot but doff your metaphoric cap to. It’s the sort of track that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. And stay stood up.
‘Falling Back To Earth’ sounds like the most progressively metal track on the album but that does its playful inventiveness a total disservice; it creeps in jazzy elements, Muse-like affectations and some serious keyboard wizardry. It is utterly bonkers: you’ll have already guessed I think it’s terrific.
The plaintive and emotional ‘As Death Embraces’ sounds and feels like a pause for breath and contemplation, the naked tremulous vocal from lead singer Ross Jennings simply spellbinding and heartbreaking.
The eleven minutes of epic genius that goes by the name of ‘Pareidolia’ passes by in a flash of brilliant song construction, Eastern rhythms and melodies building to a zenith of progressive rock music that is warm, inviting and is perhaps the track that will have you nodding your head appreciatively, shouting “This is why I love prog!” to yourself and not giving a hoot whether anyone can hear you or not.
And, finally, the love song at ‘The Heart Of Somebody’ sounds like valediction; it is assured, balanced and a fitting coda.
The Mountain is, in many ways, the logical extension of where Haken have come from and where they are going; it is a genuine progressive record- it’s often challenging, juxtaposing different styles, genres and themes but it doesn’t feel forced or self-indulgent. It is a record that is full of intricate musical compositions that showcase a technically gifted band stretching and challenging themselves to make the best music they possibly can. And they have. At the heart of The Mountain there is honesty and integrity: not that you ever doubted that they meant it, but, boy, do they mean it. The Mountain is ambitious and heartfelt. Above all, The Mountain is human.