Sunday, May 1, 2016

Haken - Affinity (2016)

Haken has gone their way up on the progressive metal ladder step by step, gaining more and more recognition for every release. Their latest album, the 2013 release "The Mountain", was impressive, and the following EP "Restoration" contained three previously released songs that were reworked, and improved (especially the 19 minute long "Crystallised"). Now the time has come for the Brits to present their 4th record.

At a first glance, "Affinity" looks kind of retro, with the cover resembling a 80's cassette tape or something similar, and it is also reflected onto the music. In the song "1985" for example, we got some Duran Duran drums together with musicality that could easily be compared to fellow prog rockers Yes. It is certainly retro, but the band manages to not lose their own characteristic sound in all of these influences, and while it sounds like it could have been created in the 80's, it still has enough modern flare to it so it does not feel outdated.

So while the album itself is taken a look backwards through the musical landscape, the band sets its sight onto the future, evolving their sound to new heights. It is unmistakeably Haken that we are listening to, but they are using several interesting new techniques just about everywhere to make "Affinity" that more special. We got more playful, almost Rush type, guitar patterns, more interactions with the keyboards, and we even get to hear some harsh vocals. It truly is impressive that the band still wants to evolve their sound, not settling themselves for too long.

All of this is displayed at its best in the almost 16 minute mastodon called "The Architect", and spoiler warning, this is a hell of a song. The band sharpens every sense that they got, and delivers a musical masterpiece that may start off slow, but develops in an incredible pace. The beginning is a classic Dream Theater number, with a cool keyboard sling and some great technical drum work. When Ross then enters the stage with his vocals, the song shifts shape into a scarier setting, making the song more menacing. That in its turn evolves into a chorus that is extremely epic, but at the same time really catchy, mostly thanks to the fairly simple, but effective riffing. Another round of verse, bridge, and chorus goes on, and leads to a humongous solo part that has so many faces that I am having a hard time counting them all, and I freaking love it. Every time you listen to this song, you find a new part that catches your attention, and makes your hair rise. But the thing that makes this one of the best progressive metal songs of this century is the ending. You think it ends on a third run of the chorus, which frankly would have been fine, but the band then brings out its ace of spades, a super epic guitar sling that is topped off with some amazing singing, making this the most epic finish I have ever heard in a song. It blew my mind when I first heard it, and it still does after around 10+ listens, I simply cannot get enough of it.

While the rest of the songs on "Affinity" are not even close to the greatness of "The Architect", they still make this album an amazing progressive experience. They fit together nicely, making the album fluent and natural. "Earthrise" sounds like Dream Theater would have guest appeared in the Devin Townsend record "Terria", shining with its earthly tones and beautiful melodies. "The Endless Knot" is the heavy song of the record, where  the drums are going wild, yet they are not losing control for one second, making it a very exciting song. "Bound By Gravity" ends the album in a mellow way, bringing out tons of fragile emotions to the table in a beautiful way.

I thought that "The Mountain" was good, but "Affinity" is even better. Haken takes a little bit from the past, a little bit from the present, and a little bit from the future, and ties it all together in a 1 hour package of progressive excellence. "The Architect" alone makes "Affinity" an astounding record, maybe even one of the best in its genre for the last half a decade, but while that song stands as the king of the album, it is the whole song army that makes "Affinity"such a fine record, and it also lifts Haken as one of the best progressive metal acts out there right now, rightfully so. A proggy time machine of excellence.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Architect, 1985, Earthrise, The Endless Knot, Bound By Gravity

Rating: 9,5/10 Red Giants

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