The first thing I thought when I listened to AQUARIUS was…’weird’. That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’, just weird as in unexpected. From the very beginning I wasn’t expecting the twists and turns and myriad styles that come out of nowhere. Let’s back up a bit. Haken is a Prog Metal sextet from London, England. Loaded with talent they got snapped up by Sensory after one demo. Aquarius is the full-length debut and it’s stunning.
On the surface, Sensory do a great job with a very decent package, featuring some ominous cover art (one might even be fooled into thinking the band was a Death Metal band) with a shadowy figure on a stormy shoreline, holding a dead mermaid. The layout and design is reminiscent of Hugh Syme’s stuff. Lyrically the album follows (naturally with a title like Aquarius) a water theme.
Over 70 minutes long (a mere seven songs!) the album never drags. I was surprised how short it felt as the songs drag you into their undertow. Sonically AQUARIUS is a perfect blend of Metal and Prog. The weird part comes in unexpected bursts, even from the opening seconds, the band shifts gears and adds what could be only described as eccentric circus tinged themes. Halfway the opening tracks you get a bizarre cross of keyboard vs. guitar battles, electric jazz-noodlings (almost pure jazz in parts) add some acoustic piano, mix in something that sounds like a xylophone, sprinkle growl vocals in places, and you have a really, really intriguing and unique sound. That’s just the first song, ‘The Point Of No Return’! It’s a good title for the first song on the first album because after that display, there is no going back! However, the music is not just weird for the sake of showing off, the guitars don’t left behind and the musical flights of fancy very often circle back to the traditional song. The whole album is packed with twists and turns but never making it too much to loose the listener or induce feelings of boredom.
This could easily stand among the greats; Threshold, Dead Soul Tribe, Pain Of Salvation and of course Dream Theater. Innovative, progressive and dynamic Haken is a welcome new addition to Prog Metal elite.
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