Progressive metal seems to turn out two different ways for me. The first way produces bands like Amorphis, Devin Townsend, Opeth, Vintersorg, and Symphony X who stick with a simple enough approach without a whole lot of deviation from the genre of metal music; the other way produces bands that like to blend in weird shit (mostly jazz) and other things to challenge the definition of metal music, and it's these bands that seem to rub me the wrong way. Now, I'm usually fine with jazz in prog rock; but when the band starts getting passed off as a metal act, I find that's not a good sign especially when these bands tend to be closer to rock anyway and I support the mindset that heavy does not equal metal. Let's tie this in with Haken and 'Aquarius' by stating my general feeling for them: Haken are a boring prog rock band that accidentally convinced people that they're a metal band because they had some harsh vocals and some heavier sounding riff passages.
Unfortunately, there happened to be enough weirdos on the internet who get boners every time the word progressive is mentioned that gave 'Aquarius' a lot of praise that I just had to see what was up. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't even know this band existed and I would have been a slightly less cynical individual than I am today. I've looked for the greatness this album supposedly has; but I've come across so much inane music, so much of that annoying singer, and so much shitty lyrics that I don't believe that greatness exists here.
Let's start with the lyrics. Apparently, we've got a story of some fish girl who's abandoned in a river, gets caught by some asshole, and they eventually fall in love. What an amazing story! The material for a shitty romance novel put to musical form! Such an excellent concept for a so-called metal album! Such a great example for the children too! A classic story to tell them before they go to bed! Okay, seriously, is it just me or did Dream Theater really shit upon the idea of interesting lyrics and advised all their clones to do the same? I'm beginning to think the power metal detractors who don't like that genre for its cheese are attacking the wrong genre. Why anyone thought that this fish story is interesting is beyond me unless Haken was planning on making a preschool targeted prog rock album.
What makes the lyrics even worse is Ross Jennings, the annoying vocalist on this album. I will say something good about him though: if he was aiming for a James LaBrie style clean vocal approach, he sure nailed it. The bad news about that is that if he wanted his vocals to be good to listen to, he went the wrong way. He's got this flowery tone that isn't at all interesting to listen to, and the fact that it mixes so well with the cheese lyrics makes the whole experience even less enjoyable. What makes it worse still is he forces this terrible growl that just flat-out sucks. So now, it's like this prog "metal" for preschoolers is turning out like the Wiggles with 10% harsh vocals. Look, Mr. Jennings, I already established that you are trying to imitate James LaBrie. Trying to pull off a shitty Mikael Akerfeldt is only going to make things worse for you.
How about the music then?
I'm reluctant to call this metal for a reason. For an album that tries to call itself such, 'Aquarius' spends a lot of time on non-metal musical passages. There's shitty, giddy, sing-along sections that further drive home the preschool feeling. This is especially bad in "Streams" when partnered with wiener shit like "Oooh, now that I am free, swimming with the many fishes of the stream. Yeah, and I am welcome here, we all just connected swimmingly." When the fuck did I start listening to the soundtrack to 'The Little Mermaid'? The instrumental parts in sections like these are incredibly pop flavored and sound horrible. Meanwhile, each song seems to have this slow section to operate as a pseudo-crescendo, and every time I hear it I feel that they're borrowing more shit from Dream Theater. DT's song "One Last Time", a particularly vapid song from 'Scenes From a Memory', comes to mind every time these pseudo-crescendos come around though there are definitely more songs by them that come to mind as well. It's worse on "Aquarium" where the majority of the song plays out its bloated ten minute duration in that style with really no reason why it should be besides providing some filler to put the preschoolers to sleep for their nap time.
This would be the perfect time to stop listening, also any point on this album is a perfect time to stop listening; but for the sake of this review's integrity, I chose to keep listening and things did not get better. I will skip to the last song though.
"Celestial Elixir" is by far the worst song on this album. It starts off with some bombastic piano/synth swirl before cutting to some unnecessary polka section. Then more slow paced bullshit and a lengthy (but not interesting by any means) instrumental section. It's about four minutes before Jennings finally opens his pie hole with a boring soft rock section going on in the background. This pattern continues until the music breaks into a carnival sounding section played with the synths, piano, and guitars. Nothing surprising at this point, just another "What the shit stain?" moment in reaction to the extremely bad songwriting choices made by this band. Then just another lengthy, boring verse and an unexciting ending.
Come to think of it, the biggest reason why this song is worse than the rest is because it's so long and really doesn't need to be.
What else to comment on? The so-called metal riffs are boring as observing an icecube melt, and the fact that all the vocal sections are accompanied by either soft-rock or that pseudo-crescendo slow suck-fest is annoying. The small amount of guitar and keyboard virtuosity is undermined by the sheer amount of horrible rhythm writing was put in; and though I will say there was some interesting moments, about 8% of the music on the entire album here was comprised of it and the listener needs to sit through a long amount of totally uninteresting moments to get there, and even if they don't stop listening by then the interesting moment is quickly lost in the garbage littered sea of stale music that the rest of the album pushes in.
'Aquarius' is not an album worth anyone's sweet time. It's a piece of shit that's just as pretentious as it is bloated. I've seen a lot of people argue that this band is unique, but I've yet to see a legitimate argument that can really back that claim up. I'm seeing so much of Dream Theater in here that I'm pretty much in a bad dream where I'm at a theater watching all the 'Spy Kids' movies back to back. I guess Jennings doesn't sound exactly like LaBrie; he sounds worse. Now, I know I listen to a lot of other music in other genres that could also easily be considered unoriginal compared to other, earlier bands. The biggest distinctions here though is that 1) I do not like Dream Theater, so I would not easily like this either and 2) progressive metal seems to be a genre that prides itself on originality and uniqueness, but now I'm beginning to think that that it's because a lot of those bands in the latter category of my interpretation of prog metal stated in this review's intro just fill in so much shit that it's forgettable to the seasoned veteran of the genre who ends up loving it all the more because of it. Moreover, an album like 'Aquarius' seems contradictory to the alleged idea of musical transgression.
I really fucking hope that that asshole and fish girl get eaten by the shark from 'Jaws'. That's my idea of a happy ending to this story.