HAKEN — Virus (review)

HAKEN — Virus album cover Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Having released its first album “Aquarius” only a decade ago, HAKEN has since become one of prog metal’s most celebrated and anticipated acts with a series of albums and EPs that show a band that loves to change things up on every release without losing the core idiosyncrasies that makes this English band stand out from the prog metal pack. Despite the stylistic shifts from album to album one can easily distinguish the first three albums more focused on the progressive rock side of the equation from the latest three which crank out a more bombastic metal heft often at the expense of falling into the traps of mediocrity which was particularly so on the band’s last album “Vector.” It seemed as if HAKEN was fresh out of ideas and innovation and was resorting to a paint-by-numbers techniques of songwriting but with the band’s sixth album VIRUS, the inspiration seems to have returned and although i wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to check out a new HAKEN album, i have been pleasantly surprised that this is a well-thought out intricately designed expression of prog metal in the modern era.

Although its merely happenstance that the title VIRUS was picked for an album that came out in the year that is all about microscopic pathogens, the title refers more to mental psychopathies rather than the physical varieties. This album that clocks in just shy of the 52 minute mark encapsulates themes that arise in the form of institutional abuse as well as physical and metal abusive relationships, anxiety, depression as well as suicide. Musically the album merges both aspects of the band’s well known sounds. While rooted in the heavy djent-ish guitar riffs of the later albums, HAKEN has returned to its atmospheric roots by adding emotive counterpoints meticulously engineered and mixed by ex-Periphery bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood. The result of this grab bag of HAKEN-isms is a stellar well-balanced album that celebrates a decade of prog metal ingenuity cleverly truncated into a single album’s listening experience.

The album starts off with the lead single “Prosthetic” which was the first track crafted by the band and which sets the tone for the entire album’s feel. The track immediately blends the eerie atmospheres with heavy guitar stomping bombast steeped in staccato palm muting action and accompanied by technically infused energetic drum workouts. At this stage in the band’s career i would say they sound more like where Leprous should’ve been heading had they not abandoned their metal origins altogether and steered into sleepy time prog. The album continues with twelve tracks that blend the subtle melodic counterpoints of vocals, guitar and bass with the soaring keyboard accoutrements and jazzy drum workouts. The twin guitar attacks are tastefully reserved with dueling riffs and occasional soloing as extended pastiches of the emotive lyrical directions. The brashness of the slightly atonal djent guitar orotundity during the heavier parts in conjunct with Ross Jennings fragile and expressive vocal parts offer a beautiful contrast that works on all levels.

The highlight of the album has to be the five part “Messiah Complex” which is a tale of the ascent to power, tyranny and subsequent endgame beautifully brought to life by a series of musical motifs and musical gymnastics not heard from HAKEN since “The Mountain” such as the beautiful vocal harmonies heard on “Marigold.” Despite the multi-suite magnitude of these tracks the individual parts are actually quite succinct with most just over two minutes and the grand finale “Ectobius Rex” just missing the five. Some of the most daring prog metal gymnastics occur in these final moments when wrestlers guitars riff up a storm with jittery time signature ambushes and Gentle Giant inspired vocal games emerge unexpectedly in “The Sect” along with angelic atmospheric backdrops and groovy rhythms, sizzling little solos and even a few video game noises. After a climactic finale of the “Messiah Complex” suite, the album tenderly drifts off into the spacey closer “Only Stars” which drops the metal altogether and offers a little dream pop ambience.

While HAKEN started out with a series of strong albums that crafted an intricate display of metal and prog in a powerful combo effect, on “Affinity” the band started to get cold feet and retreated from the more ambitious mingling of styles that got them noticed in the first place. While “Vector” was a step up at least in terms of quality of the composiitons, the band was still suffering from sounding generic and failed to stand out from millions of similar sounding bands. Happy to say that on VIRUS these guys have struck gold again by taking the heaviness of the last two albums and bringing back the diverse elements that made the first three albums so unique. Add a little emphasis on staccato driven grooves and an incessantly eerie atmospheric presence accompanied by strong melodic vocal performances and i can only conclude that HAKEN has made a triumphant return to form. While HAKEN will never rank high as one of my favorite bands of all time, i do enjoy their unique stylistic approach that they have made all their own even if influences are sometimes a bit too close for comfort. VIRUS doesn’t miss a beat and offers an album’s worth of updated HAKEN tunes to allow you to forget about the wild roller coast ride that is 2020, at least for nearly an hour’s length.
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