29th April 2016 – InsideOut Music
05. The Architect
07. Red Giant
08. The Endless Knot
09. Bound By Gravity
Haken: a band with whom everyone who reads this site should really be familiar by now. Each of the English group’s releases has been met with glowing praise not just from us, but from all corners of the progressive metal and rock scene. Each one showcases a new step in the evolution of their overall sound. Affinity, their fourth and newest, is no different.
Rather than resting on the sound they established on previous full-length The Mountain - equal parts Gentle Giant and Dream Theater - they have decided to go somewhere completely different. Affinity wields a much more 80s-influenced sound, drawing more from the likes of Camel and the decade’s overall big-time sheen; indeed, track three is even named after a year – “1985” contains big drum fills, cheesy synth sounds and insane vocal arrangements, including a jaw-dropping bridge that layers new parts with each repetition until it culminates in some of the biggest sounds Haken have ever produced.
Yet at its heart, Affinity is still the delicious Haken that we all love; proggy, thoughtful, technical as fuck, and smooth as butter. There’s one section in particular in “The Architect” that especially rings of their sound on Aquarius. That same song also features some of their most Dream Theater-esque flurry-of-notes sequences, to absolute glorious effect. It might stand as one of the finest songs Haken have written to date; it’s both impressively technical and memorable, with a damn catchy chorus laid over one of the heaviest grooves they’ve ever come up with, while subtle keyboard arrangements add a lovely little touch to certain parts. The guest vocal passage from Einar Solberg (Leprous) rounds it off nicely, bringing back the harsh vocals with which Haken haven’t dabbled for quite some time.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to count “1985” or “Earthrise” out of this equation – the latter especially is wistful and heartfelt while “1985” brings a very optimistic sort of mood to the table, going right in with the heavy ringing Phil Collins-style drum fills. A surprising moment comes on “The Endless Knot” where Haken drift into dubstep territory, fusing it with some seriously heavy progressive metal.
It’s all thanks to the fantastic musicianship across the board. Bassist Connor Green, keyboardist Diego Tejeida, and guitarists Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall all intertwine wonderfully together, with Ray Hearne holding down the mesmerizing rhythms on the drums, and Ross Jennings weaving his silky smooth melodies over top. Each of these men should be given consideration for best in the world at their craft right now.
Meanwhile the mix is incredibly well balanced, with everything sitting perfectly in place but with the dynamics are left intact: the guitar tone in particular is crunchy and lively, and the bass left unburied. Affinity is, overall, just really easy on the ears; a nice, smooth listen throughout.
All this is to say that Haken clearly aren’t human – they’re something beyond it. There is no other possible explanation for how great their music really is. The Mountain and Restoration both received massive critical acclaim from us and from other sources, but Affinity manages to somehow be even better than even those releases. The evidence for Haken being the best prog band in the world right now keeps mounting up. From the cheesy 80s throwback of “1985” to the wandering heavy prog of “The Architect”, the Englishmen have found a way to nudge even closer to impossible perfection than before. Don’t turn your back on Affinity: this is a must-listen.