[2nd September 2013]
01. The Path
02. Atlas Stone
03. Cockroach King
04. In Memoriam
05. Because It´s There
06. Falling Back to Earth
07. As Death Embraces
Fuck yeah, Haken are back! The English sextet are one of the best up-and-coming prog rock acts in the world, combining classic prog sounds with modern heavy prog influences, and wrapping it all up in an ambitious package. Their debut album in 2010 Aquarius was hailed as an instant classic and its follow-up the next year, Visions, topped that. So where do they go from there? Why, they go up The Mountain, of course – The Mountain being the title of Haken’s third album, their first on progressive giant label InsideOut Music, home of other greats such as Devin Townsend, Riverside and Steve Hackett.
They took a bit more time with this album, and it shows. Easily their best album to date, Haken have seriously branched out their sound. The influences are far wider reaching, dipping even more into jazz while still maintaining the classic prog and metal base that they started out with, as well as adding a few Middle Eastern influences on the song “Pareidolia“. The same song also features one of the most bad-ass unison runs ever, featuring a guitar and a mandolin. That’s right, a fucking mandolin. Who knew that it could ever be used in such a way? Certainly not anyone who thinks “Battle of Evermore” is the best use of mandolin ever.
In contrast to the first two Haken albums, this album does not contain a ‘prog epic’ song. The longest song here is “Falling Back To Earth” at just under twelve minutes. The song is one of the best on the album, and probably the most metal song. It has heavy riffs and darker musical themes, though it doesn’t forget its prog base. “Cockroach King” is an oddity, with staccato guitars and slow methodical drumming, but is no less interesting than any other song on the album. Another shining moment comes with the wonderful layered vocals on “Because It’s There” (a song title that perhaps references famous mountaineer George Mallory when asked why he was climbing Mount Everest), and the odd stuttering guitar lines. The song is really nice, joyful, and warm.
The individual musical talent is through the roof. Guitarists Richard Henshell and Charlie Griffiths are adept at creating interesting riffs and runs, and the drumming, courtesy of Raymond Hearne, is magical, providing a perfect rhythmic base for the progisms the rest of the band is doing.
Production wise, this album is nearly flawless. The sound is warm and enveloping, similar to the prog classics, but feels modern and full. The piano sound is especially beautiful, as evidenced on the opening to “Atlas Stone”. Ross Jennings’ vocals are wonderfully captured and suited to pretty much every musical idea the band creates, from jazz, to heavy prog metal, and his emotion is quite clear. His finest moments may come on the piano ballad “As Death Embraces” a very subdued and emotional affair.
Haken continue to expand on their sound, making further case for being the best prog band to exist today, and possibly one of the best all time if they keep this level of consistency. The Mountain is a fantastic album that combines elements from all over the musical spectrum, boasting jazz, classic prog, modern prog rock and metal as main influences, while weaving the likes of choral, funk, and soul in as well. It has fantastic writing, amazing musicianship, a really personal, relatable theme, and sounds clear as a bell. If there was any doubt over Haken being a true force in prog rock, this album should kill that.
Top three songs: “Falling Back To Earth“, “Atlas Stone“, “Pareidolia”