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When I first heard "Aquarius," I was not impressed. After the millionth listen, I was in love. You could call me a fanboy, or one of those annoying dudes mindlessly infiltrating message boards all over the internet, telling you, your friends, and even your dog to listen to Haken; that is a crime in which I am guilty. Lock me up and throw away the key. I waited and waited and waited for a follow-up to "Aquarius," and it didn't disappoint. Hell, "Visions" might even surpass the record with its magical essence, but that's not a worthwhile deliberation. However, "Visions" progresses the transcendental songwriting and instrumental mastery of Haken's debut into a new frontier of brilliance, and it only goes to show that Haken is no one-trick pony. Instead, they've maintained the consistency of their debut and added a handful of new tints to their agenda which shine beyond what the human eye can see.
"Visions" generally sounds like a continuation of "Aquarius," but it again goes beyond the spectrum of sight, if you will. For one, the focus on keyboard melodies and situations seems to have been reduced, instead utilizing a guitar-driven approach that focuses more so on sturdy riffs and guitar work. Even the basic craziness of "Aquarius" seems to have been cut a bit, perhaps traded for a song-driven album that isn't loaded with unpredictable themes or such a deep touch of insanity. “Visions” overall has less to do with the wacky instruments and keyboard postulates featured throughout “Aquarius” anthems like “Celestial Elixir,” but it is undeniably the same group of musicians subpoenaing superb music.
And why does it work so well? Well, the dudes of Haken are incredibly cohesive and flexible as songwriters. They manage to add fantastic guitar work and hooking choruses into perplexing anthems like the versatile "Shapeshifter" with so much power that I'm sure Mike Portnoy would piss himself. Haken can basically compose these deep, multi-layered tunes that weave through so many levels and ideas that there's really nothing the listener can do but gawk at the sheer dominance they display on the musical end. Granted, the monolithic title track is certainly the most "progressive" song on the album, and there are masterful sections popping up on such a dazzling scale that it may be the finest thing these Brits have ever created. Overall, the bass work rules, the keys are magical, the guitar work jaw-dropping, and Ross Jennings sounds just as excellent as he did on "Aquarius," thankfully.
As I said, the toned-down songwriting pays off, with huge hits like the record’s three-hit combo of "The Mind's Eye," the instrumental "Portals," and the breathtaking “Shapeshifter," just a sample of what makes "Visions" a total smash of an album. And again, there so many exemplary factors that shape Haken’s soul that no review or reviewer could plausibly describe the band in a few paragraphs. And as you see, I have no quarrel with “Visions” on any level, and much like its older brother, I’ve come to truly treasure the sheer ability and prose that flows like blood within the veins of Haken. “Visions” is something more than an album, like a journey through tales of dark premonitions and the understanding of fate, instrumentally provoked and matched into an hour of unbelievable power. There is nothing about Haken that isn’t absolutely fascinating, and you are totally missing out on progressive metal’s next legend if you aren’t meeting eye-to-eye with the magical “Visions.”
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Although I tend to listen to alot of new albums and bands, there are admittedly few that really stick with me. There are legions of bands out there that I have some measure of respect for, but only a few that still resonate with me long after I discover them. It is rare that I find more than a few bands each year that I really get excited about, and last year, Haken was the newcomer that really took my attention by storm. With nothing more than a debut to steal my heart, I was eagerly anticipating to see where this band would go, and now consider the debut 'Aquarius' to be a modern classic of progressive metal. Now, a band coming out with a sophomore the year right after taking their first big steps is pretty unheard of in the music industry nowadays, but when I heard that Haken were coming out with a 2011 follow-up, I got pretty eager to hear what they were cooking up, expecting nothing less than a second serving of gold. Haken's second album 'Visions' is a very appropriate sophomore after 'Aquarius'. Their sound is a little more distinct, a tad more mature, and just as impressive as the debut. With 'Visions', Haken has proven that they are far from a one-album wonder, and indeed have a very promising future ahead of them.
Musically, little has changed from 'Aquarius'. The band still plays a style of technically accomplished, stirring blend of Dream Theater-inspired prog metal, with each member achieving technical perfection. What has always set this band apart however is their wonderful draw for melodies and emotion in the music, something that much progressive metal seems to lose in favour of complexity. Like 'Aquarius', 'Visions' is a complex concept album, a meticulous album that gives the listener every sign that the band is attempting to make a masterpiece. And indeed, one thing that Haken has had down from square one is the craft of album-making. On 'Visions', we hear a theatrical spectacle of progressive metal that goes from bombastic technical metal to inspiring passages of heartfelt prog rock. A new emphasis in Haken's sound are recurring motifs, or ideas throughout the album; dramatic themes to get the feelings in the story across.
The concept of 'Aquarius' was revolved around mermaids and wanting to become one with the fish-people, or something. To be honest, I was never attracted much to the concept that tied together Haken's debut, and that is no different for 'Visions'. The narrative of Haken's music has always been its weakest aspect, and although 'Visions' does seem to take a more mature step in its storytelling, this is still no 'Operation: Mindcrime' or 'The Human Equation', conceptually. From what I can tell, this album tells the story of a character who is psychic, and I'm almost certain that people die in it, and I think the dramatic tension here revolves around the character trying to change the future. It's not a bad story, and it works well for prog rock, but its certainly not a tale of such originality to inspire much in a listener besides glancing through the album booklet a few times.
While the lyrics are certainly not the greatest, the singer who delivers them is excellent. Ross Jennings has a very distinctive timbre to his voice, and I think he is a very definitive part of Haken's sound. Especially when it comes to the more mellow parts of the album (being the latter half of 'Nocturnal Conspiracy', or the beautiful track 'Deathless') he sings these gorgeous melodic lines that have me going back again and again to it. Instrumentally, Haken is top-notch, always interesting, playing loops around people twice their age. A gripe I would still have with 'Visions' is one I had moreso with 'Aquarius'; although Haken plays their music to absolute perfection, the style feels too derived from the music of Dream Theater, and there are even moments in the technical instrumental sections where I felt as if I could almost pinpoint the Dream Theater song that inspired them to write a riff. With this being their second album though, I do notice aspects of their sound that are uniquely theirs; the vocals being first and foremost, but also a very epic depth to their keyboards. Reaching their peak with the grand title track of this album, Haken proves that even if they haven't yet established themselves aside from the unfortunate 'Dream Theater clone' label, they are still making music that is both astounding in its sense of beauty and intelligence, and for what small flaws that are here, I would not hesitate in saying that Haken have made another killer record with 'Visions'.