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A Progressive Fantasy! - 99%

andreipianoman, November 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, 2CD, InsideOut Music (Remastered, Digipak)

Haken is a truly remarkable band unlike no other. They're progressive, skilled, inspired and beyond unusual. This is the kind of band that answers when you ask the question "Is there anything else that can be done?". And believe me I keep asking myself that question but then unbelievable things pretty much like this one show up out of nowhere. It's been more than a while since I first listened to them but I'm far from getting bored. In fact I'm quite sure I haven't yet fully assimilated what they have to offer.

Aquarius is probably my favorite album from Haken but I can't really be certain since Visions and Affinity are just as weird, unique, surprising and masterful. Yet this one is the ideal concept album. It tells a story that requires shitloads of imagination and originality and it flows perfectly within the music. The plot is quite complex and really weird. All it takes is a look at the artwork to figure that out. A decapitated mermaid in the hands of a dark silhouette with a red reflection below will certainly intrigue you, whether it's in a good way or a bad way. And you will not be expecting the music that follows. There are seven really long songs putting together more than an hour of music.

The story begins in a most unusual way presenting the birth of a mutant child with, as the lyrics say "Fins for arms and a tail where legs would be". In other words you're dealing with a mermaid here. Sounds unoriginal or cheesy? Well hold on to your butts because this ain't no fairy tale. Turns out her parents don't like her and see her as a freak. There is a really dramatic keyboard theme and some deep and thundering low growls in "The Point of No Return" illustrating perfectly the impact of seeing this child. So they release her to the stream. The second track, "Streams", sounds quite cheerful with jolly piano melodies and funky vocals as our mythical creature connects with the sea life but then the low growls strike you again as her way of life is interrupted by a fisherman, finding her and ripping her away from her habitat. This scene is once again presented in the beginning of the third track, "Aquarium", but this time you see it through human eyes. Aquarium is a bit more slow tempo than the first two songs and creates a feeling of monotony and circularity. And once again that fits the action because she is now being held in his aquarium as people all around the world come to see her. There's a very theatrical way of putting that into the chorus's lyrics saying "Freak of nature, pay to see her,/ Eyes surround her like a fever/ Free me master, see me shiver/ Put me back into the river". Than a really groovy and downright cheerful part comes up because the two eventually fall in love. I know a love story isn't exactly what you're looking for in a metal album and that I'm probably getting seriously boring but bear with me. So the guy eventually does let her go.

This was the bright half of the album. And the music in these three songs is absolutely fantastic. Since this is an album we're talking about here I shouldn't waste all your time only on the adventures of the fish-girl and that bloke. The songwriting of this album is very good. They do remind me of Dream Theater from time to time but they're far from sounding the same. This album is very keyboard oriented and less focused on the riffs. It also reminds me a bit of classic rock because of the cool, 80's style synth sound while keeping a modern feel with good, proper mastering and production and going through sad, cheerful, dramatic, groovy and many other moods, switching from one to another suddenly and unexpectedly. As a result all the first three songs are over ten minutes long but with all that magic going on musically and in the story there's no way you'll get bored. I also feel I need to mention the amazing guitar, keyboard, bass trio in "The Point of No Return"

And now back to the fish-girl, because this is where the wonder-world that was created gets shattered as the drama gets global. Ever heard of climate change? Well whether you have or not, it's happening in Aquarius. That's why the 4th and 5th track are called "Eternal Rain" and "Drowning in the Flood". It's a total doomsday scenario throughout these two and it turns out our lover boy shouldn't have released his aquatic princess since sacrificing her life would stop the flood and fix the weather. I told you this is weird. There's some awesome keyboard solos going through this as well. And after all that, the end of "Drowning in the Flood" will get you more curious about what happens next than a "To be continued" ending of an episode in a TV series.

So after all this adventure, all this music and all those moods we get to the most important point of the album. "Sun" is a slow, sad, deeply depressing and very tragic song. The singing makes you think of weeping and the acoustic guitar sound on the background gives the mood of a funeral speech. If you're the emotional type, this song will make you cry. But I really like that despite being so sad and mournful it's also peaceful, calm and haunting. And then he says: "One final look into her eyes/ I watched her vaporize/ Merging with the light". It's like she is given to the sky. This is why I love concept albums. It's like watching a movie only you don't see the action but you imagine it in your way and you merge this with music. It's been a fantastic piece of art so far but now it's time for the big one.

"Celestial Elixir" is a 17 minute long masterpiece and I like everything about it. Even the title choice is fantastic since it suggests that the sky heals. The song begins with a fast piano run, breaking the eerie and strange mood of the sacrifice and suggesting ,in my view, an instant reverse of all the disasters that have happened. I see whirls of clouds twisting and turning into nothing while the merciless waters of the flood retreat and the sun is revealed. The main theme sounds beautiful and somehow glorious. The massive track goes through all the moods of the album and creates an amazing tapestry of contrasts between the joy and relief from stopping the chaos and the grief of losing the mermaid. It's like everything is as it was before but the victory is hollow and bitter. The song also sounds like a stroll through memories of the story. In "The Point of No Return" she was described as "The sound of life/ An angel's song" and now the lyrics begin with "I still hear your angel's song". And there's also some symmetry in here. In "Streams" we had the lines: "Streams of life digress like water running through my veins/ Streams of blood like liquid love is rushing to my brain" and now that is reversed with the last lyrics in the album saying "Streams of light unite with water running through our veins/ Streams of blood like liquid love is running through our veins". And the last musical theme is actually the dramatic one in the first song but here it is slowed down and melancholic adding a lot of mysticism before on a fade out that suddenly cuts and leaves you speechless. And I think that there is also a hidden message in this masterpiece because we are destroying our world and there's no mermaid out there to rescue us. But that might just be my obsessive and delusional interpretation.

So Haken have proved unbelievable imagination, great musical originality and pure artistry in every way possible. They have created a unique and amazing story that's happy and sad at the same time and have merged it with music that is just so spot on with the scenes in the plot. After listening to this you will feel like you've watched a great sci-fi fantasy movie and heard an amazing prog album, all in one go. I strongly believe you should listen to it, and it's even better doing that on a rainy day.

Now that was unexpected ! - 95%

Livingwave17, August 7th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, 2CD, InsideOut Music (Remastered, Digipak)

The first time I heard Haken I felt like it just doesn't do it for me. I could tell that it was complex and evolved musically, yet I couldn't get my mind around why I can't perceive anything from it. The reason for this is that Haken is a band that takes patience and effort to understand. Anybody who once found a weird prog band with weird time signatures, weird jazzy influences and weird mastering knows what I'm on about. Haken is one of these so called "weird" bands that combines prog with a butt load of influences from jazz, blues and a university professor's engineering lesson. But it doesn't stop there.

Haken is a lot more than a bunch of prog nerds writing all sorts of "math metal" riffs and rhythms. Their music is as expected various and brain damaging at the first listen, but the surprise comes when you take in all the moods that it brings and how expressive everything is. This doesn't just have jazzy sections. It actually seems to skip from one genre to another and back. It is one of the most evolved bands that I have ever heard. You can actually hear pieces of what seems to be a classic jazz song, a sailor's party song, or a circus song. Now I know this sounds like some sick twisted mumbo-jumbo nonsense but weirdly, they made it work. In fact it doesn't sound as if the album was intended to have so many influences and weird stuff put into it. Everything is justified when you put it all together to see what it means.

The idea here, is that Aquarius is a concept album. It speaks of a future of earth in the 22 century. The ice at the poles had melted and the world was facing an extinction level flood. In the middle of everything a mermaid is born out of human parents and is abandoned, thrown into a river. What they did not know, is that their mistake of a child, is actually the key to reversing the flood. It gets more complicated as the action unravels but I will let you discover the rest yourself.

My point is that the music blends with this concept perfectly. And all of those influences that I mentioned in the beginning are responsible for it. When you know the story, the whole music blend that I was talking about starts to make sense. This album is one of the richest, most expressive ones that I know. There are a few good examples of this feeling. For instance the scene where the child is discovered expresses the shock that you would find on someone's face while seeing such an image. Also the keyboard has an awesome sound that feels a lot like the sound of a stream of water, giving a very aquatic sound the whole album. This watery sound is most easily noticeable on the song "Streams". In fact "Aquarius" is a very keyboard oriented album. All of these elements create an amazing musical combination that fits perfectly with the story. And what a story. This is the perfect "myth meets science" combination. And it's for real. As improbable as it may seem, the story actually works and it's filled with drama and emotion. It is far from all those post apocalyptic morbid bands despite having an apocalyptic subject.

While we are on the topic of story and concept, the lyrics that make it all happen are definitely worth mentioning. The album has a very narrative feeling to the way that the lyrics are written. However this doesn't seem to affect the structure or the rhymes too much, proving some serious skills with words. Also, some small sections really catch the eye. A metaphor that I really liked was the description of the mermaid as "The purest disappointment" in the first song. And a really cool twist is the expression "Blood is thicker than water" being shifted to "Water is thicker than blood". This idea appears repeated in a few parts of the first two songs, and it shows that despite her human origin, the mermaid belongs to the streams of water. The vocal is clean, melodic and really unique. There are also two growling sections on the album, in the first two songs.

I would say that the only thing missing is that this is not a riff oriented album. Haken solve this problem on their future albums bringing more juicy rhythms to the table. On this album though, the guitars overcompensate the lack of heavy riffs with beautiful fast melodic solos. There is also a section of alternating soloing bits from both guitars and keyboard and even bass on the first song. Probably one of the best instrumental parts on the album.

In the end, I can only say that you should go listen for yourself. This is definitely the kind of music that will create lots of different opinions. Since it is not that heavy and has lots of other genres mixed into it, you might say that it is not metal although some parts, such as the growls on "Streams" might say otherwise. It is unique and different from anything that I have ever listened to, and I really cannot say that it will make you feel this or that. It's all subjective. And even if the genre isn't something that anyone would listen to, the pure complexity and creativity of this album confirms it's value as a true masterwork.

Some asshole took a fat shit in my aquarium - 18%

Wilytank, July 9th, 2012

(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives:

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.

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.

Disgusting and deceitful. - 0%

Empyreal, December 8th, 2011

You know, it’s been a while. It’s been a while since I absolutely HATED an album as much as I do this one, and you know I’m not lying because I haven’t done a review in this style in at least a year. Haken is…no, wait, I need a second to think of an adjective hateful enough to describe this wretched mongoloid slop masquerading as progressive music. That actually works pretty well now that I think of it.

The really weird thing is how many people are lining up to suck this album off, proclaiming it some kind of work of progressive genius – rest assured it is nothing of the kind, and while I can’t in all fairness say that those people are silly and have been horribly deceived by Haken, I can very well go on with the rest of the review and get this torture over with. Ugh.

First off, this isn’t metal. Like, at all. I’m not one of those guys who’s terribly concerned with ‘metal purity’ and whatnot, but this is just so un-metal that it might as well be your grandma’s fake teeth – it’s just as plastic. Prog-metal? No, this is fluffed up, prissy progressive rock in the Yes/Gentle Giant style with bloops and bleeps and little keyboard noises everywhere beyond a heavy layer of orchestrations and the God-awful vocals, which I’ll get back to later; they deserve their own paragraph. Except where those bands crafted emotive and thought-provoking music, Haken come off as simply nothing any sentient human being should ever hear. EVER. The only thing even remotely metallic about this is the harsh vocals and the sometimes distorted rhythms running underneath the wishy-washy prog-lite nonsense going on. Frankly if you think this is metal, you need your brain examined.

But being metal doesn’t qualify something as good or bad, and this would be horrible no matter what label you stuck to it. The songwriting is just awful on this; awful I tell you. If you like bloated over-long bore-fests with main themes and motifs that would maybe sound passable as the segueways or bridges for better bands, then you’ll be at home with this. Every once in a while you get a semi-dramatic moment like on “The Point of No Return,” with its big, searing sections, but the thing is, they sound like something a better band would use to build up to an even larger, more grand climax. Here it’s the main theme of the song. Or in “Aquarium,” where at 6 minutes, they burst into a semi-enjoyable rocking groove for a minute or two – could have been good with a better guitar tone and vocals that didn’t sound completely fucking wussy as hell – but again, I’ll get to those vocals later…

If you’re thinking about going ‘But wait, Empyreal, how could this album possibly warrant the 0% score when you just said there are moments that sound passable?’ Well, I’ll tell you: The point is not that Haken are capable of writing decent moments. Any band, given enough time and space to practice, can do that, especially when their songs are as long and bloated as Haken’s. The point is that they conjure up these decent moments in a morass of incredibly slow-moving, directionless, aimless crap. There is nothing about these songs that comes off as sensible, emotional or economical – things good progressive music should be. That old adage about how if a bunch of monkeys got together long enough with typewriters then they would eventually produce Shakespeare? THAT’S THIS ALBUM. Only Haken would need another million fucking years to get to the Shakespeare, and I’m not sure anyone’s ears could take that much of this drivel!

They just keep going. On and on and on these songs noodle and ramble, with no song shorter than 6 minutes. Have they no shame? Near the end of “Eternal Rain,” the band sounds like they’re having a collective seizure in-studio. Falling all over your instruments isn’t the only way to progress, you morons. There are a few moments in “Drowning in the Flood” that try to conjure up some genuine drama and weight, but due to the band’s apparent idea that everything prog has to sound jerky and schizophrenic, it falls flat and just sounds odd and inconsequential. Okay, seriously, I don’t know that much about prog, but I know what I like, and in the prog I like that I’ve heard, those jerky, schizophrenic sections are the means to an end, never the end itself. They’re used to paint splotchy, colorful, quirky portraits that come alive with vibrance and energy. When Haken does it, it just sounds stupid and wrongheaded. They have as much articulation as a damn hand puppet made by a paraplegic, as much artistry as a one-eyed, half-retarded caveman.

The mood is grotesquely fruity and fakely cheery…I love happy, feel-good music as much as anyone, but this is just SO lame! It’s like a concoction of every measly hippy atom that ever was formed suddenly spontaneously combusted, and this was the black hole of hippy star-child deluded garbage that resulted! Every song is full of gag-worthy acoustic strumming and poppy hooks so candy-coated that I have a hard time believing grown men wrote them. And did I mention the lyrics are a concept album about something like a half-fish-half-girl going on some kind of coming-of-age journey? Even in the first song, when the lyrics are about the main character’s daunting first steps into the world on her own:

We can't raise this child,
this precious circus freak
with fins for arms
and a tail where legs would be.

There's no turning back:
our decision is made.
If we don't let her go,
we cannot love her as our own.

…it still sounds like they’re singing about flowers and how great it is to fall asleep in fields populated mostly by dandylions! Where’s the drama? Where’s the darkness? If you want to write something flowery and cheerful, fine, but if you’re going to do stuff like this? You can’t just make all the melodies this dandified and lackadaisical. It just sounds dishonest and disjointed, and really makes the listening experience that much less interesting. If the band sings these dramatic lyrics with all the force and presence of a fairy on opium, why should I be invested?

Okay, I gotta talk about the vocals – it’s the proverbial Elephant in the Review. What’s this guy’s name – Ross Jennings? He looks like a bad European attempt at channeling one of those old Spanish romantics you’d see in soap operas, with the wide-brimmed black hat and the goatee and the rose in his mouth and all. Whatever. He’s one of the worst singers I’ve ever heard. He keeps trying to channel the Gentle Giant singer with this loopy, airy, head-in-the-clouds tone that he never turns off, and he’s doing the GG thing so damn badly - trying waaaay too hard to sound all light and gentle. It should be a natural thing, not forced like that.

And the vocal lines he sings are just despicably poor. The first lines on “Streams” are incredulously self-indulgent, indie-rock garbage that make me want to stab someone with a spork. It literally sounds like he’d be just fine standing in front of a mirror with the fan on to blow his hair back, singing into a hairbrush. Cool down there, Princess, you might blow a lung out! The harsh vocals are just ludicrous. They sound like Mikael Akerfeldt except about ten times worse, and more forced. No aggression, just ‘hey! We need some growly vocals or else we won’t be edgy enough!’ Awful.

Above all else, though, the reason Haken get the big 0% is because this is so artificial, so plastic, so fraudulent that it becomes offensive to anyone who actually enjoys music on more than a superficial level. If you like music for the emotional journeys it takes you on, for the hard work and creativity that goes into making a truly inspired piece of work or just for the sheer euphoria you get from hearing something honest and energetic and passionate, Haken’s Aquarius will offend you. This is music that thinks it is something deep and something profound, but takes the easiest, most base, stupid way possible to get there. Where’s the challenge? Haken’s songs are actually rather simple underneath all the bloat and fat. Banally, stupidly, they plod along and use the most obvious progressions and childish musical accompaniments possible, relying on the hope that writing a bunch of long, disjointed songs will fool people into thinking it’s progressive at all.

I proclaim no psychic powers that allow me to read the minds of the band members; I am just going by what I hear. And what I hear is abominably shallow music that puts on the illusion of complexity and artfulness through the most vapid and shallow imitations of progressive rock possible. Throw in some loopy keyboard noises, five different parts in each song and make the songs ten minutes long and you’re set, right? Not like there’s any substance necessary; just the simplest surface aesthetics possible! What’s offensive about this is that very simplicity. The songwriting’s lack of subtlety wouldn’t be a problem if they could actually write compelling music, but as it stands, Haken’s woeful songwriting sets them up big as ‘deep’ music, ‘thought-provoking’ music, where really all they did was copy a bunch of 30 year old bands and sing really terrible vocal lines over it. There is no craftsmanship in it, no deeper meaning or emotional investment.

This isn’t art, it is a mockery of art, a wolf in sheep’s clothing of sorts. Haken use a lot of crap to make you think they’re worth anything at all, but don’t be fooled – this is meaningless tripe. Do not believe the hype. Haken is a plague.

Haken - Aquarius - 99%

Jacob1, October 23rd, 2010

Haken is the most criminally underrated band I have ever listened to. When I first listened to this album, it just blew me away. I was amazed by the band's talent, originality, and songwriting. This really is a must-have for any progressive metal fan.

The songs here are quite long, as is typical for a progressive metal album. The shortest song is 6:43; the longest clocks in at 16:57. This allows the band to really develop their musical ideas to their full potential. If you're looking for a typical verse-bridge-chorus structure, I would suggest you look elsewhere. These pieces of music are epic in scope, encompassing many styles of music while still managing to retain order. There are many mood changes here, ranging from soft to heavy, fast to slow. There's elements of prog rock, power metal, death metal, jazz, and just about everything you could want.

The band doesn't use just the orthodox instruments. They make use of lots of keyboards with different effects, and some unusual instrumentation and percussion, so you'll never get bored with the song. Each song uses many types of instruments. The band members are all very skillful at their instruments and the synergy is in incredible. Despite the high-level of technical skill, they keep the meaningless wankery to a minimum, instead using this skill to develop musical ideas and create unique sounds. This is one of the things that really sets Haken apart from other prog metal outfits. Keep in mind there are still some great virtuosic solos, such as the one in the song "Eternal Rain". There are long instrumental passages encompassing many musical styles, interspersed between verses with vocals. The vocalist here has a powerful voice and expert vocal control.

My favorite song on this album is the second song, "Streams". The piano intro is one of my favorite musical moments of all time. The song ranges from jazzy to almost poppy to death metal, complete with expertly growled vocals. One of the motifs in this song is later repeated in the closing piece "Celestial Elixir", giving the whole album a sense of closure. This album is nearly perfect, but I still get the feeling it could have been better. Some of the parts don't flow perfectly and the transitions between moods can be a little sharp at times. This is still a masterpiece of progressive metal and is truly an incredible album. I would highly recommend it.

Prog Doesn't Get Any Better Than This - 98%

GuntherTheUndying, June 13th, 2010

I originally had no idea what to expect from Haken before I experienced “Aquarius.” Here’s what I did know: they are a progressive metal band and have ten-minute songs stashed like it’s an ordinary chore, no biggie. More importantly, I really didn’t have a good feeling about Haken because, if you ask me, progressive metal has turned into anti-progressive music: bands that first pioneered the sound are now copied by other “progressive” bands or simply regurgitate themselves, hence ruining the term, because you can’t be progressive without progression! Ta-Da! But I had a paradoxical suspicion Haken would deliver based on the help from Tom MacLean and Richard Henshall from the complicated To-Mera – a massive faction from a handful of progressive metal bands that are, indeed, recent and wonderful – whom are fantastic composers and one of my favorite bands. With that being said, I had my standards pretty damn high for the taking; it is very different from To-Mera, yet holds the burning content I had hopes for.

What makes Haken so wonderful? Well, frankly everything. “Aquarius” is a seven-song conceptual piece that embodies a progressive rock/metal fan’s ultimate fantasy. First and foremost, Haken’s songs are long, structured pieces that feature multiple parts and changes to conceptualize the momentum of “Aquarius,” and although the formula will be a little different to most listeners, it yields a masterful result. These seven songs are some of the best musical pieces I have ever heard; the overall chemistry of the band is absolutely outstanding.

The riff work reminds me of an unearthed vault Dream Theater didn’t discover when they wrote “Images and Words” back in 1992: everything seems listenable and fun, yet oddly different and mathematically challenging. Tom MacLean’s switch from To-Mera guitarist to bass player leaves no scant trace upon the album’s presence as his bass playing is technical and forceful just as it should be. Ross Jennings is dangerously original compared to a lot of vocalists in the hard rock/metal field, yet his voice scores points by capturing emotion and power through Haken’s musical journey and from wonderful vocal control that makes him an obvious A-grade singer. Besides all this stuff, the use of keyboards excel in creating a sense of atmosphere whether Haken sounds like a funeral doom band or a 70s rock project, and we also have harps, brass instruments, and banjos all contributing to an epic display of musical brilliance that is simply out of this world. If you enjoy progressive music to the slightest degree, you will lose your collective shit. I know what I’m trying to say sounds vague, but seriously, this is one of the most well-crafted albums released in a spacious amount of time, progressive metal or not.

The idea of blending genres is a well-explored theme throughout “Aquarius” too, although you won’t hear it act better anywhere else. Haken bounces between 70s prog, 50s-inspired rock, doom/death metal, power metal, technical shredding, and epic progressive themes in unbelievably stellar antics that flow perfectly together. Obviously, the songs are very long, but in such a rare set of ideas, tracks running in the double-digits are needed to truly capture the various masks worn by Haken, and I will tell you they are great to look at. There can be a lot of potential problems emerging from a sound like such: repetition, excessive soloing/showboating/wanking, or redundancy, but “Aquarius” has no tolerance for these pessimistic qualities; instead, Haken shoots for the moon and lands with perfect precision.

“Aquarius” requires a different set of listening practices in order for the listener to appreciate it, however. The album’s flow, length, style, and atmosphere is a giant web of several small details that hold an equal importance to how Haken operates as a band, but participating in the seventy-minute opus without obstruction will reveal an object that transcends the metaphysical realm of progressive music. Needless to say, “Aquarius” is one of the finest slabs of essential progressive metal I could ever recommend. In existential terms, Haken’s equation is so unique and sophisticated it can hardly be explained in words; but through the meaningful and esoteric marshes of “Aquarius,” I can fully assert it is a masterful work of art in every sense.

Haken’s vast style produces seven tracks that are from the minds of gods; overall, I can’t find the word to express how unbelievably strong the strike of “Aquarius” is upon the mind and musical soul. Likewise, Haken’s unique flash develops over “Aquarius” like dancing spirits in a nightly sky from beginning to end; the collective effort is unspeakably superb within Haken’s unique set of values, and leaves a strong impression that speaks a no-junk voice upon the progressive metal scene with unspeakable awe. This is an absolute monster of an album, and one that shouldn’t be missed by progressive rock/metal philosophers, no excuses!

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