Haken - Virus review



Reviewer:
7.7
Band: Haken
Album: Virus
Release date: June 2020


01. Prosthetic
02. Invasion
03. Carousel
04. The Strain
05. Canary Yellow
06. Messiah Complex I: Ivory Tower
07. Messiah Complex II: A Glutton For Punishment
08. Messiah Complex III: Marigold
09. Messiah Complex IV: The Sect
10. Messiah Complex V: Ectobius Rex
11. Only Stars


Very unfortunate album title for the new Haken album, given the circumstances.

Frontman Ross Jennings has stated that the album title is completely coincidental and is related to the themes of the record, which are loosely connected to those of their 2018 album Vector. As such, I will stop talking about this unlucky turn of events and focus on the music that comprises Virus, the sixth full-length album from British prog metal band Haken. Of all the major new prog metal bands that made their name last decade, Haken are arguably the most classic-sounding when compared to genre heavyweights such as Dream Theater; eschewing the prog-metalcore sound of many djent bands or the atmospheric rhythm-heavy approach of Leprous, Haken's catalogue has featuring a number of super-long multi-part epics, heaps of lengthy guitar and keyboard solos, almost exclusively clean vocals and other elements. Whilst there's definitely been variations in approach on certain albums and songs (particularly their breakthrough record The Mountain with "Cockroach King"), the core sound has remained broadly the same since their debut, and that remains the case here.

Whilst several bands that gained a reputation in the prog scene during the same timeframe as Haken have softened up their approach over time (think The Contortionist and Leprous), "Prosthetic" kicks off Virus with one of Haken's heavier cuts. As I mentioned previously, there is a lot of Dream Theater in Haken's sound, and unfortunately one thing I find both bands share is that they are often at their least interesting when they push the heaviness. There's something about the way both bands approach writing fast crunching riffs that I find really flavourless compared with other heavy acts, and the riffs that dominate the first couple of minutes of "Prosthetic" have no real hook or bite to them, a whole lot of noise but no impact. Add in the "moody" verses and toothless chorus, and I have to say I strongly dislike this track. Mercifully, Virus vastly improves once this song is over.

"Invasion" may not have the "bang" factor of "Prosthetic", but I would have much preferred it to be the opening track on Virus, and will likely make it a point to start with it on any subsequent playthroughs after writing this review. Between the potent mood in the suspenseful vocal sections, excellent work behind the kit from Raymond Hearne and complex use of rhythm during the lead guitar sections, "Invasion" is moving and multi-faceted, and instantly turns Virus into a more intriguing product. Next on the record is the 10-minute centrepiece of the album, "Carousel", a song which manages to bring heavy riffs that actually carry some weight and appeal to them, helped in part by the way keyboards are used to complement them. "Carousel" is already amongst my favourite long songs by Haken, with some really nice vocal harmonies and seamless flow between its various phases, and demonstrates the band at their proggy best (I particularly enjoy the combo of ascending guitar leads with tom-heavy drum fills near the end of this track). Less proggy but similarly enjoyable are "The Strain" and "Canary Yellow", the latter of which is perhaps uncharacteristically docile for the band but gives Ross Jennings a good opportunity to show off his softer side.

The second long song on Virus, "Messiah Complex", is broken up into several small tracks, some of which call back to "Cockroach King", and I have to confess that this track at times undermines the good work the previous songs did in reversing the negative first impression set by "Prosthetic". The first few phases are fine enough (I rather like opening segment "Ivory Tower"); however, as it progresses, it falls back into the kind of 'style over substance' instrumental excess that has been used as a rod to beat prog with by naysayers for decades, particularly during "The Sect", to the extent that I struggle to sustain interest in the remainder of the record. Some might find it ironic for me to be decrying songs on Virus for being 'too heavy' or instrumentally excessive after my lukewarm opinion of Leprous's departure from prog-metal in the form of Pitfalls last year. All I'll say is that in principle, I don't care if a band makes their sound heavier or lighter, or moves to a new genre altogether, as long as I find the music they produce compelling; I just don't think "Prosthetic" or "Messiah Complex" show Haken at their best, unlike "Invasion" or "Carousel", both of which I feel stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the band's best songs.

As I've become increasingly attracted by newer approaches to heavy prog music, the more classic sound of Haken has lost some of its appeal to me. Virus isn't going to reverse that, but I still enjoyed the album more than its sibling record Vector. Nevertheless, it's not going to be the most notable virus of 2020.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 6
Production: 8


 



Written on 08.05.2020 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 8   Visited by: 133 users
09.05.2020 - 10:54
Ace Frawley
The Spaceman
Thanks for the review, although it's a bit of a tease to read it with almost a month to go before the album is released.
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The sun shines over The Fool...
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09.05.2020 - 11:55
Witchslayer
Not a big fan of Haken myself, but have to give you the credit. It's not the first review I read from you that shows you really have a gift for this kind of thing.
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09.05.2020 - 12:05
musclassia
Written by Witchslayer on 09.05.2020 at 11:55

Not a big fan of Haken myself, but have to give you the credit. It's not the first review I read from you that shows you really have a gift for this kind of thing.


Cheers man! I liked Haken a lot when I first encountered them back in 2011 or so, but about 5 or so years later I'd reached a point where I'd check out the new albums but not really listen to them much otherwise outside of the odd song. I did a discography playthrough before reviewing this and I don't think it'll inspire me to listen to them more regularly - they're one of those bands that are fine to listen to at the time, but I don't find much in their sound that especially resonates with me (aside from the odd song, such as Celestial Elixir or 1985). I think because they go for such a classic prog approach, there's not as strong an emotional core to their music as the likes of Leprous, Monuments, Tesseract and some other modern prog bands that emerged in the last decade or so possess.
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12.05.2020 - 17:55
Cote10
Where do you get that information? Have you heard the album yet? How?
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12.05.2020 - 19:19
musclassia
Written by Cote10 on 12.05.2020 at 17:55

Where do you get that information? Have you heard the album yet? How?


It came to me in a dream

/in my inbox as a promo copy
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13.05.2020 - 01:38
nikarg
Mod
Written by Witchslayer on 09.05.2020 at 11:55

Not a big fan of Haken myself, but have to give you the credit. It's not the first review I read from you that shows you really have a gift for this kind of thing.

I agree. We are so lucky to have him.
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13.05.2020 - 14:17
BloodJuNkie
Of Rivia
Great review, for me I saw you giving them 9 for the performance so this is a good sign that I won't be disappointed. BTW what do you think of Affinity? I think this album is so underrated.
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13.05.2020 - 15:23
musclassia
Written by BloodJuNkie on 13.05.2020 at 14:17

Great review, for me I saw you giving them 9 for the performance so this is a good sign that I won't be disappointed. BTW what do you think of Affinity? I think this album is so underrated.


At the time I'm not sure I was overly fussed about Affinity, but I did a runthrough of their discography before listening to Virus and it was probably my favourite out of them, except perhaps Aquarius. It was a nice change of direction after The Mountain, and as much as it's Rush worship, I thought 1985 was a really nice track.
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