Haken’s “Affinity” begins with a software boot sequence. The command has been entered, and the program is about to launch. Although this track isn’t really a song per se, it does give pause for us to consider what we are about to hear. Yes, Haken’s music is amazing and the band never disappoints, but that isn’t really what I mean.
Haken’s lyrics have long been a favorite of mine, and I have been meaning to spotlight “Affinity” since 2016. What has taken so much time is the fact that this album is generally a little more complex to interpret, as it isn’t a complete concept album by true definition. Instead, according to my interview with Ross, “Affinity” is an album held together by a theme, but does not necessarily tell a story.
Ross, however, has always welcomed fan interpretations of his lyrics, and this album bears interpretation on a personal level for sure. The general idea is that of the relationship between a programmed entity (software, robot, whatever you like) and its programmer, The Architect. The album explores several different themes, such as the effects of technology on human interaction and unity, the human search for meaning, and the concept of divinity. All of this is explored through a sci-fi lens, yes; but the themes run much deeper than that, like in most science fiction stories.
Possibly one of the most difficult songs to interpret from any of Haken’s albums, “Initiate” is at first simply the beginning of the program: It’s the commencement of the artificial intelligence and its existence in this reality. Now, that is definitely what it feels like, but the lyrics don’t really pan that out very much. While we do hear “Give me (Give me)/ Focus (Focus)/ Sharpen/ My view/ Initiate” as if the intelligence is being tweaked for its work and purpose, the greater theme of the song really feels more like the beginning of an introspective deliberation over the world around us. Is this a robot? Or is this a human being who has chosen to shrug off the shackles of indifference and apathy?
I would base my interpretation on the latter, and I would honestly follow that thread through the entire album. The sci-fi aspects, then, are just a foundation upon which the band addresses real world philosophy and conflicts. That’s brilliant, and quite in keeping with the tradition of science fiction as a whole.
So, what is this all about? I feel like Haken is inviting us to “Engage your senses/ And let them carve the way” to sense the love and pain all around us. In fact, they are encouraging us to “Live here and now/ And forever or never”, meaning that we should engage life head-on in awareness, or just get out of the way. Furthermore, they are drawing our attention to the pain and turmoil in this world of ours, and challenging us to achieve a world where this is no longer the case.
I feel like there are some specific connections to the willpower we see in “The Mountain”. That album examined the grit and will of humanity, and that spills over into this album to apply that willpower to changing this world for good. Even further than willpower, though, this album asks us to dream and believe in what might seem impossible. The lyrics beg us to open the floodgates of our minds and hearts to see truly for the first time, as if we are just entering the world. The hope is that when we do actually open our eyes, that we can say “We’ll make this dream last forever and ever/ Tears will run dry/ From my ever wandering eye/ But I’m prepared to stay/ ‘Til my dying day”.
“My first step/ Was undertaken aimlessly/ Yet I arrive/ As if I’m meant to be”. Haken continues with what is probably the most flamboyant track on the album. “1985” is surreal and sweet musically, but it honestly addresses some very serious and deep ideas. While the sci-fi side of things seems to address the uncertainty in meaning for the newly born intelligence, the song really digs deeply at our own human indecision about which path to take and about what our purpose in this life really is.
Being a Christian and a lover of philosophy, the themes in song are instantly recognizable. Are we truly our own beings? Are we guided by fate, destiny, or divinity; or do we truly make our own decisions and forge our own paths? We seem to be designed a certain way, but does that mean fitting the mold is the only choice? I stand map in hand/ Direction misaligned/ I play my role/ With the cast of a die/ It spins through the air/ Bound by gravity/ So why can’t I/ Feel momentum pulling me?” Are we stuck where we are, or can we “Break the code/ Find your soul/ Cast the die/ Lose control”.
It’s more than just trying to break free from our coding, though. It’s about finding ourselves; discovering our very souls. The question then becomes not whether we were designed a certain way, but whether or not we have decided that we are supposed to follow the crowd, when our DNA at its core is coded with rebellion, openness, and adventure. What is truly within us? Are we free, and, if we are free, what will we do with that freedom?
“Lapse” continues the train of thought of opening our minds that we have seen thus far in the album, only from a slightly different perspective. Instead of being an encouragement, this track is communicating the lapse of interest and drive that humanity always seems to have. “Dying of the light/ A million faces search the sky/ The universe was huge enough for us to hide”. Indeed, we felt that we could hide from the brokenness of our world. We thought we could drift with the tide and simply “Live, love, fade out”, like that was all that matters; like we ourselves are all that matters.
We need focus. We need to keep the goal of unity and peace squarely in our sights. We need to look to the future, yes; but we also need to remember the past and how we came to this situation in the first place. If we don’t learn from history, we can never repair our future. We cannot be part of the lapse any more. “Hold on to the light/ To stay awake/ To live and learn/ To keep your sanity/ Trace forgotten smiles/ To feel the rage and hear the tale/ Of how the mission fell apart”.
5. The Architect
Now we come to what I consider one of the best Haken songs on any album, and I find the lyrics to be beautiful. “The Architect”, obviously, refers to the creator and programmer of the intelligence we have been following. However, since the album is definitely reflecting human reality, the most obvious identity of the Architect is God himself. With that in mind, the song makes sense.
“The Architect” is something of a letter from the intelligence to its programmer, but it seems like they are communicating back and forth, too. Almost like a prayer. In some ways, the Architect is not impressed with the excuses that his creation is making about the state of their world. In fact, his creations haven’t spoken to him in a while, and that honestly peeves him a little bit. The intelligence decides to contact his creator, “Message on a screen before me/ Caught a glimpse of the ending to our story/ ‘I’m sorry I haven’t called you recently’”, and the Architect answers back, “It’s not surprising/ I’ll just learn the lesson/ Take some time to process the evidence/ And analyze your apathy”. So, basically, they waited to speak to God about their problems and the messes they’ve made until they are already overwhelmed.
Yes, there is definitely a religious component to this song and album, but that’s not surprising. Haken has done that before on other albums. The conversation continues as the creation complains about the state of its reality, and the Architect continues to reply over and over, “You turned your back on affinity/ now it’s turned to toxicity”. In other words, we as humanity have turned our backs on the Earth and on each other, and now we are covered in the mire that we created. The Architect wants to remind his creation that they are the source of all their own problems; something that stubborn humans refuse to acknowledge or accept.
Now comes the part of the song about which I am unsure. There were some hints of a “religion is our biggest problem” stance earlier in the album, and in some ways I agree with it. “Religion” is a major problem, though far from the biggest that we have. Most of you know I am a Christian, but I don’t consider myself “religious” per se, as I dislike organization religion. The song ends with the creation blaming the Creator for all its problems. The creation believes that it will “become affinity” when the Creator is gone. In other words, if we can eliminate religion, there will be a sense of peace and brotherhood between all humanity. We will gel. We will unite. We will no longer have the walls that block us from each other.
Is this true? I think it can be to some extent, but not to the extent or in the way that some people believe. The rest of the album will explore some of these thoughts further.
“Resolve to carry on/ Another life awaits beyond the horizon/ Evolve and we’ll ensure our survival/ We are the revolution”. After the immense conflict of “The Architect”, we get to see the earth rise. This created intelligence—this humanity—has started to see the problems in their reality and, more importantly, has seen what can be done about it. Suddenly, there is resolve. There is will. There is Earthrise.
“One step back/ Take two leaps forward/ And with baited breath we wait/ For generation x to fade/ Embracing the emancipation/ How will history remember/ A masterpiece chiseled to dirt?/ Collapsing pillars of the earth/ A march of progress in reverse”. You see, they have finally see the ruin of the past generations. They are learning from the past, just like we discussed in the “Lapse”. They are finally following through on what they now see as their responsibility. There is no option but to rise together.
They invent ways to combat the problems in life, from the smallest inconvenience to the greatest disease. They are making progress in ways that were once only dreams, and this technology is making The Architect look more and more outdated; more defunct. They believe in themselves first and foremost, and they leap forward without a single thought as to the consequences.
And they find freedom here. They find meaning. They find progress. They rise together to meet the challenge; to conquer the mountain of life, humanity, and unity. At least for a time. “Keep reaching through horizons/ To leave our past behind us/ We turn toward the earthrise”.
7. Red Giant
“Red Giant” is a track that I’ve pondered quite a bit. If I were interpreting this from a purely fictional standpoint, it would be a sci-fi tale about the sun burning up the Earth millions of years from now. But my gut tells me that this track means something more than that.
At first, I thought of the red giant as any sort of affliction or obstacle in humanity’s pursuit of peace and unity. In other words, humanity has resolved to fix their world, and the red giant is anything that makes that fight difficult. However, “Blood red sun/ My companion/ Feel my love/ Through the static/ For we rust/ And dismantle/ Salvage us/ From the ash” seems to indicate that the red giant is some sort of affliction that is also comforting in some way. When I thought about this further, I realized that Haken is speaking about technology itself. In our attempt to flee The Architect, we devise our own technologies to patch up the broken parts of this world. We think we are advancing, but we are really running in circles because these same technologies are also eating us alive slowly but surely. In other words, we are dissolving our own world by relying on things we have created. In most cases, we don’t even realize the danger until someone takes something meant for good and uses it for evil. Our own technology turns on us.
So, what is this song about, then? It’s about fighting the impossible; combating the apocalypse that we have created. Fighting daily, but adding to the problem every time we act. As we struggle to save this world of ours, it can feel like we are fighting an unwinnable fight because we are battling ourselves. It feels like all of this is vanity.
What are we try to save when we fight for this place? Does this place make us who we are, or do we have something deeper within us? Do we have something coded into our DNA that makes us who we are? We may start slipping in this great adventure, but there is something within us that will never die. We may lose the battle, but the fight will always be alive. “As time decays/ Ticking lives away/ All that we know eroded/ Dreams that we made/ Gently start to break/ But they’ll never fade”.
8. The Endless Knot
“We dream of places we can’t get to/ We crawl, we swim, it’s neverending/ The crests of tidal waves are raging/ The bitter lake is ever changing”. As we approach the end of “Affinity”, Haken starts to make a more definitive statement about human reality. We discussed the human desire to escape The Architect, and we’ve seen how humanity creates ways to advance and to patch the brokenness of this world, but it ends up burning them along the way.
“The Endless Knot” is a statement about all of this. Our world is a constant battle to be fought, and much of this is because of ourselves. We want affinity: We really do. But we keep it from happening because we cannot unite. Something outside of ourselves must unite us.
Then comes a verse I don’t quite understand: “The ancient prophecy unfolded/ Distracted minds ignored the warnings/ Confronting facts to prove the fiction/ Right to the point of mass extinction”. What is the ancient prophecy? I’m not totally sure, but I’m willing to bet that it comes from The Architect’s warnings about ignoring their origins. Humans have this uncanny and annoying ability to justify almost anything, and so we use “facts” to prove the feelings in our heart are somehow fictional, even though ignoring the truth does not prevent it from coming to pass. “We flirted with the edge of darkness/ Offered ourselves unto the harvest/ The shepherd led, we blindly followed/ Into the world of no tomorrow”.
In the end, humanity needs something else to unite them. Unfortunately, it is usually a tragedy that unites us. Why is that? Why does something awful have to happen before we recognize the connection between ourselves? “We need a story to believe in/ We need a hero to prevail/ We need a challenge we can overcome/ It takes a tragedy to make us one”.
9. Bound by Gravity
The final track on “Affinity” actually shows humanity reaching affinity, only through ways that they have ignored for a long time. The song starts with what might be a prayer, possibly to The Architect. I’m not sure. “Bless us with the gift of a morning/ That lightens the day/ Infecting us with hope/ Like a flower that rose from the grave. The lesson here is not a religious one, though. It is more about the unbreakable hope that always lives in the hearts of humanity, but there is also this aspect of where that hope comes from and under which conditions that it thrives the most.
They are finally recognizing that they cannot do this on their own. These constructs need their Architect. They need each other. And once they are reborn in that ideology, “There will be a shift in perspective/ But nothing can change/ Until the floodgates and the doors of perception/ Have swung open wide”. Humanity needs a new perspective to see the truth, to act on it, and to enter a new time of prosperity and reality.
The album ends with an interesting statement: “The storm subsides/ Your will is done/ A swarm of minds/ Reborn as one”. Did The Architect plan all of this? Through all the conflict between him and humanity, his plan was being fulfilled. Through all the fiery trials, he knew that they would come back to him. His will was fulfilled in the gathering and unity of their minds. Affinity was the point of everything that ever took place. Unity with humanity and with The Architect turned out to be the purpose for everything they experienced.
What does this all mean? In my view, it means that we need to return to our origins and to our architecture to understand our purpose, our ability, and what path we need to walk. We need a unifying factor, and we need to find that without going through tragedy after tragedy. Affinity is our goal, but there is only one path that will ultimately help us reach it.