Haken seems to be a polarizing band nowadays. Everything they produce is over-analyzed; and then judged or praised to equal extremes. I myself consider Haken to be one of my top 5 favorite bands, though I’m far from a fanboy, if you can believe that. Their new singles have again been dividing fans, and the world will finally get to hear the full new album “Vector” on October 26th through Inside Out Music. What I’m hearing on this album is more of the band I love experimenting with sounds that are both nostalgic and new.
Haken hails from the UK, and includes Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall on guitars, Ray Hearne on drums, Ross Jennings on vocals, Diego Tejeida on keys, and Conner Green on bass. At this point, these guys are running like a heavily oiled machine, showcasing fireworks with every single instrument they use. This album, though, is more than just technical pyrotechnics, even with the band marketing this as their heaviest album yet.
“Vector” is indeed heavier, but I find that the subtlety of the music has not been lost. So, while the guitars are darker (possibly djentier) and the rhythm section is meatier, the album also sports plenty of space and color. I’ve seen others describe this album as having 80’s influences, which I’m sure is true, but I personally hear more 90’s influence here, from early Dream Theater to I daresay grunge or alternative tones to a definite trace of Faith No More to even the pop rock of that decade. It’s all in there. In fact, even the overall mix sounds quite 90s to me, and even Ross’ vocal tone reflects an alternative approach, being lower and more tenacious than usual. Again, in the midst of all the grit and groove, the album still offers lots of atmospheric musings and the trademark Haken playfulness. None of that is lost.
When approaching “Vector”, context matters. Those looking for the “Prog” sound of their first couple albums won’t hear much of that here, and I think that’s a strength. This album is dark, visceral, and aggressive, offering moments of loss, sadness, and confusion. It’s literally about a psych patient who is trying to decipher between memory and delusion, between reality and dream. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and really isn’t explained to every minute detail, and so the album creates a sort of shadowy haze by the end.
Adding even more confusion for fans, “Vector” clocks in at under 45 minutes long. I know some prog fans will cringe at that, but to me that is a perfect length sometimes. I love a vivid, concise, inspired album of the 45 minute length kind, and this album checks all those boxes. With only seven tracks, too, the band is really cutting out all the prog clichés one by one.
I want to comment on five of the seven tracks. The whole album is a roller coaster of a ride, but these five tracks have sparked some words, specifically. First, “The Good Doctor” is a fantastic single, but I must admit that, as a single, it might not have been the best song to release first. Why? It really takes some time to grow on you as your brain processes the subtle vocal lines. In the end, it’s a brilliant track that reminds me of Faith No More, but I’m afraid that some people might not have given it time.
Next, “Puzzle Box” is the second single, and it’s a darker and heavier track that features plenty of space and a wonderful atmospheric section right in the middle. I love it. “Veil” is a stunning track, clocking in at a little over 12 minutes. Now, I’ve seen some people complaining about there not being an “epic” on this record. Let me address that. First of all, the concept behind this album does not play into the typical epic sound very well. It’s supposed to be psychological and dark, and so I feel like shorter songs represent well the erratic and confused nature of the patient. Secondly, what is an epic length track anymore? I used to see people say that anything over 10 minutes can be considered an epic. Some people say it has to be over twenty. What do people really want here? “Veil” is a longer track with lots of softer moments of ambience, but it also has plenty of instrumental fireworks. It may very well be one of the best songs this year. I feel like people wanting Haken to stay the same are those same people that complain about song length. All in all, the song is awesome.
The last two songs I want to discuss are also contenders for some of the best songs this year. “Nil by Mouth” is an absolutely sublime instrumental track that features callbacks to many of Haken’s albums, which obviously makes me smile. Yes, the Haken squiggle (as I call it) is in there. Believe it or not, this might actually also be the heaviest track on the album, too. It is sheer unpredictable brilliance. “Host” is quite different from the rest of the album, however. It has hints of a jazziness that we don’t normally hear from Haken, plus vocal lines that remind me of “Visions”. So jazzy + psychedelic? Yes, that’s about right. I especially love Ross’ vocal lines on this one. Honestly, the overall sadness of the tone reminds me of “Sun” or “Deathless” from their past offerings.
Haken haven’t missed a beat with “Vector”. It’s a shorter, heavier, and crazier than any album they’ve produced yet, but it’s still Haken and it is still awesome. I love the concept, which I will obviously have to spotlight in the near future, and I love how quickly and smoothly the track list wizzes by me. It doesn’t need the “epic”. It doesn’t need to be an hour and fifteen minutes long. It doesn’t need any of the Prog clichés to be a truly memorable and exciting album. I can’t wait to see Haken live in November, and I seriously hope they play literally any of these tracks.