Sometimes, a member of a particular band might have more to offer than what you can hear in that primary band itself. I think the new solo album from Richard Henshall is just that. While you can certainly hear Haken in this record, “The Cocoon” still offers enough variation to that formula to be exciting. The album releases on August 9th.
Richard Henshall is one of the guitarists for Haken, as I’m sure you know. He is known for incredibly delicate and technical guitar work, and so that is basically what I expected on this album. Richard also handles keyboards and vocals, though. The rest of the lineup includes Matt Lynch on drums, and Conner Green on bass. There are also several guests, including: Ben Levin, Ross Jennings, and Jessica Kion on vocals; Jordan Rudess on keys; Marco Sfogli and David Maxim Micic on guitars; Chris Baum on strings; and Adam Carrillo on sax.
The music here is definitely in the vein of Haken. You will hear some djenty portions and jumpy time signatures, though Richard doesn’t lean on that as much you as might think. You will also hear the quirk and playfulness, too, though maybe a bit more subdued. However, there is a certain level of atmosphere that is injected into the sound that feels almost like Anathema or Alcest. So, the overall sound of the album is like combining the quirk and technicality of Haken with the emotional climaxes and ambiance of Anathema, or maybe the slightly blackened peaks of Alcest. On top of that, you will hear some additions, like some rapping on one track, some jazz, and some post-rock influences. It’s a great sound that keeps you on your toes. I think combining “Host” from Haken’s “Vector” and also “Red Giant” from their album “Affinity” would give a good idea of what this album resembles.
Richard handles some of the vocals, and I have to say that I’m impressed, but I’m also unsure of when it is him and when it is a guest. That might be my biggest complaint about this record. Most of the vocals are very distorted, low key, and almost amniotic in sound, and I like that, but some of the character is sucked out as a result. Ross does guest on one track, and sounds fantastic, but it’s obvious when he is present.
One more thing I have to say about this album is that it feels truly complete. The Cocoon transitions from “Pupa” to “Afterglow” naturally and beautifully. It feels like a fully realized concept that doesn’t outstay its welcome. This album, though, is at its greatest when Richard holds back a bit on guitars and just allows the effervescent atmosphere to bleed in completely. It feels light and almost spiritual in those moments.
There are some highlights worthy of mention here. “Pupa” is an intro instrumental song that djents and rocks pretty hard, but it transitions directly into “Cocoon”. That song moves back and forth between technical moments and atmospheric auras. It really does feel amazing at points, and the jazziness in the second half is welcome. “Limbo” is where the atmospheric ideas really start to coagulate, though. It is laid back, peaceful, and wonderful.
The last three songs on the album are the best. “Lunar Room” starts out with some rapping, and it feels appropriate for the song. The contrast between the rap lyrics and the ethereal atmosphere is brilliant. I think the clean singing in the second half might be some of the strongest on the album, though, as it is emotional and inspiring. “Twisted Shadows” features Ross on vocals, and so it basically feels like a Haken song, and a very good one, at that. It could definitely fit in with “Vector”, but almost as if “Cockroach King” were done in that style. It bounces playfully, but somehow with full sobriety, too. “Afterglow” ends the album and might be my favorite track. A beautiful, well-conceived atmosphere is played up against slightly djenty guitars, and it feels like something out of a dream, and it ends with eerie oomph.
Richard’s solo debut might not depart from Haken all that much, but it does so in all the right moments. Just when you think that Richard would resort to some standard Haken-isms, he goes outside the box or appeals directly to emotion instead. The album, then, comes off as bright, beautiful, and technically balanced. Haken fans will definitely love it, but I think other prog fans will, too.