Haken – Aquarius
In my earlier review of Haken’s second album, Visions, I mentioned that they didn’t do a lot of genre experimentation, but rather kept to a masterfully-executed basic prog approach. Moving backwards to the band’s debut, Aquarius quite frankly blew my mind. I hate using that term, but the range of emotions I was feeling after hearing “Celestial Elixir” was a bit confusing and overwhelming. Not just the usual stuff like an overwhelming sense of the scope and beauty of the composition, but a lot of laughter and entertainment at how downright schizophrenic the middle section of the song had become. The fact that they pulled off these two things so close together and so seamlessly is something I see very seldom.
I am someone who tends to gravitate away from the more extreme and aggressive forms of progressive metal. I find that usually the brutal vocals and aggressive approach is just poorly done in progressive metal, as fusing complexity with raw tension rarely is effective. While nowhere near full blown extreme, the level of aggression and power in “Drowning in the Flood” is commendable. While not dumbing down the music at all, the band created a completely believable musical assault. Similar to what I said about Visions, Haken manages to accomplish Dream Theater levels of impressive shrank (My new word for wank and shred) while being without blame for any accusations of tastelessness. Instead of finger shredding occasionally interrupted by strange and random influences, they do seamless things with a variety of influences, including a lot of jazz. The piano is also important to Aquarius, as I understand most of the album was written around ideas on the piano, and some of the better tracks lLike “Streams”) are built around it. For someone that’s not normally a fan of deep throated extreme vocals, Haken pulls them off with distinction in both “Streams” and “The Point Of No Return”.
On a technical level, prog lovers should find no fault with this. All members are clearly masters of their craft, and I don’t expect the vocals to polarize too many listeners. On a musical level, the palette is wide and entertainingly brilliant. Like a lot of great prog bands though, they do seem to lose themselves in those two characteristics quite a bit. “Celestial Elixir” and “Drowning In The Flood” are both brilliant melodically, but other areas of the album occasionally seem unfocused and unrefined. There’s some refining to be done, but watch out for Haken, because they will be legendary.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.5/5