Haken – The Mountain
Haken – The Mountain (2013)
Reviewed by Mark Nagy
Sometime back in 2011, my eyes were opened to Haken. By the time I jumped on board, they were already well into critical acclaim and had a rapidly growing fan base. In my defense, that all happened very quickly, as Visions was their second album in a span of about 18 months, so their rise to fame was rather quick. Still, I was extremely impressed by the all around excellence of their first two albums. Now two years later, they make their debut on InsideOut records, and take their biggest step into the major spotlight.
The biggest change I had to adjust to on The Mountain, compared with previous albums, is the prominence of vocalist Ross Jennings. Make no mistake, Ross is an absolutely phenomenal vocalist, but on the first two albums, he would often take a back seat to longer instrumental sections. Jennings takes a much bigger role on The Mountain, and as such, instrumentals serve more as flavor, rather than the bulk of songs.
The second change that took some getting used to was the flow of the album. Visions end-capped very well, with an instrumental introduction, and then the very memorable “Nocturnal Conspiracy” and “Visions” serving to frame the rest of the album. Aquarius had less of this, but the album still revolved somewhat around the album’s finale “Celestial Elixir”. The Mountain has no such ‘centerpiece’, and there’s greater musical variety between the tracks. Small shifts in tone are present too. Aside from “Pareidolia”, I don’t recall being blown away by insane drumming performances like I was on Visions (Both the song and the album), though Ray Hearne is still excellent throughout. Outside of “Cockroach King”, I didn’t find much of Haken’s trademark silliness either, though they’re just as talented with more serious and dramatic pieces like “Falling Back To Earth”.
It’s a lot of these changes that had me very, very surprised on my first listen through The Mountain. Even with the two tracks released early, I wasn’t quite prepared, and so it took awhile to gather my thoughts. Ultimately, this is what progressive music should be doing: challenging expectations. There’s not a weak song to be found on The Mountain, and picking a favorite is difficult. Even the more somber and drawn out “Somebody” draws my attention for how effectively dramatic it is. Haken is simultaneously more aggressive and more laid back than they’ve ever been before and, much to my shock, the band floats between the two extremes with ease.
There are probably three songs particularly worthy of closer attention to really paint the picture of what The Mountain is about. The first is “Cockroach King”, which leads off with a powerful organ and a demented sounding choral section. This is the record’s most playful song, but also probably its darkest. This is Haken’s foray into downright strange, eclectic progressive rock. The second highlight is “Because It’s There”, which is more a showcase for Ross Jennings. There’s lots of different vocal effects going on, a big chamber hall echo, and varying levels of self-harmonization. Underneath the vocals lie mostly just electronic sounds and drums. Until the end, there’s almost no guitar work on the song, and what’s there is very much in the background.
The third highlight is probably the song that ends up with the honors as my favorite song on the album, and that is “Pareidolia”. It’s possible that intermingling epic choirs, tribal drumming, fast solos, driving rhythm guitars, syncopated drums, and complicated melodies is just the right mix to disqualify me from having anything close to an objective opinion, but if you’re into that kinda thing, I promise it’s all pulled off with perfection. I even think I hear what sounds like a banjo solo. This is absolutely the direction I love from Haken, and it’s also present on “Falling Back To Earth”, but “Pareidolia” absolutely nails it.
With an album with this much going on, there’s really no excuse to ignore it. I’ve had some minor issues with the overall flow of the album, but ultimately, each individual piece is just so excellent that I’m impressed nonetheless. Other journalists have already pretty much handed this album of the year, and while I won’t go so far, it’s certainly a contender.
4.25 // 5