Haken – Virus


Haken produced the best metal album of 2018. They opened for Devin Townsend on his Empath Tour. Guitarists, Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths, are two of the best musicians in the industry. Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater proclaimed them ‘this generation’s greatest prog-metal group.’ After less than two years, they’re back with a sequel to the epic Vector record that blew people’s minds. It took Tool thirteen years to release Fear Innoculum, yet it seems these Londoners can reach this standard with minimum exertion. You should have one question on your lips: have they matched or exceeded expectations this time around?

The first observation is Haken’s evolution into a full-on metal band with brutal down-tuned riffs and bass-heavy rhythms. The last three albums from 2012’s The Mountain to 2018’s Vector follow a trajectory of increasing the heavy content but always holding back from a Master of Puppets realm of metallic glory. Well, they’ve now crossed that precipice and ramped up the Meshuggah riffage to maximum amp settings. Lead single and opener, ‘Prosthetic’, is as metal as it gets with an impressive arsenal of chugging guitars underpinning the trademark synth arpeggiator and off-kilter time signatures. Vocalist, Ross Jennings, delivers a darker and more menacing snarl than we’re used to yet unleashes a chorus that will stick in your head after one listen. More of the same follows on ‘Invasion’, with the soaring seven-string axes imitating a cluster of B52 missiles smashing into the Indian ocean. Djent-djent-gee. Djent-gee. Djent-djent-gee. You didn’t expect it in 4/4 timing, did you?

Like all bands at the top of their game, Haken strike a balance between keeping the die-hards happy and breaking new ground. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Carousel’, which will satiate the appetite of those hoping for a track as epic as ‘The Architect’ from their magnificent 2016 album, Affinity. You’ll hear shades of Daniel Johns from Silverchair (remember them?) at the beginning and marvel how they take us through a crushing tour de force of Tool, Fear Factory and Gojira. Yet underneath the metallic crunch are the subtle polyrhythms, Depeche Mode synth patterns and tempo changes that keep you guessing. Most singers would retreat into the background in awe, but Jennings widens his shoulders, puffs out his chest and takes to the mic stand with a stridency missing on previous albums. Haken never forget the essential ingredient of epic prog-metal – song-writing ability. They pass the test if we measure them by the memorable moments in the latest Caligula’s Horse record.

Which leads us to the second half of the album and the masterpiece, ‘Messiah Complex’, parts I to V. This is an album within an album, much like ‘Singularity’ on Devin Townsend’s Empath. And if they prove their credentials for writing economical hooks in the first half, they go all out technical wizardry on the reverse side. This is mind-boggling virtuosity on a par with Between The Buried And Me, Periphery and, of course, Dream Theater. And it’s heavy. My god, is it heavy?! Fans will enjoy identifying new incarnations of Vector songs that pop up in various guises throughout ‘A Glutton for Punishment’ and ‘The Sect’ and will salivate when they hear them work in a new interpretation of ‘Cockroach King’ in the epic, ‘Ectobius Rex’. Self-referential, yes, but indulgent? Not at all.

It’s impossible to find anything wrong with this record. We might lament that the music warrants an occasional foray into harsher vocals to match the monumental riffs and pounding drums. It’s true also that prog-metal has the best singers in the world in any genre. Compared to Spencer Sotelo (Periphery), Daniel Tompkins (Tesseract) and Einar Solberg (Leprous), Ross Jennings falls short but so do ninety-nine percent of all other vocalists. Only a fool would hold that against him.

Looking ahead to the future is what prog-metal does best and Haken remind us that Tool’s pedestal is not insurmountable. You’ll listen to this record as if searching for the secret to the meaning of life and will memorise every note after three spins. There is no doubt Virus is an instant classic and sets a new benchmark in musicianship. Any band that puts out a better effort in 2020 will win album of the year. Over to you, Tesseract

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/07/2029

Record Label: InsideOut Music

Standout tracks: Prosthetic, Carousel, Messiah Complex IV: The Sect

Suggested Further Listening: Tesseract – Altered State (2014), Tool – Lateralus (2001), Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan (2019)