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Haken: The Mountain

With their first two albums, Aquarius and Visions, The UK's Haken announced their arrival on the Prog scene in simply scintillating style. However I'd argue that with their third release The Mountain, this young act have truly found their voice and made the step beyond being merely excellent purveyors of old ideas and set formulas. This leaves a band completely setting their own agenda and ethos, using their influences merely as touching posts and pointers, rather than sound shapers. The use of the word "voice" is however no accident, with The Mountain not only repeating this band's stupendous musical ability to stunning effect, but for the first time on a Haken album, it is actually the intricate vocal arrangements and harmonies which set much of the agenda. Ross Jennings has always been a fine singer, but here acappella sections and a selection of more musically restrained passages allow his voice to come to the fore in quite wonderful style. Right from the off, short intro "The Path" where washes of strings and piano paint a melancholy picture, finds Jennings' intentionally fragile delivery raising the emotion. However the segue into "Atlas Stone" where the piano begins to build and lift, takes things a step further, allowing the music to burst forth in an uptempo, upbeat frame of mind, before layers of choral voices pave the way for the first truly strident riff and fret outbursts to run free. However again it is the vocals which take an already impressive piece and raise it further, with almost skat like noises dancing through the guitar work of Charles Griffiths and keyboard flashes of Diego Tejeida, while Richard Henshall adds more of both instruments to the mix. Jazzy interludes, brash riffola, flurries of notes, thunderous drums from Raymond Hearne and bombastic bass from Thomas MacLean triumph against and alongside each other and we are only an intro and one track old.

Then the acappella, which could rival anything Spock's Beard conjure, kicks in wonderfully for the clever lyric of "Cockroach King", a song which combines a more Prog Metal kick with a host of other influences to leave a song that flits between in your face and in your mind. This latter aspect is a main player across the whole album, with the variation in mood and approach within each song being a real strong point of what Haken have achieved here. Take "Falling Back To Earth" for example, where huge backing vocals smash into bullish guitars, which in themselves play against tightly wound clean guitar bursts and a keyboard line which swirls wildly one minute and washes with intent the next. All the while the drums careen across the melody, as the vocals (yes them again) rush from whispered atmospheric to wailing madness.

The whole album is blindingly technical, but the beauty of what has been crafted here is that The Mountain doesn't feel like an exercise in how to get the most notes out of any given instrument, or a challenge to keep up with the virtuosity on display. Whether full on assault, or gently trickling restraint, "As Death Embraces", "Because It's There", or "Somebody" are all the stronger for the way in which they combine moods and emotions. Every instrumentalist comes to the fore, but never too egotistical to take a big step back when the need arises. A skill seldom found in long standing experienced Prog musicians, never mind a young band on album number three.

Haken have arrived and The Mountain is the towering statement its name suggests.

Track Listing
1. The Path
2. Atlas Stone
3. Cockroach King
4. In Memoriam
5. Because It's There
6. Falling Back To Earth
7. As Death Embraces
8. Pareidolia
9. Somebody

Added: September 28th 2013
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Haken Online
Hits: 6889
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Haken: The Mountain
Posted by Scott Jessup, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-09-27 21:46:49
My Score:

With The Mountain Haken have now achieved a musical hat trick with three high calibre albums, this fine band is well poised to become a true leader in progressive circles. Haken isn't a group where you purchase their latest release hoping for something special as past experience dictates that Haken doesn't deliver anything less.

Just like prior albums Visions and Aquarius The Mountain's creative mixture of varying heaviness and challenging performances should not be overlooked by progressive metal fans. As while Haken's foundations are in progressive rock they do delve into progressive metal and sure they have also their influences as everyone does, Haken have still created their own sound. So with that sub genre running the risk of becoming less authentic as it is becoming saturated with those heavily influenced by groups like Dream Theater and Symphony X and so any band that changes that trend and offer something refreshing should be welcomed.

As good as The Mountain is I don't feel they have trumped their first two albums, but that being said as this is still a relatively new release it is early days and of course I have spent far more time getting acquainted with those previous releases. Haken sure didn't make it easy for themselves as it's not easy to improve on such quality, nonetheless Haken have matched those recordings with The Mountain another exceptional effort. The Mountain is an album loaded with cool ideas and will go down as one of 2013 most memorable releases, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone that welcomes genuine talent and Haken sure have that.

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