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Haken: Affinity

The fourth full length release from progressive evolvers Haken arrives in the shape of Affinity, an album about the affinity we have with each other as a race, how our technology impacts on that both positively and negatively, and also how our circumstances, upbringing and peer groups can have an equally strong influence, if not more so. To be fair, there's actually much more going on than that behind the themes and as Haken always seem able to, the lyrics on Affinity are worth the time to sit down and digest whether backed by the stunning music they accompany, or not. Unlike many freshly released albums, the press release that fanfares the arrival of the latest Haken get's it spot on, the harsh slap of 80s aesthetics alluded to undoubtedly apparent. However two things need to be taken into account on top of that. Firstly that with an excellent mix and master courtesy of Jen Bogren, Affinity sounds as current, if not more so, than most prog, while secondly, whether looking to their 70s prog influences for a starting point, bringing the shiny pop edge that saw the genre flirt with the singles charts in the 80s, or indeed, getting a little djenty, as this album does for a few moments here and there, all of it sounds first and foremost like Haken. These are fine balancing acts I'm sure you'll agree, and yet whilst juggling with one hand, spinning a hoop on the other and playing keepie-up with their left foot, Haken somehow traverse a millimetre thin tight rope between prog, rock and metal. We've all heard of one man bands, however Haken would appear to be a six man band with so many tricks up their sleeves, they could be a one band circus!

The drama filled (and in more ways than one…) "1985" is as good a place as any to display these wares, thunderous guitars a la Tesseract, counterbalanced by pinging stabs of electro-synths and earth shattering drums. Add in swathes of luscious voice, riffs so big you'll need a tanker to ship them in and melodies that live long in the mind and Haken have it all. That they repeat the trick again and again could be seen as showing off and yet it isn't, this band always making sure that what they create engages emotionally before you realise how impressive it all is technically. "Lapse" surges with adrenalin fuelled precision, beats cascading, time changes thrown in with such ease you barely notice just how difficult it is to knock out a beat on your knees as you listen along; while "Earthrise" lives up to its evocative name, a hugely uplifting slap of 80s-ish vocals given bite through gritty guitars, yet levity through bright keys.

Really, as the cliché goes, dip in anywhere on Affinity and you'll find something to delight. However not to mention the fifteen minute plus "The Architect" would be remiss. In prog terms we're hardly talking the lengthiest piece ever committed to disc – hell, a quarter of an hour is a tea break for Transatlantic – however to prise in so many themes, so many twisting turns, so many emotional roller coasters, and to then make them all sound so utterly cohesive and vital, is rare indeed.

As with every release they've served up since their 2010 debut Aquarius, Haken have changed yet stayed the same as they explore new ground. All the while holding on to the core sound that has built their fanbase. However that they achieve all of this in such majestic fashion is what really sets them apart from so many others hoping to attempt the same.

See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!

Track Listing
1. affinity.exe
2. Initiate 

3. 1985 

4. Lapse
5. The Architect
6. Earthrise

7. Red Giant 

8. The Endless Knot
9. Bound By Gravity

Added: May 29th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Haken online
Hits: 2498
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Haken: Affinity
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2016-05-29 11:06:21
My Score:

Haken hail from London and burst onto the progressive rock scene in 2010 with their epic debut album Aquarius, eighty minutes of outstanding music that caught the progressive world on fire. Visions followed in 2011, maybe not quite as strong as the first but excellent nonetheless. The Mountain came next, released in 2013 and contains the fantastic "Cockroach King". Given the fact the band has released three outstanding discs in four years expectations were high for their brand new album Affinity, released on InsideOut Music. So what does the band do? They quite possibly have released their best album yet.

Before we get into the music an introduction of the band members is in order. The players are Ross Jennings (vocals), Diego Tejeida (keyboards, sound design), Richard Henshall (guitar), Charlie Griffiths (guitar), Conner Green (bass) and Ray Hearne (drums).

What struck me about Haken right from the get go was their ability to write complex song structures laced with a melodicism that only a few newer progressive bands have attained. Their quirky nature and dynamic tempos have given progressive music a shot in the arm which is exactly what the genre needed. What you can expect from their latest disc is more of the same outstanding songwriting and complexity, great rhythmic grooves and strong melodic lead vocals from Jennings who has quite a unique voice. I wouldn't say his vocals are dreamy but there is that quality about them that I find quite intoxicating.

The first track "Affinity.exe" is a short instrumental with cool effects and samples, a little Ayreonesque in places and leads directly into "Initiate" with its crisp beat and heavier guitar riffs. Mellower sections of moody ambience are followed by powerful staccato-like riffs. The sound has a fuzzy electronic vibe and the lead vocals are really catchy. "1985" opens with an excellent progressive metal riff progression recalling late '70s Rush. The heaviness calms down and is diverted to the background as the focus is on Jennings' lead vocals and cool echo effects. At times there is a robotic quality to his voice blending well with the keyboards and catchy rhythms. When the vocals stop the music gets heavier and the band really show their chops. The dynamics in this song are simply outstanding. "Lapse" begins in a gentle fashion and is a more straight forward track, very catchy with excellent keyboard and guitar solos that almost carry a hint of fusion.

The most mind blowing track has to be "The Architect", a fifteen plus minute epic that will keep you guessing all the way through. Moody keyboards, dense prog metal riffage, tricky changes and stellar lead vocals fill the soundscape. The music transitions from heavy prog to ambient soundscapes where the moodiness of this band comes full circle. For me the guest vocal appearance by Einar Solberg (Leprous) is the only misstep and a lost opportunity. I consider Solberg to have one of the best voices in progressive rock but here the focus is on his heavier style, a sort of half scream/half growl approach that doesn't work for me. It's a minor quibble that doesn't limit my enjoyment of what is an exceptional track.

The set also includes a second disc without the vocals so if you don't like Jennings' voice you can still enjoy some great music.

Haken have outdone themselves again and have released an album of pure progressive genius. If you already like the band buying this is a no brainer. If they are new to you I urge you to give this album a shot as bands like this are few and far between. An outstanding work of art!

Haken: Affinity
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2016-05-01 09:36:59
My Score:

UK prog act Haken have quickly climbed the genre ladder since their 2010 debut Aquarius, and now with their fourth full length Affinity (InsideOut) already soaking up plenty of praise, it's safe to say that the band are without a doubt one of the most exciting groups going today. Their mix of melodic prog rock, metal, and pop is nothing short of magnificent, and Affinity contains all the elements we've come to love from the band since their debut. Soaring hooks collide with stunning guitar & keyboard lines on "1985", "Initiate" dabbles in djent style aggression, "Lapse" is gorgeous pop, and "The Architect" is epic progressive metal with plenty of complexity to go along with memorable melodies. If that's not enough, the can't miss symphonic prog/pop of "Earthrise" is instantly engaging, and the futuristic crunch of "The Endless Knot" throws jazz-fusion, prog, and metal into the mix for a wild ride.

Along with the latest from Circus Maximus, Havoc, Affinity is one of 2016s must hear prog releases. Haken are on quite the roll folks, and this new CD is a remarkable achievement.

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