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'Aquarius' is the debut album from UK progressive rock/metallers Haken and the press blurb accompanying this release states they "are arguably the most exciting sound to emerge from the progressive movement." A quick glance at the band's own MySpace page reveals identical text thus I presume this is a self-proclamation and statement of confidence in such a claim. A little ambiguous though; do they mean the "most exciting sound to emerge" ever, or in more recent years? Considering their lineup features two members of fellow experimental proggers To-Mera, Richard Henshall and Tom MacLean (under the name Thomas here and playing bass rather than his primary instrument of guitar), either the former or latter case instantly undermines said band's status within the contemporary scene, for love or hate To-Mera, they have indubitably carved a niche for themselves in the metal genre that I would argue makes them able to claim they have one of the most exciting sounds to emerge in recent years. Well, having fully digested the music on 'Aquarius', Haken certainly have an exciting sound, in places, but whether you agree with their statement depends on your own subjective views of what constitutes "progressive" in music. I say this as Haken's compositional proclivities are more towards generic prog than genuine prog. Bands such as Ephel Duath, Solefald, Subterranean Masquerade, and Diablo Swing Orchestra have all produced genre-bending albums at some point in their careers that warrant the "genuine" prog label, whereas Haken edge more towards genericism. The seven songs that comprise 'Aquarius', of which the shortest clocks in at just under seven minutes and the longest nearly seventeen, are a fusion of some easily discernible influences so we have elements of Dream Theater, Genesis, IQ (all mentioned in the press release) along with other disparate parts in particular tracks such as when they tread doom/death ground in 'Streams'. Generally, at the core of each song, there's some adeptly composed music but where I lose interest is when they obviously feel the need to exercise their virtuosic abilities and stray from a track's grounding in a sonically stilted manner, just as Dream Theater have been guilty of for years. It's almost as if they have a sudden realisation that "oh yes, we're a prog band, let's bung in some keyboard/guitar arpeggio harmonies in a weird time signature". Katatonia, The Ocean, Riverside and Wolverine are all bands who manage to balance aural accessibility with progressive experimentation, but when those two elements are not well blended, as with Haken, they are audibly at odds with each other, leaving the listener (well, at least me) distanced from the music. With all that said, there is still some fine music on offer here, and I know there's a whole bunch of takers out there who will lap up Haken's approach to "progressive" music. For me though, I don't like being 'distanced' from a song when my ears are bombarded by protrusive generic virtuosity. If Haken can craft a better fusion of their stylistic heterogenity then they might very well become the "most exciting sound to emerge from the modern progressive movement". Not at the moment though. They've a way to go yet.
Review by Mark Holmes
12th April 2010
1) The Point of No Return
2) Streams
3) Aquarium
4) Eternal Rain
5) Drowning in the Flood
6) Sun
7) Celestial Elixir
"If Haken can craft a better fusion of their stylistic heterogeneity then they might very well become the "most exciting sound to emerge from the modern progressive movement". Not at the moment though. They've a way to go yet."