Haken - Visions
When I mentioned in my review of Haken's debut Aquarius that they were as much a product of their influences as they were anything else, I had anticipated a branching off from this into more of their own identity on future releases. Well, the future is now, and Visions is a masterful sophomore offering, avoiding the dreaded slump some bands experience by evolving their already strong suits of songwriting and instrumental prowess into a progressive metal album to rival any released this year.
As an introduction, "Premonition" is really quite effective, with a highly melodic passage seguing into a mid-paced chug overlayed with a tasteful blend of electric leads and symphonic keys stirring up the epic factor. Then it breaks into a funky, acid jazz-y freakout, quickly switching tempos and styles on the fly in a way the best of the progressive movement have always featured. "Nocturnal Conspiracy" is something to behold, 13 minutes that truly condences musical ideas that could have been fleshed out into half a dozen individual tracks. One particular I believe I failed to mention in my Aquarius review is the impact vocalist Ross Jennings has. Typically, vocals in a progressive metal band could easily be interjected into a tradtional power metal band. While Jennings does hit his high notes with aplomb and skill, his overall range and ability could suit a wide range of metal styles, and in a band such as Haken that is something you can't help but take note of. Unlike Aquarius, the band utilizes the middle of the album with a wider variety of shorter, more punchy tracks. Songs like "Insomnia", the softer, eloquent "The Mind's Eye", spiraling, profounding, Rush-esque "Portals", and album highlight "Shapeshifter" (featuring some of the coolest passages of the album in the intro and outro) offer glimpses at aband whose potential is really starting to reach the level of the genre's best. The title track, at 22 minutes, spans a wide and creative depth of moods and melodies, but almost comes off as forced and counterproductive after the band showed it's ability at condensing such ideas into smaller, more impacting lengths. Still, it has some fantastic moments.
And that pretty much sums up Visions; a series of fantastic moments, a progressive wonder in a time when the genre has certainly become a mockery of itself within certain circles. The more popular elements of metal are not sacrificed for the sake of style or substance, and instead remain the focal point of Haken's sound. The progressive elements serve as the elements of surprise, showing their ability to stand out of a crowd not for the sake of being different, but simply adhering to the band's collective creativity and ability to express it. This is an album that can and should turn heads, professionally written and executed. Visions has it where it counts, and may end up on a few year-end lists in the realm of progressive metal.
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