Progressieve rock/metal: rockmuziek gekenmerkt door lang uitgesponnen nummers vol tempo- en themawisselingen, complexe songstructuren, technisch hoogstaande instrumentale beheersing vaak gevat in conceptuele verhaallijnen. Nem, bij deze heb ik het nieuwe Haken album samengevat.
Ik had het genre ook kunnen omschrijven als muziek waarbij vooral de drummer - en deels ook de bassist - een even grote rol toebedeeld krijgen als de gitarist(en). Op Virus (2020) resulteerde dit regelmatig in het etaleren van technisch vernuft en werd als een de song vergeten. Laat me stellen dat dit op Fauna - op een uitzondering na - niet het geval is. Het beloofde artistieke regenwoud is een feit: de songs zijn rijk aan compositorische vondsten en bieden een breed kleurenpallet dat een regenboog benadert. Van lichte, poppy uitstappen die aan Yes uit de jaren tachtig doen denken (Nightingale, The Alphabet Of Me, Eyes Of Ebony, Elephants Never Forget) tot passages en riffs die aan Tool, zelfs Messugah, doen denken (Taurus, Sempiternal Beings), het geboden spectrum binnen prog is breed zodat het luisteren een waar genot wordt én blijft. Wanneer de heren dan toch eens te veel gaan noedelen, is er gelukkig de skip knop, al hoef ik die zelf eigenlijk maar één keer te gebruiken. Enige minpunt voor mij: ik ben nog steeds niet aan die lichte vocals.
Wanner ik mijn prog krachtig en in-my-face wil, dan kies ik voor Wheel en Animals As Leaders voor de complete brain melt. Wil ik meer finesse en de nodige luchtige passages, dan gaat mijn voorkeur naar Leprous ... en vanaf nu ook Haken.
Releasedatum: 3 maart 2023
If you’re talking about modern progressive rock and don’t bring up Haken, you’re doing it wrong. Since the south English sextet started jamming together in 2004, they’ve been one of their genre’s most loyal yet, simultaneously, adventurous forces. Every album they’ve released is distinct from all the rest, but they’re all tied together by their incalculable time signatures, fearless songwriting and majestic vocals – and, of course, their critical acclaim.
Haken’s 2010 debut, Aquarius, gave British prog a sorely needed lifeline. In establishing the band’s balance of mighty hooks, off-kilter riffs and flamboyant keyboard lines, it made them the most exciting and experimental sons of the genre’s homeland since Porcupine Tree emerged almost two decades prior. The next year’s Visions somehow pushed the melodies and scope even further, setting the stage for breakthrough The Mountain: an avant-garde behemoth that united the best traits of Gentle Giant, Metallica and Soft Machine in one swipe.
Since then, Haken have gleefully dabbled in ’80s synths on 2016’s Affinity, before the conceptual duo of Vector and Virus aggravated their heavy metal leanings to invigorating levels. How do you honour such an eclectic, unpredictable career? You make Fauna: Haken’s most genre-busting and conceptually fascinating album to date.
“The premise of the album when we started writing it was that every song would have an animal assigned to it,” explains singer and co-founder Ross Jennings. “They all have something related to the animal kingdom that we could write about, but they also connect to the human world. Each track has layers, and some of them are more obvious than others.”
“Conceptually, it reminds me of The Mountain,” adds guitarist and fellow founder Richard Henshall. “There, we had the idea of not really a narrative-based album, but more the concept of climbing a mountain and overcoming the obstacles along the way. Then we took that and thought about how it could relate to our everyday lives. All of Fauna’s animals relate to us, personally.”
A prime example is the titanic and heart-wrenching finale, Eyes Of Ebony. On one level, the track is about the near-extinct northern white rhinoceros: the last male died in captivity in March 2018. However, deeper than that, it’s also dedicated to Richard’s father, who died of a heart attack almost exactly three years later.
“I decided that it’d be cool to write a song about my dad, because he was very supportive,” the guitarist explains. “He used to send out demos way back, before we were big, sending them all around the world for free. He would burn the CDs himself and write the bio for us. It was quite an interesting concept for me that the northern white rhino just died and wouldn’t be coming back, and I saw how that related to me personally with my dad.”
Meanwhile, opening cut Taurus is about the migration of the wildebeest, during which more than a million of the antelopes traipse their way across the Serengeti Plains, and likens the destruction and displacement to the effects of the Russia–Ukraine war. Lovebite is more tongue in cheek. It comments on failed relationships using the metaphor of the black widow spider: the female of the species kills and devours the male after mating.
Musically, Fauna represents Haken at their most diverse. Taurus commences the album with its scraping heavy metal chords, as polyrhythmic as they are jagged. However, Ross’s melodic croon and the triumphant chorus are true Haken. Eyes Of Ebony is pure math rock, delicate in its start-stop clean guitar picking and chiming cymbals, while Island In The Clouds flaunts its bouncing bassline. The keyboard is front and centre throughout the album, emphasising the return of Peter Jones to the band following a fourteen-year absence. He originally amicably left to pursue his academic studies, but is now clearly a cornerstone of Fauna.
“What Pete’s brought sonically to the band has played a massive role in why we do have a lot of new sounds on this record,” says Ross. “It’s always a new dynamic when there’s a change in personnel, and this is a fresh and reviving one. It’s certainly helped proximity-wise, with Pete being in the country: Pete and Ray [Hearne, Haken’s drummer] would be at Rich’s place and they’d just start jamming. That’s really key to how the songs start.”
“We’ve known Pete since he was fifteen,” Richard adds. “He turned up at a rehearsal way back in the early days, and we were like: ‘How are you this good at playing piano at fifteen?!’ It’s really great to rekindle that musical relationship and also that friendship, and start sharing music with each other.”
Fauna’s fearlessness is also the result of Haken using the free time of the pandemic to rigorously perfect ideas. Songwriting began at the tail end of 2020 and didn’t conclude until February 2022, when the band rented a house in rural Surrey to finalise their lyrics. They subsequently recorded in their own personal studios after their US tour with fellow prog metal icons Symphony X, and commissioned Fauna’s dazzling artwork from Dan Goldsworthy. Previously, the painter’s done pieces for Sylosis and Corpsegrinder, as well as Haken guitarist Charlie Griffith’s solo album, Tiktaalika.
“He’s created the most epic piece of art,” Ross says. “There are countless creatures and loads and loads of easter eggs. It’s our most elaborate album art yet and it’s going to please a lot of prog lovers who collect records: that’s who we wanted to appeal to.”
It’s apt that such intricate artwork should adorn what’s easily Haken’s most intricate material to date. Eighteen years deep, they’re still evolving and keeping their fans on their toes. Is there any truer definition of what making progressive rock means than that?