Haken supported by Bleeding Oath
Sunday, 1st July 2012
The Borderline, London, the UK
The Borderline struck me as an odd venue for a band with the cachet of Haken, but that may just be my own perception.
‘Classic Rock Presents Prog’ hosted the event as a ‘World Premiere’ of Visions played in its entirety, which indeed it was,
but The Borderline just seems a bit low-key for what was being branded as a prestige/unique gig.
If you haven’t been, it’s a dark, pokey affair with minimal facilities, dreadful toilets, horrible chairs, crap lights and a shockingly basic sound system.
Still, Haken were playing so who cares right? Not any of the audience that’s for sure.
I won’t tire of telling you, prog audiences are a wonderful thing.
There is no age restriction on tonight’s show with kids as young as 14 or 15 mixing with pensioners, the middle-aged and everyone in-between.
It’s encouraging, you know? The next generation of music lovers getting their rocks off while the old hands lurk gloomily in the background,
unable to let themselves go and have a good time, myself included.
I don’t even join in the ‘Everybody clap your hands’ moments.
So, I may not have much mojo left, but I can appreciate what’s going on around me and I love it.
The fun, party atmosphere is created by these youngsters and I am taken aback by the support act, Bleeding Oath because they are barely out of nappies themselves.
To be in the vernal grip of late puberty and so damn good at what they do is astonishing really.
They played a mixture of their own material and a cover of Mastodon’s ‘Blood Mountain’.
That was pretty lightweight but their own songs demonstrated a maturity way beyond their collective experiences.
Mashing up a blend of technical death metal in the vein of Textures or Emperor with the classic metal of Megadeth or Testament
via the progressive darkness of early Opeth, these fledglings have a remarkable grasp of songwriting and play together with power and purpose.
What they lack in presence they make up for in histrionics:
crushing breakdowns and unison moshing; gurning and grimacing like they are chewing unfathomably hot chillis; thrusting horns and clenched fists.
It’s all metal cliché but they are completely earnest, and I was exactly the same, but I never got to support Haken and I never got to play a guitar as well,
or write a song as good as these boys.
They introduced a couple of brand new songs to their set that strayed away from the punishing brutality of their
core sound into more progressive and melodic territory, one of which (the penultimate song whose name I don’t know) was very bold and very complex and very good.
I do hope they can see it out together in the rock and roll abattoir and develop a profile for themselves that will stay the blind executioner’s hand.
Whatever the case for Bleeding Oath as a prospect, and the potential lure of a more stable, secure life in accountancy or road surfacing,
there is massive potential on show here.
Yes, they may be as slack as my boxers and as silly as a dog on a skateboard, but their determination, talent and intent are evident.
They are genuinely thrilled to be here and I genuinely hope they go on to fulfil the promise of their green bones.
When Haken appear, they seem as giants in comparison. Men not boys, and my bewilderment is replaced by the certainty of facial hair.
With no ado and little ceremony, the five players, Charlie Griffiths (guitar), Richard Henshall (guitar and keys), Ray Hearne (drums),
Tom McClean (bass) and Diego Tejeida mount the stage and are straight into Premonition, the opening track of Visions.
Just as it can be exciting to not know what a band’s set will be, it’s possibly a little more enticing to know exactly where the set will go.
The uncertainty is removed and no one is shouting song titles in the vain and pointless hope that the band will suddenly change the set they’ve
rehearsed in deference to your strenuously bawled appeals.
Instead, Haken sail elegantly through the eight tracks with consummate skill and incredible detail.
There are even details that I haven’t heard and there are definitely some new arrangements of the solos and instrumental sequences.
Diego Tejeida is fantastic.
With a sound palette reduced by the economy of a live setting, he still sounds like a seraphic host and his solo moments sizzle with class.
His Latin influence on the live arrangements is clear with several sections resolving into samba, cha-cha-cha, rhumba and calypso.
Combined with the freaky carnival motifs that pepper the songs this makes for an uproarious rendition of the album.
With Nocturnal Conspiracy, Ross Jennings takes the stage and what a showman he is!
Not only is he a great singer live (and I have to be honest,
I did wonder if he could manage the vocal gymnastics the songs demand) but he leads the crowd along with his active involvement
and enjoyment of what the band are doing; stepping aside in the instrumental sections and dancing in the corner like a man possessed.
Having now seen them, I understand how the lead guitar work is divided and indeed the differences in style that Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths share,
such that I now think I could identify one’s solo from the other’s: Charlie is technical with sweeping runs and speed characterising his style,
whilst Richard is bending sustain and melody – they are both melt-your-face brilliant.
Tom Mclean is a captivating presence. His startlingly blond hair makes him hard to miss along with his beautiful (and huge) 6 string bass,
but it’s not just the visual impact of the man – he is a lake of beaming, grinning calm, exuding a combination of beatitude and concentration and boy,
can he play! Ray drums. Well. Very well.
I reviewed Visions with Basil and, though slight, I had my reservations.
I still have some reservations, but it has become one my most played albums of the last 10 months or so,
Seeing Haken perform it live makes me realise what an incredibly coherent piece of work it is.
It also makes me understand (perhaps) why Haken moved in the direction they did in its composition.
It makes them an altogether more serious proposition as songwriters and I hadn’t made that link until tonight.
Visions really is a superbly constructed piece of work. The clash of styles I missed from Aquarius is still there,
despite my inability to recognise it when I wrote the review, but they are consistent with the overall design,
making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, so to speak.
Having played the album out, the reception is fantastic and Haken love London.
Then, without any lollygagging, Ross asks do we want them to leave and come back, or should they just play more.
They just play more, and this is something I loved about seeing them, they play complex, involved,
progressive music but there is not a pretentious bone in their six bodies.
They are having so much fun it’s infectious and joyful to be in the room with them.
They are playful, relaxed and at home in this incredibly intimate venue and revelling in sharing their joy of what they do with us and this joy
is reflected in the sometimes barmy, sometimes thrilling music they create.
The encore included one the highlights of the night when a trumpet player and a trombonist join them onstage for a brief brass
interlude in Celestial Elixir and they are gone as quickly as they came.
There’s a regret here – not one that I care about anymore – I struggle to listen to prog metal.
Haken have so stolen the thunder of everyone else, so redefined the boundaries of the genre, that the rest are pale, wan things in comparison.
“O master! if you did but hear the pedlar at the door, you would never dance again after a tabor and pipe;
no, the bagpipe could not move you.
He sings several tunes faster than you'll tell money; he utters them as he had eaten ballads, and all men's ears grew to his tunes.”
As The Borderline empties, I am left wanting more. Play all night.
Play until tomorrow… (“PLAY STREAMS!” [“Shush now”]). But I must wait until they come back again - I will be there.
Either that or I must wait for the next album.
Whatever comes first, I am already pining for the next chapter in the Haken story.
Haken Official Website
DPRP's Review of Haken's "Aquarius"
DPRP's Review of Haken's "Visions"
Bleeding Oath Myspace