Round Table Review
Haken - Vector
Bryan Morey's Review
By now fans of Haken have come to expect a slightly different sound with each album. The changes were most noticeable on The Mountain and Affinity, with the former featuring a heavy 70s influence and the latter featuring an 80s influence. The change in sound on Vector is more subtle, and it doesn't really have any noticeable "throwback" sound. Vector is simultaneously heavier and spacier than any album they've released before. It is also their shortest album to date, unless you count the brilliant 34 minute Restoration EP.
In terms of the change in sound on this album, the closest reference I can make is Muse. Maybe that suggests a more contemporary change in sounds. While this album is much heavier than Muse has ever been (or likely ever will be), the instrumental opening, Clear, sounds like it could be on a Muse album. The similarity is uncanny. I can't really put my finger on what makes the rest of the album sound different from previous Haken material. Maybe it is just the fact that it is noticeably heavier. It has a much more intense feeling, as if you had The Mountain without softer songs like The Path, As Death Embraces, or Somebody. Since I really enjoy Haken's heavier output, this is a good thing to my ear.
As a word of warning, I will say that my initial reaction after listening to this album one or two times was "meh." It has taken me several listens to appreciate the intricacies of the album, but I'm pretty sure I could say the same thing about the first few times I heard The Mountain. I also seem to have that reaction with every Big Big Train album - and they're my favorite non-metal prog band. (Haken is my favorite prog-metal band.) Good progressive rock music usually takes multiple listens to truly appreciate what is happening musically and lyrically.
One of the biggest musical differences I have noticed on the album is Connor Green's bass. This is his second full album with the band, and it is good to hear him growing as a player. Anyone who has seen the band live can attest to how good a bassist Connor is. On Vector, his bass tone sounds a bit grittier, even in the quieter moments. With that said, I think I hear a nod to Discipline-era King Crimson for a split-second towards the beginning of Nil By Mouth. That song has the fantastic heavy guitar and drums to which Haken fans have become accustomed.
Going back to the Muse influence, I can hear a bit of a Matt Bellamy influence in Ross Jenning's vocals in the quieter parts of The Good Doctor and Host. The horns on Host give that particular song a slightly different sound than we might be used to from Haken, but it works well. Even though I'm hearing different influences, I still wholeheartedly believe this music is original and unique. Puzzle Box is a good example of that. It has the wacky time signatures and crazy drum patterns Haken fans are used to, as well as the much beloved vocal harmonies the band is now famous for. One of my few complaints about the album is that the harmonies are not done as much in this album as they are on The Mountain or on the song Crystallised. With that said, they still abound on the album in heavy and quiet areas, but they are not as prominent.
If I had to identify one issue with this album, it would be the length. I don't have a problem with shorter albums if the album is complete. Something seems missing with Vector. The way A Cell Divides closes the album leaves me wanting something more. The song doesn't end the album well. In fact, it builds up in such a way that I was left expecting another song. Considering how long Haken's albums have been, there really could have been one more song to close the album. Perhaps ending with Host (and placing A Cell Divides second to last) would have worked better since Host has a more natural tapered ending. Track listing really can make or break an album, or at least heavily influence how one feels once the album finishes.
Vector sees Haken move in slightly new directions while retaining the heavy metal and progressive musicality that they are known for. The changes are less drastic than those seen on previous albums, which could be a sign of the band settling in to their sound. While I think the album could benefit from another song to close the album, there are many moments throughout the album that keep me coming back.
The lyrics intrigue, as they always do on Haken albums, and the heavy nature of this album suggests that many of these songs will become fan favorites in upcoming live shows. While it has taken me several listens to appreciate Vector, it has been worth the time. Existing fans of the band will surely enjoy the album, since the band makes no major departures from what they do best. If you've given Haken a try and the band hasn't done anything for you, Vector likely won't change your mind. Nevertheless, the album is a strong addition to Haken's discography. While I wouldn't say it is their best, it is definitely a good album that I will return to frequently.
Geoff Feakes's Review
Formed in 2007, Haken won many fans with their excellent 2010 debut CD Aquarius which combined the complexity of Gentle Giant with the metal of Dream Theater. The 2011 follow-up Visions saw the band refining their sound but it was the third CD The Mountain released in 2013 that really set the prog world alight. An audacious album by any standards, it left many reviewers (including the DPRP round-table) almost running out of superlatives in its praise.
Following a well received EP Restoration (2014), the last full length studio album (2016) demonstrated Haken at the peak of their powers, earning a maximum rating of 10 from no less than three of the DPRP reviewers. Released earlier this year, their debut live CD/DVD appropriately titled L-1VE proved that they more than studio technicians, skillfully recreating the intricacies and dynamics of their music on stage.
Now comes the highly anticipated fifth studio album Vector (Haken were never a band to go overboard on album titles). Since the debut album there has been just one change in the line-up which remains the same as the last studio release. They are Ross Jennings (vocals), Charlie Griffiths (guitar), Richard Henshall (guitar, keyboards), Diego Tejeida (keyboards), Conner Green (bass) and Raymond Hearne (drums).
Haken are no strangers to concept albums and Vector follows that tradition with a psychological theme that's very much open to the listener's interpretation. Not to be taken too literally, each of the seven tracks is a self contained song (or in two instances, instrumental). Just shy of 45 minutes, it's also by far their shortest album to date.
The band were never shrinking violets when it comes to heavy riffs but Vector is more metal-orientated than any of its predecessors, especially Affinity. Abandoning the 70s classic-prog and 80s AOR-prog elements, they utilise all the contemporary tricks of the metal trade including heavy riffs, djent, staccato power chords, distortion, shredding solos, rapid bass lines and frantic drumming. Thankfully, Jennings's clean vocals do not succumb to the grunts, growls or histrionic posturing associated with the genre.
Following the short, but gothic grandeur of the opening instrumental Clear, the current single The Good Doctor proves to be a fitting ambassador for the album. With a solid choral hook, frantic instrumental leads and syncopated rhythms it also sits comfortably in Dream Theater territory.
Although Puzzle Box and Host differ in mood and tempo, the former fast and self assured, the latter slow and melancholic, they both build slowly to a choral crescendo. Puzzle Box exploits Jennings's multi tracked vocal whereas Host utilises keys to create a massed choral effect with an almost post rock ambiance. The closing song A Cell Divides creates a similar effect although this time Jennings repeats the chorus over amplified keyboard chords and distorted guitar.
The albums centerpiece is the near-13-minute Veil, which runs the full gamut of the metal canon. The vocals are restrained and harmonious one moment, strident and aggressive the next in a James Labrie vein. The frantic and dense instrumental arrangement is reminiscent of Frost* before coming to a dead stop around the midway point. A leisurely vocal sequence that recalls Blackfield paves the way for a call and response guitar shred fest before another abrupt stop to conclude. As long songs go, a disappointing effort.
The instrumental Nil By Mouth seems to pick-up from where Veil left off. Although thin on melody, the playing is again impressive and ridiculously fast with staccato, stop / start riffs and some particularly inventive drumming. It builds to another majestic peak against a backdrop of haunting keys before fading away.
Vector has many of the fine qualities we’ve come to expect from a Haken album. The musicianship is technically jaw dropping at times, taking complex time signatures and constant changes in meter comfortably in their stride. Guitar riffs, bass lines and drum fills are delivered with breathtaking speed and accuracy with keyboards often adding a sense of scale and grandeur (as in the opening track). Soloing on the other hand is surprisingly sparse with the lengthy Veil being a notable exception.
Ultimately however the intense, hard as nails sound and relentless riffing left me cold. This is not helped by the otherwise razor-sharp production (which Adam Getgood, former bassist with Periphery, had a hand in) which emphasises distorted guitar and machine gun rhythms. Thankfully, Jennings is in fine fine vocal form throughout and with little in the way of instrumental hooks, its his engaging singing that carries the melodies above the instrumental assault. And to be truthful, those melodies are not as memorable as they could be.
Raimond Fischbach's Review
"Justice for Ray" was the word of welcome among Haken fans when the band minus drummer Ray Hearne performed their dream-come-true-gigs in 2017: playing as Dream Theater replacement band in *Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress“. While on that mission, the band began developing the concept for _Vector_ and writing a good part of it. Being under the influence of Dream Theater's best music era, the the band wrote not only their own best album to date but also what could be named "the album Dream Theater never wrote".
The concept of Vector is about a psychiatrist’s patient in therapy and what’s going on in his mind. Hence the Rorschach ink experiment pattern as a cover art. It is the perfect musical playground that provides the broadest space available, and the guys fully use it.
They picked up their momentary influence of their teenage heroes, took it to its natural limits and broke all borders. The typical Haken trademarks got put in a Dream Theater way of things by exaggerating everything. Vector is way heavier than any previous Haken album, has an extremely fast pace, arcs very shortly spanned and a theatrical attitude that outdoes Aquarius by far. Yet, it is a miracle how they create such a theatrical moment that goes even beyond Dream Theater’s, but manage to never appear cheesy.
Maybe it’s because of all the quirky breaks and interludes that are sprayed all over the album, providing a Looney Tunes comic movie attitude to it. And while composing all this "mad professor in a man’s mind", they put in a huge amount of easter eggs: bits and pieces of their previous albums appear all over the entire duration, as if they want to test their fans. It sure won’t take long for the contest to appear, who’s got the most complete list of found eggs.
The album has so many notes to it and got them packed in so little time, that no-one will bother the untypical short duration of the album. Because the album barely leaves any space for the listener to breathe and it will take a very huge amount of spins until everything is fully explored. Only the song Host with its beautiful trumpet intro gives a little break before the grand finale. With Vector, Haken have truly set a new bar in melodic progressive metal and it sets them into spheres that are extremely hard to reach for any other artist in this specific sub-genre.
Interesting info for vinyl lovers: even though the album would fit on a single LP, it is pressed as a double album. That should provide some space for extra sonic quality by a broader spaced groove, and cross-talk reduced to absolute minimum due to the space within the groove spiral. Also a fan art Rorschach image is carved on side D on all releases.
Guille Palladino's Review
After having released their acclaimed album Affinity in 2016 and doing a subsequent successful tour and live album in Amsterdam, UK-based metal-proggers Haken are back with their new album Vector. It offers a wider and heavier approach. Well, we all know they are always looking for new musical and artistic challenges in order to keep their fans interested.
One of the most important things I can say about Haken is that they reached their own sound a few albums ago and have left behind the primal influence of Dream Theater in the same way other bands did too. This album is no exception. About this heavier approach, guitarist Charlie Griffiths explains: "We’ve always had a heavy influence, but it was obvious from the riffs that were naturally coming out of us early in the writing process that this would be a more metal album. These are some of the most riff-driven songs we’ve ever written."
Vector is the logical next step after being released such a wonderful album like Affinity, but stronger. It is hanging around the technical progressive metal sub-genre, with some similarities to bands like Textures and TesseracT but also Muse. Now we have more dense and difficult arrangements done by both Charlie Griffiths and Rich Henshall. Also more powerful riffs and rhythmic sections throughout the album, which remind me Dream Theater’s Metropolis 2 era. Also there are some kind of dark and slightly surreal tone around it.
This album is shorter than the previous ones, but with all the ingredients of a masterpiece. The band members show us their skills in composing and playing. We have Ross Jennings exploring new territories in his way of singing, reminding me of Muse’s Matt Bellamy, but it also has Raymond Hearne’s effort behind the drums resembling Mike Portnoy’s technique and style, but more precise, like clockwork.
Highlights are The Good Doctor and Veil, containing most of the influences mentioned above, but also Nil By Mouth, which is a great instrumental piece in which the band deploy all their skills and tricks into an intricate and powerful sonic sequence. Host is some kind of unusual progressive ballad accompanied with soft jazzy arrangements and a trumpet intro. A Cell Divides is the most easy-listening-to song, which sounds like Muse and closes this album in a magical way.
Vector is available as a limited edition 2CD mediabook (including an instrumental version of the album as bonus), standard jewel case, 180 grams gatefold 2LP vinyl edition (including the album on CD) and as a digital album.
In conclusion, I can say Haken did it again. We have another masterpiece. I strongly recommend it to all our readers as this is one of the best albums this year so far.