Written by: Vattghern
Haken, oh Haken! Some VIP Tickets, Meet and Greets, lots of merch, and signed vinyl copies later, Haken has not only become a titan of modern prog, but also a friend through thick and thin for me. Despite my love for the Brits, after the release of their last studio album Vector and my corresponding praise for it, the band seemingly vanished from my playlists. Did I outgrow Haken? Did they outgrow me? All these questions crossed my mind when the band announced Vector’s spiritual successor Virus out of the blue and my inner fanboy didn’t move a muscle.
“New Haken single is meh,” I disappointingly declared in the lead up to the release, only to end up hitting play on “Invasion” every time I got a hold of my headphones. So, as it tends to do, the future proofed me wrong and answered my doubts with a big, fat “nah.” And after three midnight sessions of eagerly hitting refresh on Haken’s Spotify, only to find out the album has been delayed again, I finally got ahold of Virus. Since the past had proven that Haken ages like a fine wine for me, I’ve taken my appropriate time with it, which translates to about a week of nonstop listening. My verdict? Virus, while still awaiting the test of time, is not only the perfect second part to Vector, but also some of the band's finest work to date.
Musically and lyrically, the band begins where their last album ends, yet evolves their sound and story so that both albums are noticeably different. Vector tells the tale of Patient 21, who is committed to a mental hospital and is tortured by a power-hungry doctor, who ultimately turns him into a cockroach-human hybrid a la Frankenstein. So, while Vector is the Cockroach King’s origin story, Virus is his ascent to power and the subsequent fall. Fittingly, the first sounds sinister and gloomy, almost operatic, while the latter has a strong melancholic sense.
Focusing more on the music, Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths’ djentornado is as apparent as on Vector, and songs like “Prosthetic” and “Messiah Complex II” even up the ante on the low-string chugging. This approach pays off, acting as a well-balanced counterpart to the albums more melancholic moments such as “The Strain” or “Canary Yellow.” Some of these riffs run the risk of sounding dull, but the more time you spend with the heavier moments of Virus, the more you begin to appreciate their placing and hidden details. Carousel’s Karnivool-esque riff or the filthy breakdown at the start of “Messiah Complex V,” to name a few.
A constantly improving part of Haken has been the drum and bass department. On Virus, Ray Hearne and Conner Green not only have great chemistry, a prime example being the first minute or so of “Messiah Complex III” and “IV”, but also excel on their own. Especially Ray, who has evolved from rather cookie-cutter prog drums on the bands 2013 release The Mountain to his own, ambivalent style on Virus. The same can be said for vocalist Ross Jennings, who, no matter if whispering in staccato, singing his lungs out or rasping intensely, is delivering every emotion needed to hijack your brain’s pleasure center. Only Diego, who’s always a guarantee for quality synth noodling, takes a back seat, albeit due to the guitar heavy mix and songwriting. Nonetheless he is still the bands atmospheric backbone and some of the album’s juiciest moments, like Invasion’s pulsating synth or the dazzling transitions between “Messiah Complex Part I/II” and “III/IV”, are to his credit.
A rather subtle but nonetheless strong quality of Virus is its reoccurring references to older Haken work, be it lyrical, musical or in the liner notes of their physical releases. Visions, Aquarius, The Mountain, and obviously Vector, no stone is left unturned by the band. Searching for hidden symbols and Easter eggs in the physical release and deciphering the lyrical content that usually deals with broader topics like depression, abuse and other societal issues, while also being connected to a unique storyline that spans across multiple albums and characters, is honestly half the fun of Haken’s music for me.
At last, these proggy Brits have done it again and erased my doubts as fast as Rich can shred. Virus has proven that Haken have not lost their knack for being equally as catchy and singable as complex and intricate. Be it through the pervading melancholy embodied through Ross’s shapeshifting vocals, earworm-inducing choruses and random quirkiness or Between the Buried and Me-esque riff whirlwinds, Virus combines the best of the bands new and old style in an impressively compact package of 51 minutes. “Invasion” and “Carousel” are career highlights, “The Strain” and “Canary Yellow” see the band at their most depressive and melancholic yet, and “Messiah Complex” is an almost old-fashioned prog epos at its best. Its fifth part “Ectobius Rex” (which, who could’ve guessed it, translates to Cockroach King), is a masterclass in grandiose closers, bringing all motifs, both narratively and musically, together. I did not expect to love Virus as much as I do, and, even though it took some thorough listening, I can safely say that the rest of this year (if Cyberpunk 2077 won’t be delayed as often as Virus) will be drenched in yellow.
Haken - Virus was released July 24th from InsideOut Music
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!