by Aaron Gidney
Oft-heralded as the ‘new Dream Theater’, it’s hard to believe this is Haken’s sixth studio album in ten years, and eighth release if you’re counting the Restoration EP and the L-1VE releases. Straight off the back of a successful support slot on Devin Townsend’s European Tour, the band appear to be firing on all cylinders and are ready to step out of the shadows (perhaps sometimes fairly cast upon them following their stint as Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress band) and claim their rightful place as the UK’s premier Modern Progressive Metal band.
Following on from 2018’s Vector album, the aptly-titled Virus builds on the foundations of the past and continues to forge a hopefully long-lasting legacy of virtuosic, progressive metal that should appeal to both older-school Prog Metal fans brought up on Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and Dream Theater, and those newer fans of Modern Progressive Technical Metal like Periphery, Meshuggah, Tesseract and those with a penchant for down-tuned, headless, fan-fretted guitars. Haken manage to bridge both worlds with enough to please everybody on this album.
The fact that Devin Townsend chose them to accompany him on what was probably his most diverse piece of art yet (Empath, for those not yet acquainted), is a testament to the strength of this juggernaut of a band who are quickly establishing themselves as leaders and torchbearers of the scene.
Thematically inspired by the now classic live staple, The Cockroach King from 2013’s The Mountain, Haken musically and lyrically continue to explore the backstory – Drummer Ray Hearne reveals, “since releasing ‘The Mountain’ in 2013, one question has been asked of us time and time again, ‘who is the Cockroach King?’. This is something we were interested in exploring more deeply too, so we essentially did that through our music; elaborating and expanding upon the intervallic, harmonic, rhythmic and lyrical themes of that song. The end result is in an arcwhich spans across two albums: ‘Vector’ and ‘Virus‘”
Interestingly, the track lengths are more concise than previous albums (although 7 minutes longer than Vector), Haken are now honing their craft as songwriters which is always a sign of maturity from artists at the top of their game.
Haken are a band that wears their influences proudly on their sleeve and album opener, Prosthetic frenetically opens with a machine-gun riff perhaps betraying classic industrial metal influences (Fear Factory and DTP/SYL, anybody?), quickly utilising half-time breakdowns with contrapuntal keyboard mallets that work so well in the Prog Metal sphere.
Slower sections in tracks like Carousel and Canary Yellow offer a much needed opportunity to build a soundscape vibe – expanding these sections a little further may have given the music a chance to breathe a bit more and sonically expand amongst all the downtuned staccato riffs.
Messiah Complex is the album’s pièce de résistance, clocking in at a respectably ‘prog’ 17 minutes in length, weaving a web of melodic, yet rhythmically-diverse sections, helpfully sectioned off as separate tracks for those of us who might prefer each part of the epic in bitesize chunks. The Sect subtly reintroduces the opening vocal lines of The Cockroach King ensuring continuity of the theme the album was inspired by. There’s also clearly a play on a colour theme throughout, given two of the tracks are Canary Yellow and Marigold – neatly complimenting the striking, yet minimalist yellow artwork, echoing the simplicity of it’s counterpart album, Vector.
The musicianship is excellent as always – guitarists Rich Henshall and Charlie Griffiths have upped their game again and some of the solos are reminiscent in places of sorely-missed fusion king, Allan Holdsworth – offering beautiful, modal legato runs with tapped embellishments throughout. Clearly, the guest spot as Dev’s tour keyboardist has helped Diego Teijeda’s visibility as a true keyboard talent, although bringing him higher up in the mix may have fully taken advantage of that. When the keyboard is at the fore, it offers a wider sonic pallette and foil for the unrelenting guitar riffage which we’ll hopefully see develop further in future. The tightness of the rhythm section of Connor Greene and Raymond Hearne offers the kind of partnership that most bands would kill for and both do well to compliment the rhythmic, stuttery guitars and prove they equally as virtuosic as the two guitarists in sections within Messiah Complex. Vocalist, Ross Jennings really holds everything together here, following the rhythmic emphasis of each track where needed, and he is someone with a great ear for soaring melancholic melodies which never appear to weaken the songs – a sign of a top class vocalist.
Virus is a grower, and may not offer immediate gratification – it may take a while to fully absorb (or incubate if we’re continuing the virus theme), but it’s certainly a worthy addition to the quality Modern Progressive Metal canon that Haken are now regularly providing us for our aural enjoyment.
4. The Strain
5. Canary Yellow
6. Messiah Complex i: Ivory Tower
7. Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment
8. Messiah Complex iii: Marigold
9. Messiah Complex iv: The Sect
10. Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex
11. Only Stars
Ross Jennings – Vocals Charlie Griffiths – Guitar Rich Henshall – guitar & keys Diego Tejeida – keys
Conner Green – bass Raymond Hearne – drums