Well, it’s out. The release I’ve been just waiting to submerge myself into is here.
Haken went from being a band I didn’t know or care about to being one of my all-time favorite bands when they dropped 2013’s phenomenal release The Mountain, a brilliant, integrated work of art where various subtleties come together to form a satisfying whole greater than its parts. (I’ve already done an analysis of this album back in 2014, so I wouldn’t be talking too much about all that here.) In 2014, Haken released Restoration, and EP with three songs. While it didn’t have the conceptual satisfaction of The Mountain, it was still some fine work, especially the 19+ minute behemoth Crystallised.
So how does Affinity, their much-anticipated fourth release, compare?
It’s… different. Haken, through this album, has shown its fans that its sound has evolved. It has progressed. Instead of repeating the same formula used for The Mountain, this album takes more risks, introduces more concepts, plays with more tunes and influences, and ultimately showcases the experimental spirit of the current Haken.
affinity.exe provides the grim, futuristic opening for the album, and it flows quite well into the first proper track (and the album’s first single) Initiate. When it first came out, people were comparing the style to Leprous, and I could see why. That being said, it still retains the familiar Haken flavor. Continuing the mood from the opening, I thought that perhaps this album as a whole would be darker than their previous work. 1985 is undeniably reminiscent of Dream Theater (especially their early work), and the future shifts to past with this song, a long, groovy one. Lapse is kind of like a filler between two long songs, but it’s an enjoyable listen. Reminiscent of Scale the Summit this time, except it actually has vocals.
The Architect the longest piece on the album, being longer than any song on their previous full-length, and I’m pretty sure they had really good fun recording this one. Combining all other influences, and mixing it in with their masterful songwriting and instrumentation, The Architect is one of the highlights of this album. The sheer quantity of ideas explored is breathtaking, from Leprous-like tunes to Black Metal riffs to the calm melancholy of Falling Back to Earth to the trademark circus vibes of the early Haken (see The Point of No Return from Aquarius). All of this culminates in perhaps one of the grandest, most satisfying choruses there can be, and perhaps this is omething that only Haken can pull off with such success. This song reminds us that Haken is the hero of the modern progressive music scene, the icon and the staple for years to come, representing everything great about prog and perfecting the little tit-bits of the genre in their own unique way. One of the finest songs I’ve heard all year, and a stunning centerpiece even for this band.
The second half kicks off with Earthrise, a happy song that starts off with post-rock/shoegaze vibes, and continues with an uplifting guitar riff, catchy vocals, and a booming chorus. The second verse experiments more with the meters and rhythms, and again Haken shows how capable and versatile they are. With Red Giant, the journey brings us from futuristic tech to the vast expanse of space. Containing little of the grandeur of the previous few songs, this one stays calm and quiet, until towards the end, where the slowness and somewhat repetitiveness becomes worth it.
The Endless Knot is the second single off the album, and honestly, it’s one of the highlights. Perhaps the best song I’ve heard all year, The Endless Knot combines the extreme talent of Haken with a vast array of inspirations spanning various genres, even those outside Metal and Rock. Whether it be Jazz or Electronic or arguably even Pop, this song is a masterwork, a truly progressive escapade. Booming instruments combined with the fantastic production ensure that the interest of the listener is never lost. I feel some form of continuous pleasure from this song, as this song is just continuously fantastic, juggling everything I love about music in general. And also omg those lyrics are amazing.
“We need a story to believe in,
We need a hero to prevail,
We need a challenge we can overcome,
It takes a tragedy to make us one”
Bound by Gravity is a soft song that progresses from the outer realms of space and time back to Earth in light speed, zooming through the universe and relishing every occurrence of hydrostatic equilibrium witnessed. Such a great album requires a proper conclusion, and Haken delivers.
Honestly, I cannot really say anything bad about the album. But how does it compare? Well, I don’t really know what to say. There are still many things left for me to analyze and appreciate, and from a few listens, I have already picked out the clues to solve a new conceptual puzzle (heheheh some pareidolia right there if you know what I mean), so hey, I can’t really make it compare now, can I. But purely, musically, this is a risk that paid off. Affinity is sure to please fans of their newer work, fans of their older work, fans of other bands, fans of prog, and fans of music in general, even. This is a phenomenal achievement in prog this year, and I can’t really give it enough praise.
‘Til next post.
Rating: 5 / 5
Revised Rating (Sept 2017): 3.5/5