As you may or may not recall, Haken’s 2016 masterpiece Affinity was our Progressive Album of the Year, and it was my personal number two album. So naturally I’ve had this date on my calendar since the band let us all know about Vector, their fifth album.
Having established themselves as the preeminent progressive rock band of the decade, Affinity saw the band take a couple of tracks in a slightly heavier direction, and that tendency comes to full fruition here. A brief intro opens Vector in dark, foreboding fashion, hinting at what is to come, but the first full track, “The Good Doctor,” could easily have fit on the previous album, right down to the electronic drum fills. It’s a solid song which introduces the album’s concept: that of a catatonic patient and his memories/delusions.
After the short, succinct “The Good Doctor,” we jump right into the meat of the album, with intricate – and at times massive – cuts “Puzzle Box” and “Veil,” both fantastic numbers which perfectly illustrate how Haken have managed to amp up the metallic nature of these compositions without compromising their trademark deft, delicate touch.
“Puzzle Box” features wonderful dynamics. A gritty bass pounds in perfect time with the drums, and delicate keyboard patches back Ross Jennings’ outstanding tenor. As the song progresses it gets heavier and more guitar-centric. Vector is an album written with riffs as central themes, and a conscious decision to move into heavier realms. While Haken have had heavy moments on previous albums, Vector is their heaviest overall record to date – a full-on progressive metal gem by one of progressive rock’s most outstanding bands – and “Puzzle Box” is a great example.
“Veil” is a prog metal epic, 12 minutes long, and pushes the dynamics of “Puzzle Box” to another level, with even heavier moments mixed with ever more introspective moments, including a very quiet interlude in the middle. The end of the song features an excellent back-and-forth duel between guitars and keyboards as well as some massively heavy riffing.
“Nil by Mouth” is a complex instrumental piece that shows Haken’s musical capabilities in spades, chock full of finesse, complexity, and djent-y syncopation. Honestly, these guys can hang with any other progressive or technical act on the planet, and “Nil by Mouth” perfectly illustrates that.
Haken produced Vector themselves, and Adam Getwood (Periphery, Devin Townsend Project) assisted with the mix. As one would expect, the music and vocals sound amazing, all aggressively pushed to the fore at the right moments. Diehard fans will want to dig deep into the lyrics as well: there are a number of references to older albums.
Climactic finale “A Cell Divides” brings everything together, building to a memorable finale. The chorus goes “It’s the beauty in the flaw, the grace of imperfection.” For Haken, nothing could be farther from the truth. Vector is close to flawless, brimming with graceful yet heavy perfection, and will go down as one of the year’s best progressive releases.
(released October 26, 2018 on InsideOut Music)
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Watch Haken – “Puzzle Box” Video