Haken – Vector
Haken – Vector
When Dream Theater changed label to InsideOutMusic, they became label mates with bands such as Leprous, Haken and Caligula’s Horse. These bands represent much of the current, modern state of progressive metal – a genre Dream Theater themselves pretty much pioneered. It’s only natural that bands such as Haken owe a lot to Dream Theater. But they’re also interesting to the common Dream Theater fan, as they represent a lot of the same elements that Dream Theater has – virtuosic music skills, a balanced mix of progressive music, modern metal, poppish sounds, melodic rock and a sheer disregard of genre boundaries. Their previous albums have drawn influences from all over the place – Gentle Giant was prominent in the epic The Cockroach King, 1985 extracted a lot of the 80’s soundtrack stylings of Vince DiCola, and Aquarius drew heavily on the Dream Theater influences. It’s also telling that they’ve established great contact with Dream Theater itself – Jordan Rudess has often shown support for Haken, and Mike Portnoy appeared on a Haken song (albeit for only a second) – and when it came time for Mike Portnoy to pay tribute to his 50th year on this planet by playing Dream Theater songs he wrote (such as the AA-suite), he used the members of Haken to create the backing band for his Shattered Fortress tour. That tour also became a source for inspiration for the band Haken, as they used the tour to start thinking about their next album, writing riffs and songs in the downtime between concerts. The result; a concept album called Vector.
I’m not going to go into the story itself, as I believe part of the fun of listening to a concept album is deciphering and interpreting the story yourself. In broad terms, it’s about a patient at a mental institution, who under duress of electroshock therapy has experiences of dreams or delusions. There’s a lot of hints and references to Hakens back catalogue. Now, this may not be a strictly ordinary concept album – the songs can exist just fine without knowing the story or hearing them in context with the story, but then again this is nothing new for Haken. Many of their previous albums have had loose concepts attached to them, and the band enjoys leaving much of the interpretation up to the listeners themselves.
Now, the conspiracy theorists in us might see a lot of strange things here. The album is being released on October 26th. That’s the same date that Dream Theater released Scenes from A Memory. The twelve-step-suite which made up the bulk of the Shattered Fortress tour started on the next album, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. A thematic album that focused on mental battles people go through, be it addiction, religious faith, political thoughts, spirituality or specifically the titular song; mental illness. But; this is just coincidence, I think.
The album starts with a great intro-track; Clear. It basically sounds like the soundtrack to a scary movie. It brings forth images of crazy inventors/professors like Frankenstein, at the same time as it sounds a bit like the classic 80’s synth music that horror films often had.
Then we go called The Good Doctor. This was the first song released, and it fits really well as a single. It’s got a nice hook for a chorus, and it also serves as a nice connection from the sound of the Affinity album. It feels like a natural continuation or evolution of what Affinity was. Running under just about 4 minutes, it manages to fit a LOT of different things within the song. There’s some cool brass sections here, something we’ll hear later in the album as well. What is striking, is how riff-driven this is. It’s not focused on soloing at all.
From there it goes to the song Puzzle Box, the second released song. Now the heaviness of this album starts to strike me. This album is much denser than the previous Haken albums. It’s driven by riffs and melodies, and for that reason it feels more sonically dense and busy. I understand why they kept the album length short – it may have been overwhelming to keep this intensity up for 70 minutes. It’s technically complex, with a lot of complex time signatures, rhythms, and with a lot of layers to dig through to discover what’s really going on in the music. In the middle of the song there’s a longer, calm section with some programmed rhythms (courtesy of original keyboardist Peter Jones, if I’m not mistaken) – but make no mistake, this is just calm before the storm before even an even heavier onslaught of riffs take over. And lots of great harmonies on the vocals.
Veil starts calmly with piano and multipart vocal harmonies. But it soon returns to the heaviness, with some damn cool riffs.This track is huge, with gigantic, mounstrous riffs both on the guitars and the keyboards that drive the song forward. It feels a lot like they’ve taken the inspiration from the Shattered Fortress tour and focused it into this song, because it feels similar to Glass Prison / This Dying Soul – just added a few bits of Tool and of course put through a Haken filter. This is also the song with trading solos between guitars and keyboards. It’s a very good song, and Dream Theater fans will feel right at home with this song. In the middle there’s this fantastic jazz-type breakdown, and a fantastic slower section with some great atmosphere and vocal harmonies. Before ending the song as heavy as possible – awesome riffs, awesome song.
Nil By Mouth is the instrumental on the album (clever title, right). Starting with an arpeggiated synth riff, but soon enters a very djenty guitar/drum riff that just beats you down with the onslaught. But it evolves, and becomes much more. It takes on a melodic nature, and constantly changes up the flow of the song with complex rhythms, melodies and calm breaks. It feels like a story is being told through the evolution of the riffs. And it leads into a great climax.
Host is a welcome break after the insanity that precedes it. It starts with some electronic piano and trumpet. Calm, and quiet. Simply put beautiful. Clean guitars, calm singing, calm drums. It’s a beautiful song, with a natural, slow evolution bring up the volume and loudness of the song towards a very satisfying climax. In my ears, the most pleasing song on this album.
But if the previous song was starting out calm, this song does the complete opposite. A complex riff opens the song, but quickly gives way to a vocal-driven track with bass, clean guitar, and drums being very up front. The chorus is my favourite part on this album, and the multi-layered harmonies they add to it throughout the song are just perfect. Of course, this track also shows that Haken has been inspired by their touring mates Leprous, as it seems that some of the DNA of Leprous has rubbed off on this track. Not that that is bad at all, I think it’s only natural that people are inspired by eachother.
Vector is a short, but very sweet album. I liked it a lot, and it feels like a very worthy successor to Affinity. As a Dream Theater fan, you should absolutely get this album.
Release Date: October 26th 2018
In the contemporary era of progressive music, there are few bands who can claim to be as innovative, creative and restively dynamic as Haken. Since their inception in 2007, they’ve shown over four previous studio albums, one EP and a live release that they never stand still, merely satisfied to rely on past triumphs. Rather, Haken always look for ways to challenge themselves as musicians and artists, and also to keep the listeners on their collective toes.
“We don’t like to make simple music,” laughs vocalist Ross Jennings. “We always aim to defy expectations, and I believe we’ve surpassed what we aimed to achieve with our new album.”
Their fifth studio record sees the band going in a heavier direction with the music. “We’ve always had a heavy influence”, explains guitarist Charlie Griffiths, “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.”
“This is something we have been thinking about doing for a while now,” adds keyboard player Diego Tejeida. “We had a couple of heavier tracks on our last album, ‘Affinity’ (2016). And they went down really well. At the end of last year, once we had finished touring, we all felt it was time to go in that direction and embrace a heavier stance.”
Jennings gives praise to his bandmates for the way the music on the new album was developed. “It’salways a huge puzzle at the beginning. Charlie (Guitars) seems to have an endless library of original riffs up his sleeve ready to be developed. Bassist, Conner and Rich (Guitars) started writing initial ideas in hotel rooms while we were on the road performing with Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress, and Diego came up with 2 fantastic compositions which we all got really excited about and developed.
“Once we had the musical style worked out, it made it a lot easier for us to write the songs,” says Tejeida. “We were all focused on where this album should take us, and had a unified sense of direction. And, as has been the case since ‘Affinity’, all of us contributed to the writing side of things.”
But if this album, titled ‘Vector’, is musically heavy, then there’s an underlying theme running through the seven songs which is certainly esoteric and fascinating.
“The scene is set with the track The Good Doctor, which was a really fun song. Musically it feels like a logical step from ‘Affinity’, but lyrically it’s a bit more theatrical and about as ‘rock opera’ as Haken has ever got”, explains Griffiths. It’s about a Doctor with an intriguing, perhaps sinister interest in a particular patient. From there the story enters the point-of-view of the patient – who appears to be catatonic, but his mind is sparking with what could be memories, or delusions brought on by the treatment he’s receiving – we leave this up to the listeners to decide. Although we don’t want to give too much away, listeners who are familiar with our back catalogue will have fun discovering further clues we’ve planted throughout the album”.
Griffiths also sheds some light on the significance of the album’s title. “There were various meanings of the word ‘Vector’ that seemed to fit the type of album we wanted to make, as well as the letters themselves having a nice connection, which might make more sense in the future. I’d say the biological meaning is the one most relevant to the story arc of the album.”
Jennings continues to offer some added insight to the lyrical concept. “We’ve drawn inspiration from various sources. Cinematically we talked about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, Bronson and A Clockwork Orange for that dark and slightly surreal, dreamlike tone. Also the early to mid-20th century psychological studies carried out by the likes of Stanley Milgram, B.F. Skinner and of course Hermann Rorschach were a big part of it.”
Tejeida reveals that he has long had an abiding passion for Psychoanalysis. “If I hadn’t become a musician, then there’s every chance that I would have become a Psychoanalyst. I have been interested for a long time in the whole concept of the human mind. The way in which the unconscious can be brought into the conscious. I did draw on my own experiences while undergoing psychoanalysis for the lyrics which I wrote, although, as is always the case with us, this is mixed with fiction. And the line between reality and fantasy is deliberately blurred.
“I have personally found being in analysis to be very beneficial. It’s a big taboo for some people, and I have been asked why I do it. But I love what it has done for me. It’s a voyage of discovery, which is sorevealing.”
As Tejeida suggests, the band have used such devices to bring to the fore their own life experiences, although you will have to dig deep to discover exactly what these might be. However, that has always been the Haken method: offer clues, but leave people to solve these for themselves.
They began the recording process in late May this year, and had this aspect of making the album finished by the end of June.
“The drums were tracked in London,” says Jennings. “But these days we are something of a transatlantic band. Diego lives in Mexico (close to Mexico City) and Conner is in Indiana, so a lot of the process was done through exchanging music files over the internet. The vocals were done at Diego’s home studio, which was perfect for what we needed and provided a relaxed environment for me to focus on theperformance”
All the musical adventures and notions were coalesced by Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood. Formerly bassist with Periphery, in the last couple of years he has built a reputation as a fine producer.
“We produced the album ourselves, as we always do,” insists Jennings. “But we’re fans of what Adam has done with Periphery, Sikth and Devin Townsend. He has a great reputation for the heavier end of ourgenre”.
“We contacted Adam and asked him to work with us very early in the album process,” explains Tejeida.“It was even before we had done demos for the songs.
“I’d known Adam for a few years and I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time” adds Griffiths. “Itbecame obvious to me that his expertise would be perfect for the music we were writing. With him being UK based we were really able to dig into the drum and guitar tones to a level we haven’t been able to before; he was very hands on in that respect and was very much interested in realising the sounds we had in mind, it was a lot of fun.”
The Rorschach inspired album cover again fits in to the whole psychological theme. “I approached our long-time collaborators Blacklake Design about creating an ink-blot album cover”, explains Griffiths “I felt that it was important that it was created randomly and not be designed. Within a few hours Mark had sent back around 20 that he’d made using real ink and paper. We picked the one you see, that seemed to have the right attitude for the music.”
“The great thing about having this as a cover is you might think you know what it’s supposed to be, but it’s not necessarily true for the way others see it,” says Tejeida. “It’s all in your own mind.”
And this is far from being a self-contained concept. The band have deliberately left it rather open ended.“This might be a starting point for something in the future,” reveals Tejeida enigmatically. “Who knows?” “The way it’s been set up, we can always return to this theme in the future,” concludes Jennings. “Butwhat we have done here is leave it to others to decide for themselves where it’s all going, and how it ends. That’s what Haken have always been about. By taking this approach, we ensure that what we do means different things to different people. And that’s the challenge for the fans – to find out for themselves their own meaning for ‘Vector’ as an album.”
Malcolm Dome London, July 2018
Available as Ltd. 2CD Mediabook (incl. instrumental versions of the album as bonus), Standard Jewel Case, 180g Gatefold 2 LP Vinyl Edition (incl. the album on CD) and as Digital Album
Haken – Vector (49:19)
- Clear (01:57)
- The Good Doctor (03:58)
- Puzzle Box (07:45)
- Veil (12:41)
- Nil By Mouth (07:11)
- Host (06:47)
- A Cell Divides (05:00)
Ross Jennings – Vocals
Charlie Griffiths – Guitar
Rich Henshall – guitar & keys
Diego Tejeida – keys
Conner Green – bass
Raymond Hearne – drums
Enter the 5th Dimension (2007 Demo) Aquarius (2010)
The Mountain (2013)
Restoration (EP) (2014) Affinity (2016)