Haken - Virus

Haken Virus cover
InsideOut Music
Haken have become prog metal darlings and while up to a point, their work ethic is undeniable, as are their abilities, they might or might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some people put on tirades about how derivative of DT they might be on occasion, while others praise them to no end as if they are the best thing since sliced bread.
I suppose I might as well differ ever so slightly. Obviously, there are some parallels to draw to DT, but it’s not as if Haken don’t have their own character. They’ve even progressed a little within their own confines, as well as the genres by incorporating more djenty elements in the last couple of albums (this one inclusive).
The title of this album might be the most unfortunate thing about it, being released in the midst of the covid pandemic, but I guess them folks had little control over such things and I am all for artistic freedom, when in fact it doesn’t try to purposely be controversial. Here it’s all by accident.
What is however no happy accident is the band’s music that’s calculated in its often syncopated complexity. See in this quest for originality, the band tries to combine the “djenty/prog” spastic rhythms with more melodic and even alternative forms and while, it often works, it sometimes fall a little flat on its face. In trying to be forward thinking and bold while remaining accessible, the music becomes premeditated and predictable in its own right.
“Prosthetic” is an impressive enough opener with it callousness and rhythmical extravagance, underlined by some weird symphonic elements that permeate it. While it often seems a bit over the top, the smart melodies tend to keep it grounded enough for its own sake.
“Invasion” is way more melancholic sounding, but trying to be more theatrical and Theateresque, while catering to a more alt sound is a double edged sword, which seem to sear as much as it cuts down the defenses of the potential listener.
“Carousel” has some interesting dynamics, but overindulging in it’s over ten minute duration the band can’t keep it from sounding a little disjointed.
While the “Strain” has some sound bases, the bands own formula is at the same time its strength, as well as its downfall. Almost fated into interjecting any track at any point with a much techier part, just for the sake of it doesn’t seem to benefit them greatly.
“Canary Yellow” is the single of the album and it’s predictably an ultra-mellow take on what the band normally sounds like, just to attempt some lame stab at sounding commercial. It’s halfhearted and rather whiny, but I can see it’s use and purpose.
Things are a little better – (and I’m not sure if that’s the word I’m looking for) at least more – defined in the five part and nearly twenty minute long “Messiah Complex” suite.
As a supreme being myself, I kinda dig all that and like how it progresses from a rather introspective and melancholic intro (“Messiah Complex i: Ivory Tower”) to the sympho-djent-prog extragaganza of (“Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment”) that seems to fit the mission statement of the album. “Messiah Complex iii: Marigold” had me scratching my head, whether it refers to a female witcher character, a random girl or the kitchen utensils and while it begins like some 70s psych tune, it seems unable to change its fate and goes bonkers midway. “Messiah Complex iv: The Sect” seems polyphonic and rhythmical as funk with even a weird sax-like lead thrown in there, without measure. Oh and some 8-bit craziness and blastbeats, because why not...well. It’s kinda fun. Lastly, on part 5 – “Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex”, as it’s all roman numerals, because it looks more cool and stuff, things become more riff driven and metal for much of its duration, although there are some pretty neat melodies towards the end and none could deny the smart arrangements that manage to make it the glue that brings the whole suite together and to a rather satisfying end.
“Only Stars” on the other hand is almost as predictable as puke after a massive boozer, with its smalzy almost britpop melodic vocals. Yikes.
While it’s hard to look past the band’s technical ability, their songs are hit and miss and while he’s technically adept, Ross Jennings more often than not, doesn’t impress me much. Obviously, he’s much more tolerable to my ears than some other singers in the genre, but that’s a far cry from making him special.
Established fans will probably dig this album, while others might have a higher or lower tolerance to it, depending on how they like their overindulgence.