Review by Ben Skippy
With a sound that’s firmly placed in the category of “progressive metal,” Haken are a band that is often dismissed as just another Dream Theater clone. While that band and their peers have certainly influenced Haken’s music, these young Brits have always had a quirky element to their sound that separates them from the pack. With The Mountain, these Londoners have an album with which to step out of their forbear’s shadows.
2010’s Aquarius was an impressive debut, and The Mountain follows it up perfectly. Building on everything that was good about that album (and 2011’s Visions), Haken still have the guts to try something new. Taking a more emotional route than previous albums, particularly on tracks such as As Death Embraces and the closer, Somebody, the band are unafraid to tread a more melancholic path. That’s not to say they can’t rock as well, and Falling Back to Earth and Pareidolia have riffs that would make Pantera proud. However, for the most part it’s the softer moments that catch the attention, and the band often seem to have more in common with the likes of Anathema, rather than Dream Theater and Symphony X to who they are more often compared. Haken have their own sound however, and nowhere is that more obvious than on the third track, Cockroach King. Featuring an incredible swing-influenced hook layered over the jumpy keyboard sounds that are fast becoming a Haken trademark, this song is a standout track, with a tune that gets stuck in the head for days.
Lyrically, The Mountain is an incredibly personal affair, with the band ditching the over the top concepts that bound together their previous albums. While taking themes from the stories of Atlas and Icarus, amongst others, for the most part the album is much more down to earth, with themes of hardship, suffering and overcoming one’s own personal mountains, and as a whole hangs together very well. Singer Ross Jennings delivers an incredible performance, making every word believable. With the laidback tone restricting the virtuosity the band undoubtedly possess, Jennings takes centre stage for much of the album, and does not disappoint.
The album is not perfect however. Opener The Path is entirely forgettable, and Somebody, while a good track in its own right, fails to close the album with the necessary weight, leaving the listener feeling a bit short-changed. The album also suffers from an issue faced by many prog metal band -with the focus on the longer tracks it’s the shorter songs that suffer, with Because It’s There in particular feeling like little more than an interlude. On the whole however, The Mountain is a phenomenal achievement by a band just getting into their stride. With some incredibly proficient musicians and, in Ross Jennings, one of the best vocalists in Britain today, Haken are a band well on their way to achieving some incredible success in the prog metal genre. In future years, The Mountain may well be seen in the same light as the likes of Images and Words or Operation: Mindcrime.