ProgArchives) I come onto Haken and the number two album of the year (when I saw the list, it is always updating, and they are in fact number one at the time of this writing), Aquarius. The album, and thereby the band (as this is their first release), is a really well put together semi-symphonic, progressive metal release. It is filled with powerful vocals, mostly clean but able to growl or reach guttural tones when needed, there is a heavy piano hand present throughout, being more of the central focus point then any other instrument. The guitars and bass - while present - seem to play a lesser role then most rock/metal albums, subbing in keyboards and strings for the majority of the moving melodies. It brings an interesting view and twist of the prog genre, that in itself is something, to bring a example of a genre that is almost defined by it's individuality of bands and albums.
The songs are long - all over six minutes, and over half of the album's tracks are ten plus - but you wouldn't know it without either careful study or looking at the track times themselves. The songs shift style, tempo and overall feel constantly throughout these epic-length tracks, letting your mind fall into their story and scope. Often, I would notice one of the ten minute tracks almost at the conclusion, wondering where the last five minutes went. It could be that I was not paying enough attention (I was writing at the time), but I think it more along the lines of my brain being massaged by the waves of sound assaulting it, luring it into a sense of security which lets time move more freely through it (whoa, string-theory here folks). Or maybe I'm talking out my ass. Whatever the case, I like it!
The styles vary between songs as well, with the first song, "The Point Of No Return," sounding like a modern prog piece, followed immediately by "Streams" which, aside from a guttural/death metal-like vocal breakdown in the middle, sounds like something out of the 80s popular rock scene, all the time keeping a heavy or metal edge. The album debates these two styles for a bit, until "Eternal Rain," which is filled with sudden time signature and tempo changes, with the music accompanying the shifts. Newcomers to prog will find this song a bit hard to listen to, as some of the progressions seem to assail the ears. But then just two songs later, a beautiful and melodic track, "Sun," greets the listener with open arms and a warm smile. This song comes off a bit psychedelic, with flowing melodies and layered choruses meandering through a central story. A quite nice and unexpected chapter of Aquarius, followed directly by "Celestial Elixir," which begins with a polka/carnival beat for the first minute or two before going into a keyboard and guitar back-and-forth. It's something else.
The shorter tracks are less 'progressive' sounding then the longer ones, not that they aren't filled to the brim with progressive sounds and passages, it just seems a bit toned down. Actually, it feels as if they tried to jam more sounds into their shorter tracks, to make up for the missing minutes. These songs are a lot more abrupt in their transitions, and much quicker tempo overall. While these songs are just as skilled at their counterparts, I find myself missing the evolution of song that Aquarius seems to revel in, especially in the almost-eleven minute opus'.
There is no doubt that Haken puts out some great progressive metal, and deserves to be on the ProgArchives' list for the best of 2010, but I find myself missing the uniqueness of my first Weekly Dose of Prog's subject; Ciccada (now knocked down from number three to the lowly number seven spot). Aquarius, filled with it's epic songs and some really crazy stylistic pairings, was a joy to listen to, and is by far more metal; their music hits upon more themes and genres then anything I have heard by Ciccada, but I think it misses the boat that A Child In The Mirror is on. Still an amazing release, and definitely one of the best modern progressive pieces I have yet heard (I am working on hearing others). A must have for any fan of progressive music.