2016 has been an interesting year for music and especially progressive music.
Some fantastic albums have been released this year in the progressive realm but what fans of progressive music were anxiously waiting for was Haken’s 5th full-length release titled Affinity.
Affinity held a lot of high expectations because this album is a continuation of their musical creativity after their highly acclaimed and successful album The Mountain.
The Mountain gained Haken a whole new level of recognition and pretty much gave them the title of being the future torchbearers for Progressive Rock/Metal.
Affinity was released on April 29th, 2016 but the question remains, did the album live up to the hype?
Track 1- Affinity.exe:
This track is an intro leading to the second track. We have some sampled computerized sounds, some sounds similar to the days of owning those 56k modems in the early 90s. My impression is that Affinity.exe is a kind of software that is launching in to a story or a sea of stories and memoirs.
It gives the old-school 70s and 80s vibe from the get go and that is more than obvious when we look at the retro album cover of Affinity.
Track 2- Initiate:
Affinity.exe builds in to initiate; this track was the first taste that we got off of Affinity in the form of a single and video a few months back. Technically this is the first song on the album and the moment you get in to it you realize that it’s Haken but a very different Haken from the one we heard on their previous full-length release.
The first thing that a lot of listeners noticed was the similarities to the sound of the band Leprous. I frankly don’t see that as a negative thing because Leprous are definitely one of the most innovative and original bands in the world of Progressive music today. The Norwegian progressive metal band has put their own original stamp and has a huge fan base that admires them. If anything I truly believe that a band like Haken giving a nod to Leprous on this track shows their humility and just goes to show that even an original and fresh band like Haken has members that are music lovers first before being exceptionally amazing musicians which they certainly are.
From what I gather, initiate is a song about the current world that we live in; it’s a representation of the turmoil and tribulations. This is also the first time that we see their new bassist Conner Green being a part of the writing process. We heard him on the Crystallized EP, but those were rather reworks of older tracks.
Here we see Conner as a member that is creatively and musically involved with the band and he fits in with the band like a glove and proves to be an excellent addition to the band since Tom Maclean’s departure.
Overall Initiate is a solid opener for the album but it does not predict or depict the direction of this record.
Track 3- 1985:
1985 is a very interesting track to say the least. This in my view should be the track that Haken open their live show with when they go on tour in support of this album. It has some of the catchiest riffs and vocal melodies. This track has given a nod to some of the biggest progressive giants that we have come to know of.
There is a nod to Rush and Marillion right at the very beginning of this track, there are some really cool percussive sounds on this track, at times you might imagine Rocky Balboa practicing for his big match as you continue to listen to this track.
It shows that Haken have not lost their humorous side. Their humor is something that I have found unique about them and they tend to display it at some of the most technically challenging moments in a track or during intricate passages.
1985 gives a huge nod to the progressive metal titans Dream Theater as well. Right after the tasteful guitar solo there is an incredible instrumental section where the bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums are at play. This particular section speaks classic Dream Theater to me. You’d instantly be reminded of the instrumental unison section in the track Octavarium from the album Octavarium by Dream Theater and this section ends with a very Raise The Knife type of feel, that is another track that you can find on the B side of Dream Theater’s album Falling In To Infinity.
This is easily one of the strongest tracks on the album and to me depicts the journey of someone trying to find their way in the year 1985.
It’s interesting to mention here that Rush’s album Power Windows came out in 1985 and Dream Theater formed as a full band in 1985, at that time they were known as Majesty. This track definitely has the majestic feel of the early 80s and late 70s and gives a strong nod to both the bands.
Track 4- Lapse:
Lapse is a breather after the very uplifting and intense 1985.
With some beautiful and clean chord progressions, a surreal atmosphere created by the synths, with some heavy guitars from time to time, and Ross Jenning’s magnificent vocal delivery, this is a powerhouse of a track clocking at around 4:44. Haken show their excellent musicianship perfectly in a small time frame on this track.
This track has a killer keyboard solo in it played by the amazing Diego Tajeida . I am guessing it’s him because Richard Henshall also plays keys besides being one of the guitar players in the band. The keyboard solo is very melodic and fusion based at places. Picture a combination of Kevin Moore meets Alex Argento here. That is something unique and spectacular.
Right after the keyboard solo comes a very crisp and melodic guitar solo filled with a lot of ear ecstasy.
From what I gather this track is kind of opening the story to the concept that is trying to be told throughout this album.
It seems like it is about a relationship between two people, one living on Earth while the other living in space and who is on a specific mission.
Track 5- The Architect:
One thing that you’d find on every Haken album is a long progressive epic. The Architect is just that and so much more. If the future of progressive music were to be defined musically then this track would be the answer.
This track in particular starts with more of a melancholic and an eerie tone. It kind of sets the atmosphere for discomfort, sorrow, and pain.
This becomes clearer when after the amazing intro with some fantastic riffs and progressions we get to hear Ross sing “Message on a screen before me. Caught a glimpse of the ending to our story ‘I’m sorry I haven’t called you recently’
This sort of solidifies the idea that indeed this album has a concept depicting a relationship between two people. This track also gives the perspective of a world that is not pleasant and is under turmoil. So there are two themes at play here from what I gather.
Obviously whatever I am saying is merely my own observation and I could be completely wrong here. Another thing I find very interesting is how this track relates to modern day relationships; the very first lines define modern day relationships in my view.
Our relationships with someone are connected more via our computers and phones rather than us physically being around the person or even spiritually for that matter. We can start a relationship via our screens and completely end it the same way without ever thinking how it would affect the other person. I just find it very interesting that the architect gives off this vibe to a modern day issue in our present society.
The track is filled with golden nuggets throughout from start to finish. The track has some of the most intricate playing, harmonies, and movements. There is an amazing bass solo by Conner Green, extremely elegant and tasteful.
We were talking about influences earlier and this track does not shy away from the influences either. The track gives a huge nod to the Swedish progressive band Opeth right after an amazing keyboard solo at 10:24. A track that comes to mind is The Drapery Falls by Opeth; it definitely is not a copy but a very respectful nod to another band that has constantly evolved, progressed, and influenced so many bands.
The vocalist from Lerous Einar Solberg enhances this moment further with a guest vocal appearance. He gives a very intense and chilling performance, which really fits the intensity of the music at this point.
Once this section comes to an end Haken go in to an instrumental frenzy. I can’t say it enough but Charlie Griffiths is a monster guitar player. After the instrumental frenzy we then return with Ross’s singing again which ends the song with the vocal melody notes of Initiate played on the guitar. One final thing to note here is that the word “Affinity” comes at many places in the track as well.
This further gives us a vibe that there is a connection here between the songs, a relation of some sort but we’re still kind of unsure as to exactly what’s going on and are trying to make sense of the lyrical content to really understand where we stand in this album after this opus.
This is an extremely strong and intense track musically and one that will satisfy nearly every fan of progressive music. For me this progressive epic stands head to head with the Dream Theater track A Change Of Seasons, which is my favorite progressive epic. In conclusion this is a masterpiece.
Track 6- Earthrise:
If you look up what the Earthrise is you would find that it is a photograph of the Earth and parts of the Moon taken by the astronaut William Anders in 1968.
I find this to be very interesting because that makes me wonder if the album is related to the life of this astronaut, if this is Haken’s way of doing a biography on a real individual, or is the name of the track taken from that event to be used for a fictional setting.
This will remain to be a mystery, unless the band reveals what it is about exactly.
The track is definitely in more of the power ballad category. The keyboard and synth work is phenomenal; Ross’s vocals are definitely the highlight of this track.
If you enjoy bands like Marillion then this track would be an absolute treat for you. The track certainly gives a feel of a journey within space; presumably the character is near the moon looking at the Earth from his space shuttle.
The character seems to be excited of what’s to come but it looks like he is homesick too and there is a sense of a trip down memory lane on this track from what I gather, a sense of longing and nostalgia.
The track has more of a happy tone to it and Richard Henshall plays a melodic guitar solo comprising of the double hand tapping technique, Diego adds some fantastic Horn sounds via his keyboard in the style of John Williams giving this track a touch of a film score, which heightens the experience of the listener as if they are on a space expedition and an adventure.
Track 7- Red Giant:
Red Giant is obviously a hint towards the sun and scientists have been debating whether the Earth would survive once the sun becomes a Red Giant. After 4.5 to 5.5 billion years the sun will star to deplete hydrogen and helium and at that point there will be serious changes within the Sun.
If the Earth is still present at the time and the human race is still present, it would be a wise choice to get out of there at that point.
This track delves in to the matter of survival of the human race, it also questions as to how we have treated mother Earth, would there be dire consequences if we don’t change our ways and we continue on the path of polluting and damaging our planet.
The track also makes the listener ponder on the fact that if the sun would survive and we won’t in the future, then what are we fighting for, what are we achieving as the human race besides the inevitable destruction of ours which has a lot to do with our own wrongly practiced ways on this planet.
Musically the track has a very interesting rhythm to it. Ray Hearne does some really cool drum work on this track and experiments with some interesting sounds to enhance his drumming.
There are a lot of electronic synth effects on this track; I personally like how the intensity builds within time and how gradually this track ends with some surreal energy.
Thanks for the science lesson Haken.
Track 8- The Endless Knot:
The endless knot was the second single that the band released before the release of the album. This is one solid track, with really cool rhythm sections, great choruses, solid verses, and overall fantastic musicianship.
The endless knot is a symbolic knot and one of the eight auspicious symbols. Tibetan Buddhism has influenced it, so there is definitely a spiritual undertone on this track.
In trying to understand the phenomenon behind this track I would like to mention the eight auspicious symbols of Nepali Buddhism.
Endless Knot, Lotus Flower, Dhabaja, Dharmacakra, Bumpa, Golden Fish, Parasol, and Conch. You guys can look up the meaning of each of these if you really want to.
This particular track is tying to give a very similar message to the previous track but in a more direct manner this time. The message is: have we acted responsibly to create a better world or have we spent too much time flirting with the edge of darkness, constantly messing with mother nature, ignoring all the facts to prove the fiction, and waiting for a savior to save us while we remain in our sheep like state, remain careless, and take ourselves towards mass extinction.
The message is very strong in this one and also at times morbid -to say the least.
Musically there are two highlights in this track.
The first highlight is the experimentation of adding dubstep type sounds in a progressive metal context. Personally I am not really a fan of dubstep, I find it to be a nuisance generally but Haken somehow manage to gel those types of sounds in their mix of phenomenal musicianship.
The second highlight of this track is the killer tag team solo by Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths. A nice technically executed fusion based solo. I absolutely loved it.
In my view this track is a self-reflection of the human race and a wake up call before it’s too late for our survival and sustainability.
Track 9- Bound By Gravity:
We have finally come to the closer of the album. While most progressive bands would end an album with an energetic bang, Haken decide to completely mellow things down.
They really grab a mood here on this one. This one depicts a ray of hope, positivity, and sense of oneness with everything the world has to offer.
I believe that this track gives a confirmation that everything will come to an end eventually but is the end really the end?
Our world will eventually end as the Red Giant takes over but it will not be the end to all of us, as we will be in a new realm, a new world, and we will all be as one. Is this Haken’s take on the afterlife? I can’t be certain but to me this track certainly gives that vibe. There are some beautiful atmospheric keyboards played on this one, with some wonderful chiming bells, the bass is really groovy, the guitars keep the rhythmic movements intact, the drums add the right amount of dynamics, and Ross’s vocals keep everything in a wonderful balance. This track has some really wonderful layers and you’ll hear them in multiple listens of the album.
Finally we get similar sounds that we got in Afinnity.exe telling us that the journey is over, or the software is closing now and it has given out the message to humanity that was needed.
I truly believe this was a very well balanced and beautiful ending to this album.
There are two meaning to Affinity. The first meaning is that it is a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something. The other meaning is that it is a similarity of characteristics suggesting a relationship, especially a resemblance in structure between animals, plants, or language.
I believe it is the latter meaning that is related to this album.
In conclusion I think Haken did not disappoint. They did not create The Mountain again but instead created a whole different animal all together.
Another thing to notice is that this album is all about influences, a nod to some of the most innovative bands from the classic era of progressive music. Haken put their sonic stamp on the genre and honestly I found this album to be a musical journey between classic progressive music to the more modern cutting edge progressive music of today. Affinity is all about paying respect to Haken’s own influences that have shaped them as the innovative musicians that they are today.
Most of the fans have embraced this album but there are divided opinions on Affinity and for the first time we see the fan base kind of dividing. A good comparison would be how when Dream Theater did Scenes From A Memory and then released Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, the fan base divided.
I think in Haken’s case it’s quite similar and the reason I say quite similar and not exactly the same is because I felt conceptually this album had a lovely concept but the presentation was a little vague.
Haken is my favorite band and I absolutely love what they do; I would easily say this is the album of the year. Musically this is an absolute masterpiece. Every part was well throughout, the arrangements were fantastic, the playing by every musician was stellar, Ross gave a strong vocal delivery, and the production and mix by Jens Borgen was absolutely phenomenal.
Where the album falls short in my opinion is the concept, each track individually is a very strong one but as a concept there is looseness and it’s kind of confusing as to what exactly Haken were going for. The Mountain had a very clear concept about reaching your mountain, your success, the whole motivational factor, it all added up really well with the amazing music behind it.
Aquarius and Visions as well had a very interesting fictional concept that was character based.
With Affinity I was not sure; at times it felt like it was a story of two characters and then at times I felt like it was a wake up call for humanity that is taking mother nature for granted, and this is being narrated by an astronaut.
The question I have been asking is, was each track meant to be taken as an individual concept that leads to the bigger picture, or was it a thread that went from the first to the last track. I got the feeling that it was both at times, which resulted in some confusion.
Overall this is a fantastic album, it’s different from The Mountain and it holds its charm.
Musically it’s delightful and conceptually it is interesting yet unclear at certain places as to what is it exactly conveying.
Charlie Griffiths- Guitars
Ray Hearne- Drums
Richard Henshall- Guitars/Keys
Ross Jennings- Vocals
Conner Green- Bass
Official website: http://www.hakenmusic.com
Official Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HakenOfficial