After the release of their debut album Aquarius (see review), that ended number ten in my year list of 2010, I was anxious to get my hands on Haken's new album. From my point of view their debut was heavily underrated and I tried to persuade our main editor to let me review Visions by stating on Facebook: album of the year? It seems to have worked and I'm happy to be the owner of Haken's second album. The only thing I have to prove now is that they come up to my expectations by delivering an awesome album.
I'm already convinced of the excellence of the album after listening to the four minutes of Premonition. This is the perfect opener for what's next to come: an instrumental showcase that goes beyond the musicality of a band like Dream Theater. However, DT remain on the easy road of predictability, but Haken make the difference by using funky keyboards played over a heavy guitar. Next is the thirteen-minute epic Nocturnal Conspiracy. The voice of Ross Jennings immediately affects me; he sounds even better than on Aquarius. Strangely enough his intense and emotional singing reminded me of Lazuli's singer Dominic Leonetti. In this song I hear many influences of bands like Lazuli, Dream Theater, Genesis, Steve Morse and Queen, all clearly blended with alternative rock/metal. Together it forms an impressive mixture of many progressive rock elements. This piece certainly is one of my highlights.
Insomnia continues again with impressive vocals, fine melodies and great keyboard playing. It's a very accessible song also containing a stunning Steve Morse-like guitar solo over a melody that could have been composed by Dream Theater. The Mind's Eye is also easy to digest. In this piece the atmosphere changes from relaxed and melodious softer parts into a more menacing and heavy guitar sound. The all instrumental Portals shows the technical skills of the band and regarding the intensity, this song would not have been out of place on an album of Liquid Tension Experience. Shapeshifter starts heavy and Ross Jennings' distorted voice fits greatly. The guitars of Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffins sound really heavy, while keyboardist Diego Tejeida provides for the melodic touch. The bass guitar of Thomas Maclean rumbles nicely and sure, I have to credit powerhouse drummer Raymond Hearne as well for his stunning performance.
Haken are also able to write a slow and personal song. That can be heard on Deathless, containing melodious and brilliant guitar work playing softly underneath the surface: a smooth and relaxing song. The final piece is the title track, an epic lasting more than 22 minutes. This piece has it all: a kind of voice-over opening, bombastic keyboards, killer riffs and again Jennings' majestic vocals from the introvert beginning to the continuing powerful vocals. This is a worthy song to close the album with and it makes me push the repeat button again.
After their debut album Aquarius, Haken have proved to be a band that holds the future in their hands. Compared to the debut Visions has a slightly heavier sound and the influences of seventies progressive rock have been partly replaced by modern rock and metal influences. In addition Ross Jennings' voice has gained in emotion and sounds clearer and better now. Therefore this album is going to hit the top in my list of 2011 as well. Dream Theater is commonly seen as being the top of the progressive metal scene, but watch out: Haken are knocking at the door!
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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