Haken - The Mountain

(CD 2013, 69:18, InsideOut 0506596)

The tracks:
  1- The Path
  2- Atlas Stone
  3- Cockroach King
  4- In Memoriam
  5- Because It's There
  6- Falling Back To Earth
  7- As Death Embraces
  8- Pareidolia
  9- Somebody
10- The Path Unbeaten (Bonus Track)
11- Nobody (Bonus Track)

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When I listened to Aquarius (2010, see review), the first album of the British band Haken, I immediately saw what could become of this band in the future unlike my colleague reviewer. Since I was eager to write a review of Visions (2011, see review), their second album, I was rewarded with a promo. The album made it to the top of my year list of 2011. Recently The Mountain has seen the light of day and this time the major prog label InsideOut took care of the distribution. I first listened to the MP3 files which were sent by InsideOut, but as soon as the actual CD was available in the stores I bought the special edition with two additional songs. In the back of my mind I was constantly saying that The Mountain couldn't be better than the previous CD, so I played the new album again and again comparing it to Visions. After five spins I forced myself to forget about that album and finally I let the music enter my mind freely without any comparison or prejudice.

The album opens with The Path wherein vocalist Ross Jennings sings quietly over a smooth piano. Within three minutes he scores my first points while making a big impression on me with a great sound; the nice background vocals are the final touch. The piano continues as Atlas Stone starts, but within thirty seconds the bombastic sound takes over with heavy guitars and layers of keyboards. The choirs turn into majestic vocals; the refrain sticks in your mind for quite a while. A jazzy part is added just before a strong guitar solo which means that Haken have added new elements to their repertoire. The melodies are more melodic, the guitars are really heavy and jazz and fusion-like sounds have found its way to the songs.

Just when I think Haken have reached their peak too early Cockroach King takes over. This song blends seventies progressive rock, including the Gentle Giant- like vocals, with powerful guitars. These multi-layered vocals could already be heard on Visions. Also live on stage they manage to create these harmony vocals, but on The Mountain these vocals add a new dimension to their sound. During the middle-section of this piece a jazzy intermezzo including a nice bass part by Thomas MacLean, gently makes room for a rather weird part and a dazzling guitar solo. Haken seem to have found a perfect balance between melodies, ultra heavy guitar sounds and inspired vocals. In Memoriam starts calmly but as a lion in disguise it grabs you by the throat, being eventually one of the heavier compositions on the album. Ross Jennings' vocals seem to be recorded while he was taking a shower regarding the background sounds. But seriously, here I noticed how the band's vocalists perfectly fit together.

Because It's There starts very impressive containing more alternative sounds. This softer piece is another showcase for the awesome vocals of Mr. Jennings. Next is Falling Back To Earth, a combination of heaviness, weirdness and pure magic. This composition contains many solo spots, large guitar sounds and the strange, but suitable noises provide it some extra glare. Again the icing on the cake is the excellent singing. Just like the album's opener, As Death Embraces combines soft piano play with Jennings' vocals. This gentle point of rest gives you the opportunity to take a deep breath before Pareidolia, the next musical explosion. This piece has already been watched numerous times on YouTube. This eleven-minute song includes everything Haken stand for! The singing that will linger in your mind for some time is just great while guitarists Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall compete for the strongest solos. In this piece both the extreme heavy guitars and the smooth piano play by DiegoTejeda are present.

The final song on the regular album is Somebody wherein Jennings must sometimes do his utmost to reach the higher regions; Raymond Hearne delivers some of his more adventurous drum parts. This bombastic song with many layers of keyboards is a perfect ending for the album, but people who buy the special edition get two bonus tracks. The first is called The Path Unbeaten, which is quite similar to the album's opener, only the vocals are replaced by brass, but nevertheless it's an impressive piece. The second one is Nobody, a strong acoustic composition that could be the base of something very powerful, although it's intended to be intimate.

At first I thought that The Mountain wouldn't reach the high level of Visions and although I immediately bought the album it took a while before I started to dig into the music. But when I did, I found something that was rather innovative. Haken redefined the concept of progressive rock and metal with strong compositions and the band use melodic seventies a capella together with state of the art monster guitars with seven or even eight strings. Actually the maximum rating of five stars isn't enough to judge this fine album...

***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)

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