Release House: Inside Out Music
Genre: Progressive Metal/Progressive Rock
One Sentence Synopsis: The new full-length album from English progressive metal band Haken.
Release Date: March 3, 2023
Estimated Length: 62 minutes
MSRP: $16.99 (jewelcase CD version)
Website: Click Here
Music Video: Click Here
Purchase Site: Click Here
Reviewed By: Kastrophylax
Final Score: 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Although Haken started their recording career in 2010, they demonstrated their full potential with the musical diversity, complex arrangements, and storytelling power of Visions (2011). With The Mountain (2013), Haken truly took the progressive music scene by storm and earned the attention of fans worldwide. In that recording they also developed musical themes and characters (the “Cockroach King,” for example) that they would continue to weave creatively through the music of their next three albums. In this trilogy of albums, Haken would add heavier, djenty riffs, experiment with complex time signatures and jazzy instrumental sections, and deploy more epic song structures. Surmounting the stifling effects of the pandemic, the band sailed full speed ahead in 2022 with a new single (“Nightingale”) and a North American tour with prog giants Symphony X. “Nightingale” would be a foretaste of Haken’s new album Fauna, released in March 2023.
Looking at Haken’s lyrics, the perceptive reader will notice that they enjoy conveying philosophical and emotional subjects in either straightforward or quirky, allegorical language. The character of the musical accompaniment often supports the lyrical earnestness or quirkiness in like manner.
Thematically, Fauna follows this pattern. Haken uses the imagery of different animals to convey human emotions, personalities, and stories. Singer Ross Jennings stated that the band hoped to show in the lyrics how human beings could discover something about themselves by observing the animal kingdom. As a result, while a general theme emerges in Fauna with the animal-human dynamic, it does not contain a conceptual narrative like the previous three albums.
Musically, in Fauna, Haken experiments with a couple of different themes or formulas. Sometimes, they will match the emotions conveyed in the lyrics with dynamically similar music. For example, the opening track, “Taurus,” comments on the devastation of land and dislocation of populations in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine through the imagery of wildebeests migrating to find better pastures. The musical accompaniment is heavy, driving, and straightforward, with minimal complexity. “Sempiternal Beings,” with the jellyfish as its representative animal, is more fluid, with ebbing and flowing vocal lines, a soaring chorus, and limited heavy riffing to match the contemplative lyrics. “Lovebite,” on the other hand, illustrates the genius of Haken. Lyrically, the ups and downs of relationships are explored through the unlikely allegory of the mating ritual of the black widow spider! Here the band inverts the formula, with gruesome lyrics being matched with upbeat, Eighties-pop inspired melodies, an awe-inspiring guitar solo, and lush keyboard embellishments.
The high point of the album is undoubtedly the eleven-minute epic “Elephants Never Forget.” The lyrics tell the heart-wrenching story of the “Elephant Man” Joseph Merrick from both his perspective and those who mistreated him. The musical themes flow from Gentle Giant prog quirkiness to a dark, plodding, almost industrial groove, with a soaring, anthemic chorus that acts as the glue to hold it all together.
In the musical presentation of Fauna, Haken shows that they can remain true to their progressive roots while experimenting and tweaking things a bit. Instead of jamming songs with multiple technical and shredding guitar and keyboard solos, the band concentrates on building sound textures and moods for each song. While there are some guitar solos—“Sempiternal Beings” and “Lovebite” contain the most noteworthy, traditional examples—Haken has replaced standard solos with thematic changes, tempo variations, and ambient passages. Overall, there is a concerted effort to allow the stories contained in the lyrics and the themes of the music to complement each other rather than engage in a competition for space in the songs.
Special mention must be given to three parties: the audio engineers, vocalist Ross Jennings, and drummer Raymond Hearne. The album sounds wonderful with all instruments present in the mix and the dynamics of each are well-represented. Jennings displays the versatility of his voice as he adapts his delivery to the needs of each song. Hearne proves once again that he is one of the most technically proficient and creative drummers on the prog scene.
Although Fauna will primarily appeal to fans of progressive metal and rock, there is a little bit of something for everyone who gives it an honest listen. There are some more compact, pop-rock type of songs (“The Alphabet of Me” and “Lovebite”), jazz-fusion instrumental passages sprinkled throughout, and nods here and there to classic artists such as Gentle Giant, Queen, and Phil Collins.
This album took more than a few listens to process and grow on me. In the end, I have concluded that it is another gem Haken has added to their catalog. I am looking forward to seeing them live for the second time in May with Arch Echo opening. If you want a wild ride of thoughtful, clever lyrical stories, diverse musical soundscapes, and progressive instrumental zaniness, pick up a copy of Fauna by Haken!
Theme: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Presentation: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Audience Fit: 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)