Haken

Visions

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Despite its unmatched historical legacy as the birthplace and key proving ground for progressive rock throughout the decades, Great Britain has curiously yielded precious few progressive metal bands of note, but this trend is something that the members of Haken are clearly eager to change. The London group's sophomore album, Visions, arrives barely one year after its predecessor, and merely three since the band's inception, and while it still owes a huge aesthetic debt to longstanding melodic prog metal powers such as Dream Theater, Stratovarius, and Symphony X, the high standards of invention contained herein ultimately remind listeners that this particular sandbox is big enough for everyone to play in. What's more, Visions clearly shows musical growth compared to the previous year's Aquarius, by tightening arrangements as Haken's songs continually morph dynamically, sharpening the balance between songwriting acumen and the mandatory displays of instrumental prowess. Most importantly, perhaps, these tracks reveal a far more confident, much improved performance from singer Ross Jennings, who's no longer the whiny beeotch of yore (at his worse, he sounded like an even more limp version of Yes' Jon Anderson). In fact, while he's hardly the star of the show and won't be pleasing the extreme crowd by abandoning the occasional death growl, Jennings is now hanging tough with his talented bandmates, every one of whom contributes something special (jazz piano solo, churning bass solo, endless flashy guitar, and percussive flurries) to early album statement "Nocturnal Conspiracy," a 13-minute epic showcasing the length and breadth of Haken's present evolutionary state. This ranges from Porcupine Tree to Opeth (and not a Steve Wilson is in sight), taking in additional epics (the aptly named "Shapeshifter") and shorter tunes alike (with special kudos to the excellent instrumental "Portals"), while flirting with everything from pulsing electronics ("Insomnia") to classical piano and soft rock sensibilities ("Deathless") in between. Yes, the 22-minute title track, containing more of the same and still much, much more musical variety/insanity, may simply prove too grossly self-indulgent for everyone to stomach, but then, maybe not if you've made it this far and still can't be bothered by the overt Dream Theater influences mentioned earlier. All of which means that Visions isn't exactly a proud new flagship in Her Royal Majesty's Progressive Rock (H.R.M.P.R.) navy, but it's pretty darn seaworthy nonetheless.

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