I go around a lot in Prog circles and I’ve sensed a shift change in attitude towards Haken. Whereas around 3 or 4 years ago, they were the bee’s knees and the favourite band of many, I’ve heard the view expressed a number of times that they haven’t moved on. This is unfortunate. I think that because of the band’s extensive touring, many of us have seen them many times and you have certain expectations of what they’re going to play and they then deliver it. It possibly didn’t help that last year’s tenth anniversary tour was a celebration and affirmation of what they’re good at. We’ve got used to Haken who are now part of the daily fabric. My own stance differs slightly from the main view. When they first started, there were great moments but I found that the quirky bits didn’t fit in, and they hadn’t got their stage persona right. Over time they have matured and I loved their last album “Affinity” (2016). I always enjoy their live shows now, where once I had niggling doubts. Of course I hoped that this new album would have new creative elements and perhaps mirroring what others think here, wondered where their next bout of inspiration might come from. I don’t know how the band dynamics work but it’s always good for any band to allow in fresh ideas. In fairness, Haken have done very well so far.
So, onto “Vector”. It would seem that this is a collaborative effort from the band, who describe it as psychological, heavier and more riff-driven than previous works. The start has the hallmarks of the keyboardist. The figurative curtain rises dramatically and reveals what in my imagination is a dark, foggy scene. You can imagine scientists working on their latest invention. The keyboard sweeps through the start of “The Good Doctor”, and judging by Ross’s words we find ourselves in a psychiatric hospital. It’s a story with the usual Haken prog energy and playfulness. It comes from all directions as is normal for Haken but of course carefully controlled. Mid way through the heavy prog epic “Puzzle Box”, the keyboardist conjures up visions of data code and experiments. “Puzzle Box” is an electrically atmospheric track and I’m sure one, which lends itself to a dramatic live performance.
I have always preferred Haken’s longer tracks because they are so good at tantalising us with so many flavours. The twelve minute “Veil” fits this bill exactly. It’s dynamic, exciting, reflective and not just a song but an experience. Although not a theme album, there is again that scientific edginess in there as we sweep through its passages. The only thing to be said against it is that it’s so “template” in its sound and progression that it could fit into a live set without standing out. This is the problem – Haken have set the bar so high. Keyboard solos, guitar passages and sharp sounds all round merge and create this monstrous whirlwind before Ross comes in with his expressive vocals. I’m still humming the chorus as I write this now. The start of “Nil By Mouth” is dynamic and electrically charged. Frantic keyboards flail and the guitar line provides a comforting depth. It’s heavy, technical and breathtaking. In a trademark Haken move, it slows down and we are taken into a dreamy wonderland, but this instrumental fizzles away a bit towards the end. In a strange twist, a sad trumpet sound calls up an image of the night, and provides the prelude to Ross’s impeccable emotive tones and a slow, sad song. The album finishes with a fast, djenty song “A Cell Divides”. It is undoubtedly edgy but like much of the album, there was no epic content and I just felt I was listening to an interesting piece of music rather than being sucked into it and taken away to the skies or some other place where my imagination had been captured.
I mustn’t condemn Haken for past successes but I suppose I should ask whether “Vector” has taken the band forward. There were moments and passages of excitement, and the musicianship is exquisite as ever, but I didn’t experience anything exceptional. It’s not a case recycling what’s gone before, but it rarely reached the heights for me. It’s clear that the keyboard player has had more say in the matter than on previous occasions, but where the drum and guitar work contribute to the overall atmosphere, this is not always the case with the keyboards which fly off whimsically on occasions. So I didn’t think this hung together. This in my opinion is a good prog album but not a great one.
(7/10 Andrew Doherty)