It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the title of this album is topical. In fact Haken are not jumping on any current bandwagon here, not that that ever is their way, but it’s a kind of sequel to the theme of one of the band’s classics, the quirky “Cockroach King” off “The Mountain” (2013), and a counterpoint to the prolific prog band’s last album “Vector” (2018). So, the virus goes well beyond the science lab where found ourselves with “Vector” and covers all areas, political and environmental as well as biological, scientific and technological.
Ok, so that’s the idea behind it but what of the musical construct? Well, the opening track “Prosthetic” is as heavy and dark as I can remember from Haken over the course of their six albums. It has typical drama and technical sophistication. The lyrics suggest a message of confusion. The instrumentals are direct. “Invasion” is more imaginative. Vocalist Ross sounds lonely save a deep electronic heartbeat. The song expands. Ross’s words are uttered deliberately. It breaks out epically. This is indeed the epic world of Haken with its fusion of colours, complex heaviness and unique harmonies. From somewhere come sadness and reflection. “Invasion” is electrifying. “Carousel” continues the dark and heavy theme. “Wish we could go back to how we were”, sings Ross wistfully. Heavy djent mixes with epic prog, delicacy and a little jazzy piece at one point. It’s not simple, and nor would I want it to be, but it’s rousing, fast moving and uplifting. The mists roll in, the bass pumps out a tune, and we float delightfully on the clouds before the big Hakentian world returns. The music is exciting, and Haken are our celestial guides. “The Strain” passed me by a little, I must confess. It’s typical Haken, sophisticated and multi-faceted, but for me it was more “here’s what we can do as a band” than an invitation on an exotic journey. It leads rather abruptly into “Canary Yellow”, a melancholic and moody piece with twisty rhythms from the drum and guitar department. The chorus has great emotion.
And so we come to the five part, 17 minute “Messiah Complex”. These monsters are what we’ve come to expect from Haken. The first piece sets the scene. Intensity was raging and blood was rushing by the end of part ii “A Glutton for Punishment”. After an airy quiet passage akin to Opeth’s “Damnation”, technical prog explodes on the scene, combining with djent on the crazed “Marigold”. It’s like a prog shock tactic. Part iv “The Sect” features a classic Haken a cappella harmony – great stuff – before breaking into electronic eccentricity and metal insanity, always a great combination. This is the prelude for the dark prog mania of part v “Ectobius Rex”. Our friend The Cockroach King creeps in momentarily. “Messiah Complex” took a while to get going, but it’s one of those kaleidoscopic and never-to-be-imitated epic experiences that are Haken’s speciality. The album ends with a sad hymn, “Only Stars”.
Haken never fail to be interesting, and so it is here. “Virus” comes from the heavier end of the band’s range but also has so much of the band’s familiar uniqueness and diversity. I can’t say I was completely on a wavelength with all that was here all the time, and perhaps was a little disappointed that there was less keyboard quirkiness than I would have liked, but what I do like so much about Haken is they are not afraid to push boundaries and are always bold in their musical decision-making, developments and structures. And when that works, as it does for large parts of this album, they are one of the most exciting bands there is.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)