Well, well well ….. what a surprise this one is.
I like Haken a lot, but they also have this annoying tendency to be a bit light-hearted and throw-away with some of their stuff. I understand that a lot of people like this side to their attitude but their last live performance I saw in Manchester, they turned up in silly Christmas jumpers and seemed to joke their way through their rushed set.
The rush was partly due to the support act – Leprous – who frankly blew Haken away for me that night. They gave an absolutely stunning, tight and dynamic performance which was pretty much impossible to follow, particularly with Christmas jumpers on ….
However, the first time I saw Haken it was different. They played a packed venue in London with people literally hanging from the rafters. I remember it well because I forgot my ticket and left it in an outlying Vicarage. Thankfully a bit of blagging and crossing of palms with extra cash meant I witnessed one of the best gigs I’ve been to. No silliness, no frippery, just a brilliant set showcasing their magnificent ‘The Mountain’ album.
So, on to ‘Affinity’, a very welcome release from Haken and one which harks back to that night in Manchester for one reason only – Leprous.
Touring together must have paid dividends because one or two tracks here have superb synchopatic riffing that could just as easily be from a Leprous album. The second track in particular, ‘Initiate’, gets things under way in spectacular style following an atmospheric opening segue of electronic noise which I would assume will be the opening to their next live sets – very effective indeed. In fact Einer Solberg from Leprous is a guest vocalist on the epic 15 minute track ‘The Architect’ cementing the close associations the bands must have formed.
As good as ‘The Mountain’ was, it’s refreshing to see a band go out of their way to avoid repeating a successful formula and ‘Affinity’ is striking for the way it adds completely new sounds and textures and provides a thrilling direction for Haken to explore.
Yes, there are still the same crunching, complicated riffs and rhythms and layered vocals, but the overall sound is more immediate and catchy. Perhaps this is because of their aims to root ‘Affinity’ in the sounds of the 80’s, or maybe it’s because the songwriting has this time been a team affair rather than purely Richard Henshall (keyboards) and Ross Jennings (lead vocals) but whatever the reasons, the results are quite spectacular.
On ‘1985’ there are energetic and uplifting keyboards and synths that reflect the year in the song title but in no way does this become a trite pastiche to that era. No – Haken take the best parts of the 80’s and wrap it around their own technically gifted and melodic talents to produce some soaring moments that will surely stand out on any ‘Best of 2016’ lists.
I mentioned earlier the propensity for jocularity with Haken’s material but ‘Affinity’ to me is a huge step forward and suggests a seriousness and maturity about their songwriting and performance that could propel them into another league.
The sound is big, the songs are well structured and written, there is just enough fret trickery without descending into Dream Theater nonsense and there is a cohesive and balanced feel to the whole album.
The last few moments of the final track, ‘Bound by Gravity’, has an almost Sigur Ros feel of exhilaration and passion with an atmospheric build up that grows and grows until we reach a final, beautiful release – this should be superb in a live setting.
So, there we are.
A quick review which others will expand on in great detail I’m sure, but I hope I have captured the vibe and feel that will be a joy for existing and new fans of Haken alike.