Haken, Virus, Inside Out Music, 2020
Tracks: 1. Prosthetic (05:58) 2. Invasion (06:40) 3. Carousel (10:30) 4. The Strain (05:35) 5. Canary Yellow (04:10) 6. Messiah Complex i: Ivory Tower (03:59) 7. Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment (03:38) 8. Messiah Complex iii: Marigold (02:25) 9. Messiah Complex iv: The Sect (02:02) 10. Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex (04:51) 11. Only Stars (02:05)
I originally planned on writing about Haken’s new album, Virus, months ago, but then the release date was delayed by the actual virus. It kept getting pushed further and further back, and then real life got in the way and here we are a day before official release. Excuses excuses.
I’ll admit this one took a few listens to sink in for me, but looking back I think I can say that about all of Haken’s albums. There is so much depth to their music and lyrics that it always takes a few listens just to scratch the surface. I’ve found it also takes multiple kinds of listens to help it sink in. There’s the cursory playing over the stereo, there’s the blasting it in the car with the windows down, and (most importantly) the headphones. An album has to be good with the third method to be worthy of the second. Virus is worthy.
Some might be taken aback at the band’s audacity to name an album Virus in the middle of a worldwide viral circus. I honestly give no craps about that. But for those who do, I’ll say in Haken’s defense that I guarantee you this album was written and recorded before the pandemic happened. Indeed it was announced only a few weeks into the crisis. What was the band supposed to do? Scrap the album? Pay somebody to come up with an entire new design? Rewrite lyrics? Bah.
Thematically the album is very much a part two of 2018’s Vector. There are musical similarities, design similarities in the artwork, and overall lyrical comparisons. There is also a return of the Cockroach King, with musical nods to that majestic track. Honestly there’s nothing to dislike about this album.
Virus may be the heaviest album Haken has made to date, although it still has the more atmospheric moments. I’ve always preferred Haken’s heavier side, but I appreciate and enjoy their lighter side as well. “Prosthetic” is an in-your-face smash-mouth style of heavy metal turned up to 11 on the prog scale. “Carousel” mixes the best of both sides of Haken with extremely heavy moments and cleaner passages. There is a particularly nice section with both Charlie Griffiths and Rich Henshall playing lighter guitar.
Every time Haken releases a new album I find it becomes my “go-to” Haken album. Virus has been no different, except this album is probably even more so because it is so heavy. Yes it has its lighter moments, such as “Canary Yellow,” but overall it is headbanging heaven. It’ll be a great one to hear live the next time they get a chance to tour. Their most recent tour was with Devin Townsend – what a show that would’ve been.
The mixing of this album is particularly lush. Diego Tejeida’s synths swirl, and Ray Hearne’s drums have a strong depth to them. He’s one of my favorite drummers. I saw them live back in 2015, and he was absolutely brilliant. The band’s odd time signature shifts always remain controlled by Hearne’s technical skill and groove. Connor Greene’s bass is fantastic as always. Ross Jennings’ vocals are a little more front and center on this album. The instrumental passages seem like they aren’t quite as long as they’ve been in the past, although they still abound.
If there’s one thing I miss its probably the use of odd vocal harmonies. They sort of hit their peak with that on 2014’s song “Crystallised.” Yes there are backing vocals from other band members (at least I think there are – it could all be done by Ross), but I miss the Gentle Gianty harmonies. The fact that they can do those live is a testament to how great of a band this is. There is a little bit of it on “Messiah Complex iv: The Sect” (which also channels the “Cockroach King”), but there are a couple moments where they could’ve used it to greater effect with more band members included. It’s a little complaint. Still a fantastic album. Perhaps the heaviness of the album, such as in the next track, “Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex,” make it so the quirky vocals don’t work as well.
Overall I find more to like about Virus with each passing listen. The lyrics draw you in and stick in your ears. Their lyrics are never obvious, which has made for enjoyable repeated listens of all their albums even after years of enjoying them. Virus is heavy, precise, technical, complex, and most of all it is altogether Haken.
Longtime fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy on Virus, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the album gained the band some new fans due to its slightly heavier nature. My copy of the mediabook version of the CD is on its way from the fine folks at Burning Shed (which is currently out of stock), and I can’t wait to get a look at it. In the meantime, I’ll keep blasting the review copy as I try to avoid catching the plague.
Buy the album at Burning Shed.