The Mountain (Best of 2013 — Part 4)

Coming in the #4 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is a band that this year really made me sit up and take notice:

Haken

This is prog metal that is so transcendent, and so obviously far above the average genre offering, that I was truly shocked by the staggering magnitude of the excellence on display in this album release.

Kind of like an awesome mountain.

Behold the majesty! How beautiful.

How spectacular!

The first track, “The Path,” pierces right to the heart with its stunningly beautiful theme. (It resurfaces in very satisfying ways later on.)

Continuing on from there, the entire album is non-stop upper-echelon prog.

I want to give a big special thanks to my Progarchy friends, for alerting me to this amazing album, by posting the hilarious “Cockroach King” video back in September.

Perhaps my favorite track is “Pareidolia“; I agree with Thaddeus Wert that this track is sheer perfection.

(But then again, “Falling Back to Earth” is totally epic; and at 11:51 it wins the battle of the prog clock.)

I am pleased to see this album make it onto so many Top Ten lists among all the progarchists. Justice! What more need I say?

Perhaps I should close with a public service announcement, by noting the correct pronunciation of the band’s name. According to the band, it rhymes with bacon. As for the meaning of the name:

There’s no meaning, really. It came from kind of alcohol-fueled gatherings between me and my friend and we thought it’d be a nice name purely from the sound of it. There’s no deep meaning behind it.

How disappointing. But there are conflicting accounts; apparently the name is “actually the name of a fictional character” they once invented.

Well, if I could give the band a piece of advice — now that they have proven themselves to be top-rank masters of prog — I would say that they need to change their story on this, pronto.

Run this past the publicist: Why not officially decide that the band name refers to model Rianne ten Haken? (After all, there is rock precedent for using models’ names for purposes of euphony; I adduce, as my prime example, Nash Kato’s inspired use of Laetitia Casta’s sonorous appellation in “Octoroon.”)

But even more importantly, there has to be an immediate and non-negotiable change in the correct pronunciation of the band’s name:

Haken.

Rhymes with rockin’.

The Best of 2013 (IMHO)

What a bountiful year 2013 has been for good music. All the albums on my Best Of list are destined to become classics, I’m sure!  So, let’s count them down, all the way to Number 1:

TesseracT11. TesseracT: Altered State. I’ll kick the list off with the most unabashedly heavy album, but one that has grown on me over the past few months. Ashe O’Hara is a terrific vocalist, and the band lays down a multilayered bed of crunching guitars, drums, and bass for him to soar over. The songs are divided into four groups, “Of Matter”, “Of Mind”, “Of Reality”, and “Of Energy”.  These guys know their mathematics, as well! One of the songs is “Calabi-Yau”, and the artwork includes the E8 Root System, a hypercube, and an Apollonian sphere. Best track: “Nocturne” (Check out the moment of transcendence at 3:14) –

RiversideSONGS10. Riverside: Shrine of New Generation Slaves. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, has had a pronounced effect on Riverside’s music, and that’s all to the good, in my opinion. SoNGS is more melodic and varied than anything they’ve produced so far, and even though it came out early in 2013, it still stays close to my sound system. Go for the two-disc set, which adds two extended tracks that flirt with ambient jazz. Best track: “Feel Like Falling” –

Raven That Refused to Sing9. Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing. Very few artists push themselves as hard as Steven Wilson, and TRTRTS is another leap forward for him. I’m thinking at this point he’s left the world of prog, and he is his own genre. Not everything works – “Luminol” is too much Yes-jams-with-Herbie-Hancock for my taste, but when he clicks, no one comes close. Best track: the achingly beautiful “The Raven That Refused To Sing” –

Full POwer8. Big Big Train: English Electric: Full Power. Much has been written on this site about the sheer wonderfulness of this collection. The care that went into the accompanying booklet is a joy to behold. The resequencing of songs works well, and the new opener “Come On Make Some Noise” is as fun as a classic Badfinger single from the 70’s. I’m a Tennessee boy, but I could easily spend the rest of my days in the pastoral Albion depicted in BBT’s Full Power. Best Track: “Uncle Jack” –

Cosmograf TMLIS7. Cosmograf: The Man Left In Space. A sci-fi concept album about the dangers of all-consuming ambition and the isolation that results, this is a very satisfying album both musically and lyrically. One of the most-played discs of the year in my household. Best track: “Aspire Achieve” –

Ayreon TTOE6. Ayreon: The Theory Of Everything. A recent release, so I haven’t had a chance to fully absorb this sprawling work. Arjen Lucassen is the Verdi of progressive rock, composing magnificent operas that explore what it means to be human in today’s dehumanizing times. For TTOE, Lucassen gathered the most talented roster of musicians and vocalists yet – including John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess, and Steve Hackett. The story itself leaves behind the sci-fi thread that previous Ayreon albums followed to chronicle the travails of a small group of family and colleagues torn apart by autism, deception, envy, academic ambition, and pride. Throw in a dash of the supernatural, and this is a very thought-provoking work. Best track: “Magnetism” –

And now it’s time for the Top Five!

Kingbathmat OTM5. Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster. This band has been very prolific lately, releasing Truth Button and Overcoming the Monster in a matter of months. OTM is a fantastic set of songs about the different “monsters” we all encounter in our day to day lives. Most impressive of all, Kingbathmat have developed a truly unique sound that is accessible yet new. I can’t wait to hear the next iteration of it. Best track: “Kubrick Moon” –

Sound Of Contact4. Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut. I’m sure SoC’s vocalist and drummer Simon Collins is tired of comparisons to Genesis (he’s Phil’s son), but that is what first strikes the hearer of this outstanding album. Fortunately, repeated listening reveals SoC’s extraordinary talent in their own right. The songs themselves are perfectly constructed gems, and the production is top-notch. The band moves effortlessly from straight pop (“Not Coming Down”) to the most complex prog epic (“Mobius Strip”). Best track: “Pale Blue Dot” –

days between stations3. Days Between Stations: In Extremis. I’ve already written a full review of this immensely rewarding album in an earlier Progarchy post. Suffice it to say that this is already a classic. And Sepand Samzadeh is one of the nicest guys in the prog world! Best track: “Eggshell Man” –

Sanguine Hum2. Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World. If XTC and Jellyfish had a child, Sanguine Hum might be it (with Frank Zappa for a godfather). This album is simply a delight to listen to, from start to finish. It’s one that reveals new details, regardless of how many times you hear it. Their secret weapon is Andrew Booker on drums. Reminiscent of Stewart Copeland’s work with The Police, Booker has a light and inventive touch that often becomes the lead instrument. The entire band generates an organic sound that is seductive and playful. Best track: “The Weight of the World” –

Album of the Year 

Haken1. Haken: The Mountain. Until a couple of months ago, I had never heard a note by this band. Fast forward to now, and there hasn’t been a 48-hour period when I haven’t listened to this album, in its entirety, at least once. An extraordinary meditation on the importance of never giving up on overcoming obstacles, The Mountain is a deeply moving work. Musically, it is progressive metal in the same vein as Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, and even Rush. Every single song is indispensable, but if I had to pick one, it would be “Pareidolia” –

Well, reader, thanks for hanging in there to the bitter end. I hope I’ve affirmed some of your own opinions and perhaps piqued some interest in an artist or two you’re not aware of yet. Here’s hoping 2014 is as good as 2013!

Haken’s “Pareidolia”: 11 Minutes of Prog/Metal Perfection

Last month, we posted Haken’s very entertaining “Cockroach King” video. Here’s the official video to another song from their excellent The Mountain album, the epic “Pareidolia”. Blending Indian and Greek elements (bouzoukis anyone?) with scorching guitars and tremendous vocals, Haken has come up with a prog/metal classic.

Pareidolia “is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant” (according to Wikipedia). You can watch the curling smoke and cascading light in the video and experience your very own pareidolia.

Fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Ayreon, Riverside, and Devin Townsend will be all over this album.