Haken, Fauna, Inside Out Music, 2023
Tracks: Taurus (4:49), Nightingale (7:25), The Alphabet of Me (5:34), Sempiternal Beings (8:24), Beneath the White Rainbow (6:45), Island in the Clouds (5:46), Lovebite (3:50), Elephants Never Forget (11:07), Eyes of Ebony (8:32)
Haken have never been a band to shy away from experimentation, yet no matter what musical pond they dip their toes into, their albums always sounds distinct. There’s no mistaking their music for someone else’s. Maybe it’s the syncopation and the speedy jazz-influenced guitar riffing. Or Ross Jennings’ signature voice. Or the band’s ability to make quiet music remarkably complex while still being able to lay down intensely heavy riffs that hold their own amongst the heaviest prog metal powerhouses of the day. And they can go back and forth between the two seamlessly.
Fauna is in many ways a typical Haken album, then, in the sense that is features the band’s playfulness and willingness to experiment. “The Alphabet of Me” has both rapped lines (before you get mad, even Dream Theater has tried that) and trumpet. “Sempiternal Beings” (sempiternal is a fancy word for eternal) has a masterful balance between the dark and light sides of Haken’s music. “Island in the Clouds” even has cowbell.
The ocean between us is where we find inner peace.“Sempiternal Beings”
“Beneath the White Rainbow” is magnificently chaotic. The bizarre filter on the vocals make it seem a bit cloudy, and the heaviness of the music give it a djent edge. “Lovebite” has a pop edge with a catchy melody in the chorus, but the chorus remains heavy enough to make it palatable to my prog snob ears. Keyboardist Peter Jones’ (original Haken keyboardist who rejoined the band; not the Tiger Moth Tales PJ) swirling key acrobatics adds a layer of interest here as well, as does the brief guitar solo in the final third. The drum blast beats to open the song are anything but pop.
“Elephants Never Forget” is the prog star of the record and the best song here, in my opinion. This is the kind of song that made me fall in love with Haken a decade ago. It has the playfulness of “The Cockroach King” with the epic grandeur of “Crystallised.” The vocal harmonies return, although they probably could have been used to even greater effect. But they are there. The song’s length gives it space to breathe and move, which is generally what holds my interest in music. And it doesn’t get more prog than singing about the “leviathan of Doggerland.”
I think the album would have been better served by ending on this track rather than “Eyes of Ebony.” It has a sort of swell to it that feels complete. “Eyes of Ebony” is still a great track, especially once it gets rolling, but I don’t think it’s the best choice for an album closer. It kind of just tapers off, leaving the record on a bit of an uncertain note. “Elephants Never Forget” has a satisfying ending.
Truth be told, I’d be perfectly happy if Haken made an entire album of songs like “Elephants Never Forget,” rather than the rabbit trails they often go down into other musical genres. A lot of the electronic, rap, etc. does very little for me, but I appreciate how they are able to fold those elements into their sound without compromising their style of music. I generally prefer the softer elements in Riverside’s and TesseracT’s music over Haken’s softer side, but that may be because both of those bands have a spacier Floydy edge that Haken doesn’t really have. It all comes down to preference. All in all this is another solid record from one of the foremost names in the prog metal scene today. It’s one of the best records released thus far this year, second only to Riverside’s ID.Entity.