**please forgive the quality of the photography that accompanies this live review. Thanks to a very kind and polite security team, I wasn’t able to take my SLR into the venue and my brand new HTC 10 decided that it wasn’t going to play nicely with me, refusing to focus in anything but long range shots. But I hope the words make up for the rubbish imagery.**
There aren’t many bands that I’ve been following since the very beginning, but Haken are one of them. I have their demo CD prior to the release of their debut ‘Aquarius’ in 2010 and I vaguely remember catching a set of theirs at the Underworld I Camden many moons ago. I can’t remember who they were supporting, but I remember liking what I heard even if at that time the output was rather raw and in need of some honing.
As the years have gone by, I’ve taken Haken to my heart and have followed their endeavours as closely as possible; from interviewing them in their van at ProgPower Europe in 2010, to watching them play to just 50-odd people at Fused Festival in a small antiquated town hall.
Fast forward to 2016 and in the space of just a few years, the change has been incredible. No longer are Haken a raw young band. They are the real deal. Of course it helps if you get championed by some big names in your particular musical circle, in this case Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and even the Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess.
However, this championing wouldn’t have happened without the product to back it up. For Haken, it was their third album, ‘The Mountain’ that made people sit up and take notice, a modern progressive rock/metal tour-de-force. And now, the Londoners have just released ‘Affinity’, their fourth album and, without a doubt, it’s their most accomplished, daring and emotional release to date. Want to know more? Here’s my review
Back to the main event and there’s a reason for this long-winded introduction. You see, what I hadn’t quite expected when I rocked up to the Highbury Garage was both the number of people sporting Haken attire and then the thunderous reception the band received throughout their set, even to the point that huge cheers greeted the various members in the changeover as equipment was set up and fiddled with.
But whilst Haken was undoubtedly the main draw for most within the venue, the support acts for the evening were most definitely worth a mention.
Up first were Archentype, a Norwegian quartet who were every bit as visually interesting and they were sonically. Garbed in hooded white robes, or black in the case of guitarist Simen Handeland, it felt like we were witnessing some kind of ritualistic performance, particularly when the musicians swayed, slumped over their instruments at the beginning of some tracks like zombies. Bassist Kjetil Hallaråker even ventured into the crowd momentarily, adding to a nice sense of theatre, something that’s missing from so many bands these days.
Musically, Arkentype take their cue from the tech metal/djent arena but imbue it with moments of euphoric melodic clarity which are all the more powerful for being surrounded by the menacing, complex and rhythmic down-tuned chug upon which the compositions are built. I enjoyed the performance and was caught by surprise when it ended.
Following Arkentype was Hungarian instrumental prog rock band Special Providence. I‘m not normally a lover of instrumental music but the quartet’s blend of prog and jazz fusion was more entertaining than I had feared. Indeed, it was apparently a sentiment shared by large sections of the audience as the reception grew and grew with each passing song, ending with a rousing and warm cheer.
Highly technical and brain-frazzling they may be, but Special Providence were able to increase accessibility by injecting moments of fleeting melody and plenty of funky groove into their compositions as well as a sense of fun. Visually, Special Providence weren’t the most exciting but the smiles on the faces of the band were infectious, particularly that of bassist Attila Fehérvári who, thanks to his huge grin throughout, was the star of the show.
And then it was time for Haken to hit the stage. Greeted like conquering heroes to a soundtrack of ‘Affinity’, this was the reception of a home-town crowd, proud of their compatriots and anticipating a great show. And they weren’t to be disappointed either.
Kicking off with ‘Initiate’, Haken looked hungry and ready to deliver the goods. The sound was slightly muddy at the outset but quickly cleared as I found myself wedged in towards the front of the crowd, surrounded by fans that were singing loudly enough to almost drown out vocalist Ross Jennings in the quieter passages.
Giving us no time to catch our breath, Haken then launched into ‘Falling Back To Earth’ from ‘The Mountain’. A personal favourite from that album, the quiet mid-section that builds in intensity came across really well. It almost goes without saying that the sextet played tightly, but in case there was any confusion, they were really tight. Drummer Ray Hearne has really grown into a formidable drummer and new(ish) bassist Conner Green was equally impressive camped towards the back of the stage.
And then, after the raucous introductions, the clock was turned back over thirty years to ‘1985’. Ray re-emerged from backstage sporting a green and white headband with matching wristbands, whilst Ross, always the cheeky chappie, sang the entire track bedecked in glowing luminous green sunglasses. If that wasn’t enough, keyboardist Diego Tejeida emerged from behind his static instruments with a grin to reveal a retro keytar. You couldn’t help but chuckle, particularly given the wonderfully uplifting and overtly nostalgic music behind the amusing antics.
After a couple of cuts from the aforementioned ‘The Mountain’ which included the quirky crowd favourite ‘Cockroach King’, it was time for some epic material in the form of Haken’s latest monster ‘The Architect’. It’s a fabulous song on record and live, it was just as good if not better. The twin guitarists of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths really shone throughout, especially with the killer solo towards the close. And, during the quieter moments, Conner was afforded the opportunity to take a step forward and take his moment in the limelight.
Just as I was about to bemoan the lack of any material from the first two albums, ‘Aquarius’ and my overall personal favourite, ‘Visions’ (2011), I was made to feel very silly. Diego indulged himself with a keyboard solo before the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I realised that I was going to hear my favourite Haken track of all-time, ‘Deathless’ live for only the second or third time. It’s such a magical track, and the way the bad built it up from its emotional and tender beginnings to its bruising finale was extremely powerful and simply inspired. Whilst I would have liked another nod to the early days, I couldn’t really grumble with the set list, especially when the early curfew was pushed to its limit by an encore consisting of the epic ‘Crystallised’, a very early piece that was recently re-recorded on the ‘Restoration’ EP (review here).
I’m always amazed at how Haken manage to recreate their complex and challenging material in a live setting. More amazing though is the way in which the music is delivered so carefully and thoughtfully whilst maintaining a connection with the audience; Haken never lose sight of the fact that they are here to entertain and so the stops are always pulled out to ensure the punters are offered value for money. There’s no case of musical statues or aloofness here; they might not be as mobile as Iron Maiden for example, but I’ve never witnessed a bad show from Haken where I’ve been left disappointed or bored. And this gig was no different and the roar that greeted them at the end was testament to this. It was a fabulous show and it is great to see Haken doing so well, even if there was a brief pang of jealousy on my part that I now have to share them with so many others!