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Haken - "The Mountain" (CD)

Haken - "The Mountain" CD cover image

"The Mountain" track listing:

1. The Path
2. Atlas Stone
3. Cockroach King
4. In Memoriam
5. Because It's There
6. Falling Back To Earth
7. As Death Embraces
8. Pareidolia
9. Somebody
10. The Path Unbeaten (bonus)
11. Nobody (bonus)

Reviewed by on August 13, 2013

"Stunning technicality, fluid and enjoyable melodic development, tone variation, and gargantuan heavy parts have practically ensured Haken's reign for the foreseeable future in the hotly-contested genre."

Three stellar and consistent albums back-to-back at the beginning of one's career is not a feat easily achievable by a band playing modern prog metal, a genre fiercely sniped at by critics. If we were to take Dream Theater as the root of “modern” prog and start at the year 1989, with the release of "When Dream and Day Unite" along with "Images and Words" and "Awake" as follow-ups, it's damn hard to think of a three-album run (beginning with the debut album) by any other band that has been so consistent and agreed-upon by critics. It's about as difficult a balancing act as what's going on in the album cover image to Haken's third effort, "The Mountain," a cover that perfectly represents the band's predicament prior to this record. The man rolling the boulder on the rim is Haken itself, and the band has finally and arduously confirmed its spot at the peak.

Haken established a unique sound early on with "Aquarius," taking to the use of very creative chord changes, mood shifts, tone palettes, and technical bombast to deliver a fantastical lyrical story. With their second effort, "Visions," not one single element of that had changed aside from the lyrical story being new. "The Mountain" shows only one inclination toward change -- the lyrics center more around a theme than an actual story, providing direction to the music. The band neither compromised nor flew off the rails, all the while polishing the elements of the sound, making the music more palatable, intense, and concise.

"The Path" sets into motion a light musical and lyrical motif which will evolve throughout "Because It's There" and rhythmically in a small part of "As Death Embraces." It also makes a comeback in lavish symphonic format for the bonus track "The Path Unbeaten." The band's penchant for these gradually changing motifs was already established on prior albums, but finds itself advanced further in every song on "The Mountain." The movements in each song flow intuitively, as if they were parts of a musical theater play, providing dramatic juxtaposition and imbuing each segment with purpose, most poignantly illustrated in the twelve minutes of "Falling Back To Earth."

As with the previous albums, "The Mountain" was written primarily by Richard Henshall, who also happens to be a main part of the band To-Mera with Haken bassist Tom MacLean. This time around, however, the band worked quite a bit more closely on shaping and rewriting the music, and the group’s maturation shows. MacLean notes that the lyrics were written by the band as a whole this time, and that keyboardist/vocalist Diego Tejeida penned the song "As Death Embraces." Stepping into the role of lead vocalist for a moment on "Pareidolia," Tejeida makes a formidable entrance into the lead world.

Keyboard, guitar, and bass solos over zany time signatures are still very present, although other elements are given more of a focus on this record. The lush layered harmonies of vocalist Ross Jennings come in abundance, especially on the noteworthy vocal rounds in "Cockroach King," "Somebody," and "Because It's There." Jennings also hits a level of radiance and sensitivity normally reserved for the likes of Jeff Buckley and Tori Amos on tracks like "The Path" and "As Death Embraces." Raymond Hearne's drum performances and direction on the horn part of "Somebody" are also a high of the album, lending the "oomph" factor of a Hans Zimmer-type musical production. Further, the album was mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Devin Townsend, Symphony X), evening out any imbalances in dynamic that were present on the previous two records.

With this third effort, topping off the first Haken trilogy, the band has effectively erected a monument to its dominance on the top of the proverbial prog mountain. Stunning technicality, fluid and enjoyable melodic development, tone variation, and gargantuan heavy parts have practically ensured Haken’s reign for the foreseeable future in the hotly-contested genre.

Highs: The matching of atmosphere to lyrical intent is near-perfect and the melodic development is stunning.

Lows: Bass (haha, I made a frequency joke) -- In all seriousness, matters of taste aside, nothing's particularly bad.

Bottom line: The band's third prog metal concept album, and a monumental effort of musicianship the size of its title.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)