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Haken - "Affinity" (CD)

Haken - "Affinity" CD cover image

"Affinity" track listing:

1. affinity.exe [1:24]
2. Initiate [4:16]
3. 1985 [9:09]
4. Lapse [4:44]
5. The Architect [15:40]
6. Earthrise [4:48]
7. Red Giant [6:06]
8. The Endless Knot [5:50]
9. Bound By Gravity [9:29]

Reviewed by on March 23, 2016

"Haken has to be praised for the way each album has managed to achieve a smoother combo of the metal and prog elements. For much of 'Affinity,' its hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins..."

Woah, they really should have called this album “Retro Affinity.” Get ready for some totally tubular tunes as Haken digs deep into the '80s, adding in a wonderfully dated sound to the group's trademark mix of prog rock and heavy metal. New stylistic focus aside, Haken has to be praised for the way each album has managed to achieve a smoother combo of the metal and prog elements. For much of “Affinity,” its hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins, and that's quite the achievement.

The not-quite title track “affinity.exe” starts off pretty dark and gives the impression Haken might be going for something more sinister than its normal upbeat self, but that shuts down pretty quickly as the 1 ½ minute intro ends and the album begins in earnest with “Initiate.” That second track is pure, classic Haken, and if you loved “Visions” or “The Mountain,” you'll be right at home here.

Next up is the stellar “1985,” which is exactly what it sounds like. You'll practically be able to see the neon flying VHS colors the track conjures up. I half expect Kurt Russel to pop out of the speakers and start shooting at aliens every single time this track comes on.

The 13 minute “Nocturnal Conspiracy” was easily the highlight of 2011 album “Visions,” and there are of course monster tracks on this newer album as well, like 15 minute “The Architect.” That one is filled to the brim with fantastic transitions, frequently heading in new directions you won't expect on the first listen through. I almost don't want to ruin it for longtime fans, but its worth noting harsh vocals finally show up again at around the 11 minute mark, which is a rarity for Haken.

After “The Architect” is where things will be hit or miss for the metal fans. While following track “Earthrise” still finds ways to blend in heavier elements, the very mainstream focused sound here is almost on the easy listening side. I get what Haken is going for with the retro approach, but the sound being emulated on that track just didn't work for me at all. Next song “Red Giant” is another odd one, ending up quite minimalist and featuring parts that purposefully stutter and skip for a disorienting feel.

“The Endless Knot” on the other hand picks up the pace again, and reminds me a bit of Leprous, but with some of the retro sound this album likes to utilize worked into the background. “Bound By Gravity” then ends the album on a low key note, bringing to mind the atmospheric elements of Anathema.

“Affinity.exe” through “The Architect” are killer, but after that the album petered out for me (with the exception of “The Endless Knot”), focusing on all the aspects of the band's many influences that I enjoy least. That's still somewhere in the neighborhood of 40+ minutes of truly excellent music though, so while the second half isn't as strong as the first, it's still an overall engaging listen, and prog metal fans will want to jump on this one.

Highs: Great blend of prog rock and metal, with a killer '80s retro focus.

Lows: Several of the later tracks are much more low key than metal fans may care for.

Bottom line: Haken offers up another stellar blending of heavy metal and prog rock, but with an interesting thematic twist towards the 80's this time around.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 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)