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Haken - "Aquarius" (CD)

Haken - "Aquarius" CD cover image

"Aquarius" track listing:

1. The Point of No Return (11:27)
2. Streams (10:14)
3. Aquarium (10:40)
4. Eternal Rain (6:43)
5. Drowning In the Flood (9:28)
6. Sun (7:19)
7. Celestial Elixir (16:56)

Reviewed by on February 19, 2011

"It’s tragic how awful this album really is, taking into consideration the talents of each band member, but if you have ever heard any album from Dream Theater then the material presented here will serve as a lackluster déjà vu."

Okay, so your band is extremely talented and can play circles around many musicians twice your age. You can write music that’s beyond human in its complexity and has god-like arrangements. But so what? Is all the talent in the world worth anything when you cannot write a single original riff or come up with even one unique idea? This question is applied to everything related to Haken and the band’s debut album “Aquarius.” Despite being one of the most musically gifted acts in progressive metal, Haken is the best example of creative plagiarism out there today. Every single melody, solo, and passage featured on “Aquarius” can be traced back to a specific moment in the career of progressive metal luminaries Dream Theater and results in one incredibly redundant record.

It’s tragic how awful this album really is, taking into consideration the talents of each band member, but if you have ever heard any album from Dream Theater then the material presented here will serve as a lackluster déjà vu. Right in the first few seconds of the opening track, “The Point Of No Return,” you are immediately treated to keyboard passages that Jordan Rudess has already written and performed over ten years ago. It even goes far, far beyond the keyboards. Everything from the drum patterns, chord progressions, vocal lines, and instrument solos are taken right off of already existing Dream Theater tracks. At times you can even name whichever song Haken are ripping off of with accuracy, it really is that blatant.

The only new element Haken introduces to Dream Theater’s sound is the slight nuances of deathcore and to answer your immediate question; no – it does not work at all. The best example of this failure and by far the worst song on the entire album, comes in the form of “Streams;” a pop friendly number written for those with aspirations of becoming a fish. The song begins with a catchy piano section that also seems extremely familiar, although this time the idea is not stolen from the above mentioned act. With the song “Streams,” Haken has managed to rip off another musical powerhouse in Vanessa Carlton. Okay; that last part was sarcasm, but listen to the opening of “Streams” and then listen to Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” It’s almost the exact same part. Are you laughing yet? Yes? Well, it gets worse. Not even one full minute into the song and the beyond cheesy lyrics and vocal melodies come through and turn the album into a full blown episode of Blues Clues. After a solid five or six minutes of the "swim with the fishes" theme, the band breaks out the big guns with a slow, off-beat deathcore breakdown complete with growls that were obviously created using in-studio effects.

As the album progresses - or maybe a better word would be regresses - nothing ever changes and the music remains incredibly dull and stale. Even the impressive technical guitar work from John Petrucci, I mean Charlie Griffiths, gets old really fast and by the time the record comes to a stop it is nearly forgettable how talented this young band really is. I’m actually amazed that Haken hasn’t been sued by Dream Theater yet, but maybe the recent departure of Mike Portnoy might explain that away easily. Regardless, “Aquarius” is an album packed to the rim with incredible musicianship of which every idea was copied and pasted from various moments of other people’s careers. The only thing left to do is wait for the next album from England’s Haken and see which route the band chooses to take.

Highs: Some cool moments musically, but they are moments almost any progressive metal fan has already heard.

Lows: Completely unoriginal and uninspired.

Bottom line: A progressive metal album that refuses to be anything more than a blatant Dream Theater rip-off.

Rated 1 out of 5 skulls
1 out of 5 skulls

Reviewed by on April 30, 2010

"While there are a lot of problems brought on by the lack of focus and more mainstream approach, there are also a lot of wonders to be found."

There’s no doubt that Haken’s debut foray “Aquarius” is destined to make a big splash in the realm of prog. With members of the already established To-Mera, they have a lineup that gives them street cred, and their massively long songs have enough twists and turns to keep progressive metal fans coming back for many listens. The only area that Haken lacks is in the actual metal, as it frequently gets left behind in all the prog rock meandering.

Haken has put it all out there in their first release, going full force with massively long songs that run the gamut and cover nearly every aspect of music imaginable. The shortest track is almost seven minutes, and the finale is a marathon that clocks in at just under an incredible seventeen minutes. Much like with To-Mera, each song goes through a nearly absurd number of style and tempo changes, which essentially breaks the tracks down into individual snippets.

The frequent changes are actually handled very smoothly, even as the various segments of any track vary from loosely connected to lacking any connection at all. In some instances it feels like it would have made more sense to break the songs into shorter tracks instead of placing so many different elements into a single entry, especially since most of the segments have very clear transition points. Seven schizophrenic songs could have easily become twelve or more that each had a unique identity.

“The Point of No Return” is an interesting starting point for the album that shows how Haken approaches song writing, as the intro sounds like it could come from the ending of a symphonic metal album. The epic and grandiose sounds suddenly shift into a staple of the more avant-garde bands: circus music. It doesn’t take long for those sounds to get lost as the song changes pace again and heads into a more contemporary and laid back place. There is an exceedingly brief dip into death metal, but it too is gone before it’s had a chance to lay down any roots.

The momentary growling on the opening track is nothing more than a tease to the extreme metal crowd. Any actual death metal elements are almost an afterthought, as there is easily less than two total minutes of extreme vocals in a disc that runs well over an hour long. While there are clear metal influences, and even a good deal of heavy guitar work, the heavy elements are prone to getting bogged down by dips into contemporary and even pop. “Streams” is the biggest offender, as its backing “Ooooh bop, bop” vocals bring to mind Jason Mraz or even Hanson.

While there are a lot of problems brought on by the lack of focus and more mainstream approach, there are also a lot of wonders to be found. There is no denying that these musicians are excellent at their individual instruments, and there are plenty of epic moments and trippy, proggy passages worth hearing.

“Aquarius” may leave extreme metal fans wanting more, but on the flip side it will also easily draw in the crowd that hasn’t gotten into the heavier forms of metal yet. Fans of Dream Theater or To-Mera should give it a shot, but anyone who needs their metal to be constantly aggressive may want to pass.

Highs: Very interesting prog sounds, great guitar work, and smooth transitions.

Lows: The more pop oriented songs aren't going to win over any extreme metal fans.

Bottom line: A schizophrenic outing into prog that is frequently more pop than metal, but it may still appeal to fans of progressive bands like Dream Theater or To-Mera.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 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)