Fresh Earworms – Haken “Virus” Review

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UK’s Haken has returned with “Virus”, a thematic and conceptual follow up to their 2018 album, “Vector”, with references to classic tracks like “Cockroach King” from 2013’s “The Mountain”.  Their new album and sixth overall, is one of their finest albums to date.  Haken began work on “Virus” back when writing “Vector” in 2017 and the timely title was purely coincidental with the current pandemic.  Serving as both a terrific new album for fans and a great entry point for those just beginning their journey with the band, “Virus” captures the band in peak creative form.

What I’ve really come to appreciate with Haken’s output is their refusal to stay in one lane for too long.  Similarly to bands like Between the Buried and Me and Leprous, every album since their debut pushes them further both in terms of technicality, songwriting and even genre.  While “Affinity” is a hard album to top for me personally (and is one of my favorite prog metal albums period), the band is really doing some incredible work on “Virus” and they deserve to net an even bigger audience with this one.  Haken has created a story arc that expands across multiple albums but it still manages to feel contained and fresh.    

First track and single, “Prosthetic”, absolutely rips.  This is one of Haken’s heaviest tracks to date.  The chorus is catchy and I love vocalist Ross Jennings’ work here. The guitar solo is also top-notch.  This opening section gives me strong “Honor Thy Father” vibes.  While Haken has always clearly had some inspiration from Dream Theater (and let’s be honest, what prog band in the last decade or so doesn’t), they’ve always found unique ways to sprinkle their influences in.  

Next up is “Invasion” and one of the other singles released prior to album launch.  This track is really hooky and has several really tasty riffs.  I’m particularly fond of when the vocals kick in at the beginning.  The chorus is also catchy and there is some great interplay between Connor Green on bass, Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths on guitars and Raymond Hearne on drums throughout.   

The third track, “Carousel”, might be my favorite track on the album.  It features excellent vocals from Ross but I also really dig the structure and sound here.  It goes in unpredictable directions and features excellent musicianship from all members.  I particularly love where it goes around the four minute mark.  Also, that absolutely stunning segment a little after the seven minute mark.  This is probably unintentional, but nonetheless, I appreciate the lyric regarding “sinking in the mire” which reminded me of the vastly underappreciated track, “Beneath The Mire”, by Opeth.  Regardless, “Carousel” is Haken crafting one of their best songs to date. 

The fourth track, “The Strain”, reminds me of a few tracks from “Affinity”, mainly “Red Giant” and “The Endless Knot”.  It certainly sets itself apart though.  While this song took the longest to sink in for me, over the many listens, it has finally opened up for me. I particularly like the section in the middle of the song where Ross sings “When did we make our peace, violence?”  The outro is also a strong finish to the song.  

The fifth track, “Canary Yellow”, gives me chills.  Really epic and beautiful all in the span of four minutes.  The ending of this one is truly amazing and I can’t wait to hear it live.  I may be alone here but parts of this track remind me of the song, “The Garden”, from Rush.  

Also, they produced another music video for this track and it’s really wonderful too.  It reminds me a little of Jess Cope’s videos for Steven Wilson, which is to say, this video is gorgeous.      

The behemoth “Messiah Complex” follows and this is one of the bands best long tracks.  They’ve consistently had at least one lengthy track since their debut, “Aquarius”, and while it isn’t their longest, it’s a great mix of what Haken does best.  It also references “The Mountain”, in the lyrics and songwriting.  I also appreciate what Diego Tejeida is doing on keyboards during this song (and throughout the album).  He is a balanced player that can be front and center one moment and then he will layer thoughtful and subtle keys underneath the rest of the band members.  Anyhow, this song comes to a momentous close and will surely become part of the bands setlists in the future.  

The final track, “Only Stars”, is short and sweet.  It wraps up both “Virus” and previous album, “Vector”, beautifully.  It’s reminiscent of “The Path Unbeaten”, which though that was a bonus track on “The Mountain”, tied everything up neatly.  

Haken worked once again with Adam Nolly Getgood on the mix and in my opinion, this is one of their best sounding albums.  If you enjoyed “Virus”, I also highly recommend checking out the instrumental mixes that come with the deluxe edition as it’s a real treat to hear all the layers underneath the vocals. 

“Virus” is now available digitally on ITunes and Amazon, while the deluxe physical edition can be found on Century Media’s site.

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