Haken is an English progressive metal band, and Affinity is their fourth album. They’ve earned quite a bit of praise over the past few years, starting right out of the gate with their strong debut Aquarius. What made that album so interesting from a progressive metal standpoint was the fact that Haken had combined the intensity of the American progressive metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X with the English flounce and flair of progressive rock bands like Yes, Marillion, and Canada’s Rush. While Affinity does manage to keep that balance alive, I would say that as the albums pass, Haken gets closer and closer to the harder and heavier progressive metal.
Haken is a band that cannot help but wear its influences on its sleeve. One of my favourite songs on Affinity is probably the best example of this. The song is called “1985,” and it’s almost an homage to the sounds of Rush, throughout many of their different phases. Tossed into the mix, every once in a while you will hear keyboard playing that is reminiscent of Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, along with several other influences that I’m probably leaving out. Personally, I feel this is the great strength of Haken. They clearly have done their progressive music homework, and they have the ability to reference without copying, and to combine sounds in a way that is unique to them.
One thing that should be pointed out about this album and how it is different from previous albums is the guitar tone. The Mountain, Haken’s previous album, was full of lush guitar tones, really nice sounds. It fit the theme of the album very well, and the guitars wrapped you in their warm embrace. Even when the guitars got heavy, they still stayed quite light. The heaviest song on The Mountain, Falling Back to Earth, still managed to feel light. With Affinity, this has changed quite noticeably. The guitars are distinctively crunchy. They have much more kick behind them, leading to some very heavy moments. Some sections of The Architect, Affinity’s 15-minute epic, can be positively crushing, especially with the re-introduction of death metal growls, a feature that hasn’t been heard since the earliest albums.
Overall, it’s a heavier sound from Haken, and although there are a few softer songs, like the amazing Earthrise, Affinity is much more serious tonally. There are very few instances of the beeps and boops that added a silly vibe to the sound, and perhaps less experimentation. There is nothing like The Mountain’s Cockroach King, a song that featured an entirely a cappella opening half. That being said, the band sounds extremely tight, and very comfortable in the sound that they are playing. All of the songs are very enjoyable and Haken’s playing is top notch as always. It’s a strong progressive metal album, but perhaps not the lighthearted prog that some were hoping for.