Haken - Restoration (EP) (2014)

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After the release of 2013's The Mountain, Haken has nothing left to prove. Not to us, not to you, not to anyone in the prog arena. What they did, quite simply, is create a nearly perfect album, full of theatricality and emotion, technical prowess and skill. They could rest on the accolades of that album for years, soaking in the widespread critical and fan acclaim. Their album was so far ahead of its time, it needed be follow up, touched up, or revisited. But instead, they went back to the drawing board. This time, it was a return to their past, a 2007/2008 demo that hadn't been done justice in their earlier days. What results is a three track re-imagining, titled Restoration, that seeks to give due to where things began. And as we've come to expect from the UK's reigning kings of avant prog, the results are anything but ordinary.

To that point, the initial heaviness of Darkest Light is neither fleeting nor oppressive. Rather, it is a punctuation mark at the end of a strongly worded sentence, written eloquently and with purpose. Pounding kick drums and cymbal splashes accent every riff and keyboard run. It isn't as though they are in lock step with one another, but a jagged and intricate strut. All the while, vocalist Ross Jennings spins his yarn. More impressive, though, is how the band take a down tempo crawl and turn it into something more interesting than you would expect. Earthlings doesn't have that break neck speed or musical precision that Haken has become known for, but what it does have is a great deal of calculated perfection. From every snare crack to each keyboard touch, it turns a nearly eight minute piece into something that feels short, concise, and timed to the microsecond.

Conversely, Crystallised is an expansive piece that is the epitome of a progressive metal masterpiece. It's the kind of track that you become invested in, not in spite of it's length, but because of it. The rattling drum fills and horns echo through the distortion. Mechanical, almost robotic in delivery, but so natural in the way in proceeds to carve a path for itself. Jennings is versatile, as we know by this point, but the way he uses and manipulates his voice is even more evident in a track that has so many unique pieces. That ability to adapt and control your space is not only to Jennings credit; the rhythm section of bassist Conner Green and drummer Ray Hearne has an impeccable knack for changing the complexion of a song with one simple shift in gears. And with no mold, no necessary framework to follow or trace, eclectic moments, like the ones you find around the thirteen minute mark, are always possible. They do it all well, simple and straightforward, or complex and chaotic.

Once you've come to a point in your career, whether it be early or late, where you are saddled with the burden of releasing what is widely known as your masterpiece, it can be difficult to move on, to make new music, to adjust to life after your peak. For Haken, that time may never come. The Mountain is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of work in modern metal of any kind. But it seems that it won't be a one off sort of piece of art; it is the beginning of a collection and a catalog that will soon be considered one of the best ever. They are evolving, not just as individual musicians, but as a band. They have begun to see their music through a different lens, one that gives them the freedom to do whatever feels right, and allow it to be. They've applied that perspective to the three songs on Restoration, and given them new life once again.


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