Haken – L-1VE
Despite all the complexity and technicality being an important cornerstone in our beloved prog music: the emotional impact is what makes it stand out from most of the soulless pop music of our days. And could there be something more emotional than one of your favorite bands celebrating their 10th anniversary with an energetic best of set? Well, having witnessed their growth and rise to stardom very closely following their first appearance at ProgPower Europe in 2010 made it all the more personal. Most of the above could have been said about Norway’s finest Leprous as well, but it is of course the London boys of Haken I am talking about, releasing their first live album and dvd entitled “L1VE”. Two years after “Live at Rockefeller Music Hall” from Leprous, they took an entirely different approach to producing/releasing a live release compared to their norwegian buddies. Instead of launching a crowdfunding campaign and having a lot of fans from all over the world come to their hometown for a one off show featuring special guests and rarely played songs, they just had the last show of the tour in a sold-out Melkweg (Amsterdam) filmed and recorded – and since the demand for a live DVD on social media did not cease, they decided to brush it up and release it.
With five highly acclaimed studio albums under their belt, and with a hardcore fanbase constantly ‘fighting’ over ‘the best’, it sure wasn’t easy to pick a setlist for this anniversary tour. Opening with ‘affinity.exe/Initiate’ was never out of question though, I would surmise. Keeping the energy high with the “Mountain” smasher ‘In Memoriam’ before taking the crowd on a retro-futuristic trip to ‘1984’ and then going all ambient with the atmospheric highlight ‘Red Giant’: the first 25 minutes race by in the blink of an eye. The solution they came up with for the rarely played Aquarius material was just another level of genius though: condensing a complete concept album worth of music (and a modern classic at that) into a 22 minutes arrangement must have been quite the challenge. And, granted, it is still weird to listen to the ‘Aquamedley’ if you know “Aquarius” by heart. It does work nevertheless – and flawlessly at that. Surprising with the heartstopping ‘As Death Embraces’ after the rollercoaster ride of the ‘Aquamedley’ might be a welcome break energy-wise. Emotionally it weighs even deeper.
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Continuing the “Mountain” visit with ‘Atlas Stone’ and the crazy funride that is their ‘breakthrough-hit’ of sorts ‘Cockroach King’, the overwhelming joy the six musicians put into every note is so contagious they even make me forget that they left out my favorite “Mountain” song, ‘Pareidolia’. Coming back to their current opus “Affinity”, the incredibly epic ‘The Architect’ encompasses a whole lot of styles from the Planet X like polyrhythmic main riff, a tasty jazz bass solo courtesy of Wunderkind Conner ‘Flipthathair’ Green, a Mikael Åkerfeldt memorial solo from Richard Henshall, Ross Jennings giving his best (impressive) impersonation of evil Einar until the glorious return of the ‘Initiate’-chorus with Charlie Griffiths’ soaring lead guitar: A modern progmetal epic? This is how it’s done!
One final dubstep dance action with ‘The Endless Knot’, and we are at the end of the regular set already. But Haken have enough epics to choose from for a lenghty encore. On their 10th anniversary tour, we saw the return of a classic: ‘Visions’ taking the place of ‘Crystallized’ again after a couple of touring cycles. And I have to admit: I had almost forgotten, how good it was. Diego Tejeida shredding away on his keytar, Conner getting another small jazzy spotlight, the amazing a cappella vocal section and finally a lot of ooohoooohooos to sing along to… Now the only one I haven’t mentioned in this review, maybe because there is hardly a camera angle showing him properly is Ray Hearne on drums and background vocals and this guy deserves far more recognition than he gets! An absolute monster behind the kit, holding together all the rhythmic craziness, often singing insanely high harmony vocals that are going against what he is doing on the drums rhythmically: this guys deserves to be in the spotlight much much more! #justiceforray
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All in all, Haken’s 10th anniversary tour was a triumphant trek through Europe, showing a band halfway to superstardom, captured on the final show in Amsterdam’s legendary Melkweg club. Performance, sound and light leave nothing to be desired, except maybe a craving for more Haken magic. The light show is impressively synced up with the music, surely strobe heavy, but all that bathing in green and purple balances it out a bit. The only downside with this live release I can see is sadly the camerawork and editing. Now it is not as bad as Ayreon‘s “Theater Equation” turned out, most of the almost two hours is absolutely watchable, still there are just too many awkward and weird camera angles, movements and editing choices to not mention it. And in the end I just can’t help it but wishing that next time they’d prepare such an endeavor better instead of just using material that luckily was somehow recorded that night without the initial intention of ending up on a DVD. Their energetic live show deserves better.
With that being said, I don’t think I need to say anything more about the performance of the band, everyone who has seen a Haken show in his life knows the guys always deliver, be it in a small sweaty club or on a big open air stage. To witness their path from the first babysteps at ProgPower over the years up until this point was truly incredible and awe-inspiring, seeing their huge improvements from tour to tour. A special hats off goes to singer Ross Jennings who went from being the weak spot of their live performance to steadily nailing every single note on every single night, no matter how long and straining the touring might be. Regarding the rumors his vocals on this release might be overdubbed, all I have to say is: I don’t care even if they were. I know he is that good since I was lucky enough to see him live many times. Conclusively, “L-1VE” is the perfect retrospective (at least aurally) on the first four studio albums and ten years of Haken. I am super excited to find out what the future holds for those six incredibly talented and equally lovely blokes. And now the wait is on for HVKEN and the subsequent touring cycle. Luckily, we have “L-1VE” to keep us company.
- In Memoriam
- Red Giant
- As Death Embraces
- Atlas Stone
- Cockroach King
- The Architect
- The Endless Knot