Haken broke on to the progressive metal scene in 2009 with an exceptional debut release and critical hit, Aquarius. Haken returns after only two years to present their second album, Visions. This sophomore effort retains and progresses the fresh and motivated style that will surely give them momentum for the future.
The appropriately named “Premonition” begins like any epic album would, an instrumental overture that builds off the momentum that Haken’s debut Aquarius had build up. Furthermore, it gives us insights to some of the band’s more experimental riffs heard later in the album, like an overture, and especially like a premonition. “Nocturnal Conspiracy” introduces us to the album’s story and does so with a killer, fat melody and composition that changes gears often and with prestige. The song also introduces the listener to the album’s concept; a man has tracked down and killed someone based on visions or dreams they had before.
But the story takes a drastic turn with “Insomnia”, which begins with a straight-forward melody that takes a more complex route after the first chorus. Here, our main character suffers from insomnia and possibly hallucinations while awaiting what appears to be the death sentence. “The Mind’s Eye” has a gracefulness that Haken seems to be able to pull off naturally and transitions into the progressive and technical instrumental “Portals”, which musically expresses the main character’s struggle becoming more oppressive.
“Shapeshifter” is a stellar track with a powerful hook for a chorus with some similarities, when it comes to the composition and song structure, to “Drowning In The Flood”, one of the more disappointing tracks off Aquarius. However, “Shapeshifter”, with its hair-raising chorus, it is one of the standout tracks, second only to the epic album closer. The main character in “Deathless” is beginning to envision his eventual death. This contemplation and ode, matched by the hybrid-ballad form and the instrumental section led by an intriguing bass line.
“Visions” brings the album back around to sum up all the imagery that the previous songs has built up to. The concept of dreams, dreams within dreams, and déjà vu are as prevalent as ever. The song is of epic length, coming in at twenty-two minutes and taking no prisoners. The song explores, in progressive fashion, a plethora of musical genres and styles to reflect the untrustable visions and dreams that the main character has. The song is one of the grandest, heaviest, and most satisfying epics of this length. Haken has re-written the rules of epic progressive metal songs, I doubt anyone will ever catch up.
The album sounds terrific. The instruments are richly layers, and they have to: Visions has a concept that depends on narrative layers and disguises. The music bombastic and grand when it needs to be. The songs are constructed without being overbearing or abusing the talents these musicians have for each other. No instrument stands out over the other, instead, they conspire to deliver an album and narrative that will certainly become beloved over time.
Haken’s sophomore release solidifies the band’s grandiose brand of progressive metal with downbeat social or magical realist tales. Their style evokes an expressionism that is rarely seen in the genre these days, and they do it with an innate nonchalance. Few bands have been able to pull off what they have done in their first two albums. The defined themselves without closing the gate, pushed the boundaries further in a shorter amount of time, much shorter than the giants of progressive music did so. What takes other bands years and several releases to reach, Haken did it in two albums in two years. They produce music that celebrates how modern progressive metal can tell fantastic narratives and explore complex, romantic concepts without being cliché or overbearing. Visions lands in what seems to be a massive year for progressive rock and metal releases. Yet, Haken almost immediately takes back the spotlight and shows incredible promise for the future.