From the ever intriguing minds of Haken comes Vector, the British band’s fifth studio album. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, Vector is Haken’s shortest yet most dynamic full-length release to date. This succinct collection of seven songs takes the listener on a psychological roller coaster, focusing on themes of the mind from the perspectives of both the mentally wounded and their apparent psychoanalysts. Musically, Vector successfully delivers myriad tones ranging from an orchestral introduction, to catchy pop, punchy metal, and subdued melancholic passages.
Unlike previous Haken albums, Vector opens with a track that wouldn’t be out of place kicking off an Insomnium album, or perhaps some black metal. “Clear” is an epic, slow-building piece comprised of organ, synth tones and choral voices that beckons the listener in, before giving way to the beat-heavy, poppy “The Good Doctor.”
“The Good Doctor” is the most familiar sounding track on the album, and it’s no surprise that Haken selected it as their first single. This is the poppiest track on Vector, often exposing thumpy bass lines that transition into catchy, clean choruses. However, even this, the most accessible song on the album, plays with off-beats in a delightful way that will keep prog fans engaged.
Apart from some ill-conceived lyrics, if there is a weakness to Vector, it’s that every song feels slightly uninspired compared to track three, “Puzzle Box.” This, the second single off the album, is a revelation, and one that I can’t help but go back to. Everything that is great about Vector is showcased here. The riffs are punchy, original, and memorable. The lyrics are compelling, touching on themes of guilt, regret, despair, and the specter of inescapable time. The melodic bridge is a sinister respite, filled with programmed beats, whispered musings, and ambient, ringing acoustic chords, ushering in a barrage of supremely progressive guitar riffing. The outro reestablishes the musical themes of the earlier chorus, but never repeats it. Rather, the melody is transformed into a cascade of harmonized vocals that only allude to earlier moments. In short, it kicks ass.
In true prog fashion, Vector does deliver one epic, excessively long track. Clocking in at over 12 and a half minutes, “Veil” goes places none of the other tracks do, opening with a slow and sullen melodic section, and delivering an indulgent solo after the five minute mark. Fans of Dream Theater will feel right at home with this track.
Although “Veil” is satisfying in many ways, I do find the early chorus, just after the three minute mark, to be both uninteresting melodically as well as a cliché lyrically. “Save me. Take away the pain inside.” These lyrics are unacceptable coming from anyone over 17 years old. That being said, it’s a small blemish in an otherwise excellent track.
Following this behemoth of a song, we get “Nil by Mouth,” the heaviest track of the album, and a sure sign that Haken want to push the boundaries of their sound. This track is completely instrumental, and more djent-like than any previous offering. We get some playful electronic fills, as well as a few Opethian riffs complete with foreboding keyboard accompaniments. At five minutes in, the song completely reboots, building slowly with digital snare drums, into a repeating outro riff accompanied by choral tones reminiscent of some of Devin Townsend’s heavier tracks. We can really see the influence of producer and mixer Adam Getgood of Periphery with this one.
Yet another surprise, the following track, “Host,” opens with a faded, jazzy trumpet. This is the ballad of the album. It’s slow, sullen, and the lyrics again dwell on mortality, with images of the Earth reclaiming the bones of the dying narrator. “Host” is a dramatic and evocative track that once again complicates the trajectory of the album in a satisfying way.
The album concludes with its third single, “A Cell Divides.” Like “The Good Doctor,” this track recalls some of Haken’s earlier sound, relying on more traditional hooks and accessible vocal lines. The chorus is catchy and hinges on an exposed and simple beat. The vocals in some of the verses are digitally filtered in an interesting way. Overall, it’s a fine enough track to finish on.
Though on the shorter side, Vector delivers seven dynamic songs that encompass a diverse array of sounds while maintaining cogent musical and lyrical themes. Haken continue to develop the heavier end of their sound without abandoning catchy hooks, memorable vocal lines and surprising beats. With the exception of a few cliché lines, this album succeeds on every level, and the revelatory track “Puzzle Box” is one this writer will return to for years to come. If the band continues on this trajectory, they will remain in the upper echelon of what prog metal has to offer. Kudos.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Puzzle Box”
RELEASE DATE: 10/26/18
FOR FANS OF: Leprous, Caligula’s Horse