Since their inception back in 2007, British proggers Haken have been steadily building an impressive discography and showing themselves to be one of the best examples of modern progressive metal. Some fans even argue that they have filled the empty space left by Dream Theater who, in recent years, have not exactly been garnering as much praise as they did in their heyday back in the 90s and early 2000's. Whilst this could be up for debate, it's inarguable that the quality of Haken's music has definitely set a high benchmark for progressive metal bands in 2020, and they even gave themselves a tough task of following up their fifth studio release, Vector, which was seen by fans as a return to form after the keyboard-heavy Affinity.
Two years after the release of Vector, Haken are now releasing Virus. Conceptually the band have stated this album is linked to Vector, and both albums are a more in-depth exploration of themes from their 3rd album, The Mountain, particularly the back-story of The Cockroach King. This alone should be cause for excitement given the high quality of Vector and that The Mountain is arguably Haken's magnum opus.
The main thing stacked against Virus is that it could've just been a re-hash of what Vector was; a very riff-driven progressive metal album with Haken's trademark vocal harmonies courtesy of vocalist Ross Jennings. However, whilst these elements are both here in generous helpings, Virus is anything but a re-hash, and if anything is a step ahead of Vector musically speaking.
Opening track 'Prosthetic' starts the album off on a very strong point, with some great instrumental work and strong songwriting. Whilst the chorus on 'Prosthetic' feels a little underwhelming, it serves its purpose and is very memorable. The following four songs continue in this pattern; 'Invasion' is a bottom-heavy banger with a much stronger chorus than 'Prosthetic', and 'Carousel' is a dizzying 10-minute ride that does not outstay its welcome at all.
Tracks six-to-ten are movements of the same song, entitled 'Messiah Complex'. 'Messiah Complex' as a whole is undoubtedly the strongest part of the album, very reminiscent of a longer Dream Theater song like The Glass Prison, but coupled with Haken's jazz-like approach to harmonic development so that it doesn't just sound like a Dream Theater clone. The riff-work on 'Messiah Complex; is absolutely flawless, and the transitions between the softer and heavier parts on the movements, as well as the transitions between the movements themselves, are utterly seamless. The final movement, 'Ectobius Rex', brings all the best elements of 'The Messiah Complex' together, and even sounds inspired by Leprous in places.
As a whole, in spite of a few questionable synth choices, 'Messiah Complex' is a very engaging song and, like the album as a whole, a superb example of modern progressive metal. Following 'Messiah Complex' is 'Only Stars', the shortest song on the album and the closing track. Given that Vector and Virus conceptually precede The Mountain, when playing Only Stars and then following that up with The Path, the opening track from The Mountain, it feels like a natural lead into the album. These three albums could easily become part of a 3-hour long musical if Haken ever had the inclination to do so.
Even leaving the strength of the conceptual storytelling out of the picture, Virus is another example of Haken playing at the top of their game. Like Vector, the production on here is top-notch, courtesy of Adam “Nolly” Getgood and the music on here is exceptionally good. Haken have shown that they can take a heavier avenue with their music without sounding like another paint-by-numbers djent band, and although some of the synth choices are questionable, they once again do not dominate the music on Virus as they did on Affinity. This is an album not to be missed by any progressive music fan, and it will easily fall on a lot of people's end-year lists.