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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Haken

Aquarius

Review by Gary Hill

I like this album a lot. It does a great job of combining classic progressive rock sounds with more modern elements. Comparisons to Dream Theater are accurate at times, but other sections might make a listener think of Yes, Genesis or even Frank Zappa. All the music is dynamic and yet feels cohesive. It’s not like someone just stuck a bunch of pieces together that didn’t belong and called it a song. These are real musical creations. There are some bits of metal that show up here and there, but this is far from a metal album.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Point Of No Return

There is an extremely classical element as this opens. It drops to a bouncy little bit of music that’s rather RIO like for a while and then moves out into a series of killer progressive rock alterations (some of which are quite classical). After a while it drops back to a piano based ballad approach and works gradually out from there. This reminds me of some of the mellower and more evocative pieces of Dream Theater music. It shifts to harder rocking music and comes close to being prog metal. Still, they retain the more purely progressive rock orientation, particularly as more changes emerge. There are some death metal like vocals later, but almost more like some kind of monster or demon making its particular statement. We also get an extremely tasty melodic guitar solo after that section. They even throw a full jazz treatment (piano based at us later) and then move out into something akin to Frank Zappa. From there we get some serious RIO. It makes its way back to the song proper and resolves in fine fashion from there.

Streams
The motif that starts this cut and takes us through the first sections makes me think of Yes quite a bit. In fact, when it drops to the mellower mode for the vocals, I still make that connection. This has some great changes and really is quite Yes-like. There are also hints of Genesis here and there. After a while they take this out into another killer series of changes that feels quite Zappa and RIO-like later. This is a track that just keeps reinventing itself in new ways. As this makes its way through a twisting road of variants, there are some extreme metal vocals that show up once or twice. The track is very diverse and intriguing journey through a number of sonic scenes. It’s still very much progressive rock and in many ways old school prog. There just happen to be some metal vocals for a form of counterpoint or dramatic effect.
Aquarium
This cut starts mellow and builds in that way for quite some time. It becomes more intense later, but never rises to the level of crunchy power that the first two tracks attained in the first half. There are definitely some more Yes-like passages here, but I also make out a lot of Genesis and some Dream Theater. A faster paced, harder rocking jam comes in later and it has a killer groove related riff. We’re eventually taken back out to the more melodic song proper for the conclusion. 
Eternal Rain
The motif that starts this reminds me a lot of The Lamb Lies Down period of Genesis. It moves gradually out from there. The cut works out from there into a number of changes and alterations. It becomes rather crazed at times, but still very cool. This one really never approaches heavy metal, but does have some fusion and other jazz-like moments.
Drowning In The Flood
There’s a rubbery sort of metallic element to the first part of this, but they take it (after a while) to more melodic territory. It works back out to harder rocking music later and overall this is another diverse and dynamic thrill ride with a lot of varied sections.
Sun
A mellow, keyboard based motif leads us out here. The cut grows out from there with a bit of a shift to jazz for a while. It maintains a mellow and rather melodic sound for quite some times, but gains intensity and power. This is an emotional and very pretty piece of music. It has a number of changes and alterations, but maintains this sort of majestic beauty throughout. 
Celestial Elixir
At almost seventeen minutes in length, this is an epic length piece and the longest on the album. Coming in with majesty and drama, this works out to a bouncy little klesmer influenced sound for a time. Then it powers out from there into a pretty and soaring prog jam. We get a break into a Rush meets Kansas section. I hear some Dregs on this as it continues. Eventually it drops down to a mellow, balladic movement and the vocals join, once more reminding me of Dream Theater. It turns out to more hard rocking territory as this carries on. The track continues by working through on a series of developments that feel very organic and powerful. We get a little rag-time excursion mid tune and you can just picture the flappers dancing. From there we get a series of crazed twists and turns taking us in all kinds of directions for short periods of time. Eventually it works out to a soaring, majestic prog sound. It eventually takes us back out to the song proper (the mellow ballad-like jam). From there it’s more alterations and classic progressive rock sounds with a new sensibility. Different bands might be heard at different points and this is just a great piece of music that is cohesive and yet dynamic. It’s what an epic piece should be. Fans of Dream Theater should love it, but Yes fans and other progressive rock aficionados should enjoy it, too.
 
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