Album Review: Haken – Affinity

Album Review: Haken – Affinity

Album: Affinity
Genre: Progressive metal/Progressive rock
Date of Release: 29th April 2016
Location: London, England
Reviewer: Matthew Byrne
For Fans Of: Dream Theater, Leprous, Casio Keyboards

Track Listing:

1. ‘affinity.exe’ (1:24)
2. ‘Initiate’ (4:16)
3. ‘1985’ (9:09)
4. ‘Lapse’ (4:44)
5. ‘The Architect’ (15:40)
6. ‘Earthrise’ (4:48)
7. ‘Red Giant’ (6:06)
8. ‘The Endless Knot’ (5:50)
9. ‘Bound By Gravity’ (9:29)

What was it about the 80’s which causes so many of us to reflect upon it so fondly? Was it the shoulder pads? Michael Jackson? Pac Man? Or, perhaps, was it simply the sheer beauty that was Ronald Reagan’s hair? Whether it’s masked crusaders from outer space saving the world with keytar in hand (a.k.a. Tupper Ware Remix Party) or a leather jacket clad kung-fu cop travelling backing in time to kill Adolf Hitler, there’s no denying that, for some reason, people fucking love the 1980’s. Or they don’t. Whatever.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the fourth album from British prog-metallers, Haken, would have some 80’s flavor to it. I mean, it’s somewhat of a logical step to take after their previous album’s (The Mountain) 70’s prog-inspired sound, but what initially crossed my mind was that time that guy made an 8-bit version of Tesseract’s Altered State. Fear not though, this isn’t an elaborate prank by Haken to release a chiptune album. Entitled Affinity, the album’s 1980’s influences are tasteful rather than in your face and wanting attention.

The album opens with ‘affinity.exe’, which serves more of an abient/electronic lead into the album’s first real song and single, ‘Initiate’. When this song was first released, I have to say, I was underwhelmed. My expectations were high after Haken’s previous efforts on The Mountain, and I was hoping for a single which would blow me away like ‘Atlas Stone’ did. ‘Initiate’ is easily one of the more straightforward songs on Affinity, and showcases some influence from tour buddies Leprous which pops its head up throughout the album not unlike Wilson from Home Improvement. That’s not to say it’s a bad song, it just falls short alongside ‘Lapse’ as being a little more forgettable when pitted against some of the absolute bangers to come.

‘1985’ is full of retro synths, reverb-soaked drum machines, and filthy 8-string riffage. It’s definitely a strange marriage of styles, but it’s because of this that it’s also one of the standout tracks on the album. ‘1985’ serves as an introduction to the 80’s retro sound which Haken have infused with this album, and what an introduction it is. This is also in part due to some fantastic production from Jens Bogren. And, speaking of Leprous influences, their frontman Einar Solberg makes an appearance on the epic ‘The Architect’, providing some harsher vocals, the likes of which haven’t been heard on a Haken release since their debut. ‘The Architect’ is a monster; clocking in at just over 15 minutes, it’s definitely the centre point of the album. This behemoth of a song encapsulates everything you need to know about both Affinity as an album but also Haken as a band. It’s flashy when it needs to be and restrained enough to have some beautiful melodic moments in amongst the chaos. Sure, there are moments where ‘The Architect’ wears its influences on its sleeve, but it’s certainly not enough to pull you out of the zone.

And, just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Haken throw the whole album into a brief left turn with ‘Earthrise’ — complete with powerful, soaring choruses, synth-pop-esque stylings during the verse, and disco drum beats. It’s full of little tongue-in-cheek moments that really demonstrate how Haken is not at all afraid to have fun.

Next up is the toned down, atmospheric ‘Red Giant’, which provides the listener a moment to take a deep breath and regroup for the final two songs. Diego Tejeida delivers some great soundscapes for this track and gives him an opportunity to do something different than play chirpy retro synth runs (even though there’s nothing wrong with that). Now that you’ve had a moment to recompose yourself, Affinity comes out swinging with ‘The Endless Knot’. Full of punchy riffs, great drum work, and even a dubstep breakdown, ‘The Endless Knot’ is by far an album highlight. Haken have gone all out on the electronic production on this track, and yet it doesn’t feel out of place amongst the otherwise prevalent retro sounds. In a way, it’s as if Haken are saying “we’re not done just yet”, and, with that we move on to ‘Bound By Gravity’ — nine and a half minutes of dreamy, atmospheric ballad which builds up to a brief, yet climactic reprisal of ‘Initiate’, complete with tubular bells and all. The song then ends with a series of computerized dial tones, reminiscent of the old dial-up internet days; like a bow on top of this nostalgic gift that Haken have so graciously boxed up for us.

If I had to sum Affinity up in just one word, it would have to simply be ‘fun’. Affinity is just such a fun album to listen to, it’s the kind of album where on numerous occasions I caught myself grinning from ear to ear after picking up a sneaky guitar line of synth sound. Haken aren’t trying hard to shove a grandiose progressive metal space rock opera down your throat (looking at you, Dream Theater), they’re just taking the listener on a journey through an 80’s-themed amusement park, packed full of nostalgic sounds and bright new ideas. Affinity on the surface is cheeky and accessible, don’t let the ‘progressive’ tag dissuade you from taking a look at this album. You don’t need a PhD in Quantum Mathematics to get through it. That being said, however, Affinity is full of small intricacies and minute details which you might only pick up on after your first 10 listens. Whether you like to take your music at face value or dive in head first and dissect every note and hit, there’s a very good chance you’re going to find something to love in Affinity.

A part of me knows that whilst The Mountain drew on some 70’s prog roots and Affinity is more overt in its 80’s inspirations, the chances of their next musical venture to be influenced by 90’s culture is very unlikely. That being said, if Affinity can bring the neon lights of the 1980’s into a modern prog setting without being cliché and cheesy, then I certainly wouldn’t say no if Haken wanted to don a flannelette shirt, grow out a mullet and become a ska band for album number five.

Vocals: 8/10
Guitar: 8/10
Bass: 7/10
Keyboard: 8/10
Percussion: 7.5/10
Songwriting: 9/10
Production: 9/10
Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Overall IPHYB Rating: 9/10

Album Review: Haken – Affinity
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