As a man who worships brevity in almost all life situations, including work meetings, small talk, and especially unwarranted social gatherings, it seems odd that I enjoy just the opposite when it comes to art. I am often entranced by long, brooding, attention testing movies like There Will be Blood, novels like Infinite Jest, and music with extended conceptual themes. In life, I can’t stand when people dance around the point. Or even worse, dance until they realize there is no point. In art, the point should be the entirety of the thing, not just a piece of it. The “takeaway” shouldn’t need to be explained by the villain right before he dies. Great artists make unfolding the focus, and not the gimmick twist conclusion.
When it comes to Haken, I could listen to them unfold a song for hours and never experience a dull moment. It never feels like they are stringing us along to display progressive-rock-wankery that so often plagues the genre. With their release of The Mountain, Haken announced their ambition to dominate the genre, and this EP, Restoration, reassured their status.
When you release an EP with three songs and one of them approaches twenty minutes, the other two will eventually disappear into a deep discography. As of now, those two songs, Darkest Light and Earthlings, are not to be missed, but Crystallized will never be forgotten.
Throughout Crystallized , there are rapid and unexpected tone changes, ranging from ethereal, to heavy, to just plain obnoxiously silly, and almost every attempt hits its mark. Its unpredictability is thoroughly reinforced by some of the most interesting transitions that progressive rock has to offer. My favorite series of transitions occurs between 8:00-10:00, where they inexplicably go from an Octavarium-esque keyboard section, to a complicated vocal syncopation, to a medieval-sounding acoustic riff.
Throughout Restoration, Ross Jennings uses the same sing-with-the-rhythm-and-tone style that I found fascinating about The Mountain. The band’s ability to incorporate vocals in the foundation of the song (and not just a layer on top of the instrumentals) will be what sets them apart. At every turn, Haken remind you how much fun music can be when the expected is challenged.
Like any restoration, this one is not without a few stumbles. They have proved in albums past that they can approach and expand on the heavier side of progressive rock, but the heavy sections on the EP fail to impress me. There are sections that echo the so-often-used chugging technique that produces a heavy aura, but actually sounds more like a facade than the real deal. Conversely, some sections try too hard to do something new and they tend to be abrasive against the many smooth successes. The album has faults, but it’s hard to blame them when every minute sounds like an experiment in uncharted territory.
Allow yourself to become entranced by each minute of Restoration. If one minute is not to your liking, don’t give up because the next will make you forget it. Enjoy the unfolding, because the conclusion will beg you to crumple it up and unfold it again.
[Editor’s Note: To clarify: Flushing is a bad thing. Not flushing is a good thing.]
(Buy it here)