HAKEN – Fauna (Album Review)

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Ambitious, innovative, and genre-bending British progressive metalists Haken return to the scene with “Fauna”, the highly-anticipated followup to the 1-2 punch of “Vector” (2018) and “Virus” (2020) set to release March 3, 2023.  It is their 7th full length studio LP since the band’s inception in the mid 2000s. “Fauna” marks the return of a key player, wink-wink, in Haken history.  Keyboardist Pete Jones was an early member of the band during their formative years and performed on the demo “Enter the 5th Dimension” in 2008.  He parted with the band shortly after to complete his academic studies, only to return more than a decade later filling the recently vacated role on keys.

“We’ve known Pete since he was fifteen,” says guitarist Richard Henshall. “He turned up at a rehearsal way back in the early days, and we were like: ‘How are you this good at playing piano at fifteen?!’ It’s really great to rekindle that musical relationship and also that friendship, and start sharing music with each other.”

“Fauna” is the ultimate showcase of Haken’s diversity. Whether you are a fan of Haken‘s adventurously melodic classic period (“Aquarius,” “Visions,”, and “The Mountain”), their futuristic throwback 80s homage “Affinity”, or their lean into djent on “Vector” or “Virus”, you will find something to love about “Fauna.” Imagine a best of album but with all new material.

Calling this a concept album might be an invitation to mock progressive rock’s tendency to become formulaic and pretentious, so I will resist that temptation and call this a themed album. Each song stands on its own with no connected story-line, yet they all pull from the same idea/inspiration.

“The premise of the album when we started writing it was that every song would have an animal assigned to it,” explains vocalist Ross Jennings. “They all have something related to the animal kingdom that we could write about, but they also connect to the human world. Each track has layers, and some of them are more obvious than others.”

It opens with three tracks previously released as singles before opening up into new territory. “Taurus,” “Nightingale,” and “The Alphabet of Me” were well-chosen singles as they perfectly represent the diversity of the album. The rusty metal jagged djent from “Taurus” connects well with other rhythmically complex pieces like drummer Ray Hearne’s stand-out performance on “Sempiternal Beings” and the stuttering riffs and vocal textures of “Beneath the White Rainbow.”

The Alphabet of Me” pays respects to catchy melodic 80s prog while bringing it to the future with its dystopian edge, addictive chorus, and cautionary lyrics. It pairs nicely with another 80s homage “Lovebite”, a metaphor about failed relationships personified as a black widow devouring her mate.  (Don’t worry. It’s not as cheesy as that might sound.) “Nightingale,” having released as a single about a year ago, always felt like early, quintessential Haken to me with its unique poly-rhythms and dynamics. It finds a home here in “Fauna” amongst several like-minded compositions, one being “Island in the Clouds” which ebbs and flows with a gorgeous bass-line by Conner Green and soaring vocals.  

Arguably, the star of the record may be “Elephants Never Forget,” an 11-minute juggernaut that delivers a sound as big as the titular pachyderm itself. Guitarists Henshall and Charlie Griffiths set the scene in a majestic and awe-inspiring opening section before dropping away for a playful keyboard and vocal melody from Jones and Jennings reminiscent of Gentle Giant.  The epic effortlessly shifts tones several more times taking the listener on an unexpected journey of twists and turns through passages evocative of Nine Inch Nails and Queen.

“Fauna” Album Artwork

The perfect example of animal-kingdom-meets-humanity comes from the album closer “Eyes of Ebony.” The clean guitar melancholy piece is both about the global extinction of the white rhino and the recent passing of Henshall’s father, who was a huge supporter of the band and actively worked to promote them in their formative years.  Thematically, it serves as a fitting end for the album but leaves you wanting more. Perhaps that was the goal all along.

Musically, throughout “Fauna,” the band continues to explore disorienting yet engaging rhythms. Solos have largely been replaced with complex syncopated sections. While I love a face-melting guitar solo and wish there were a few more sprinkled around, at least Haken hasn’t fallen into the generic prog-metal cliché of trading back and forth between guitar and keyboard wankery for five minutes in the middle of every song like more predictable prog-metal acts.  

In whole, the album is successful in its goals. It pays tribute to musical inspirations while being unmistakably Haken, past, present, and future. The lyrics are thought-provoking and bring the album together as a cohesive unit. Parts of “Fauna” are sure to grab you immediately upon your first listen, while others may feel disorienting at first due to the rhythmic complexity and require several spins to fully appreciate. Listening to this record, as is true for most great progressive music, is like making soup. If you have the patience to let it simmer, you’re rewarded with a much deeper, robust flavor. This album is a soup I’m happy to order again and again.

Still, a lingering question remains: Just as Vector had a Virus, will Fauna have a Flora?

Released By: InsideOutMusic
Release Date: March 3rd, 2023
Genre(s): Progressive Metal

Musicians:

  • Ross Jennings / Vocals
  • Richard Henshall / Guitars, Keys
  • Charlie Griffiths / Guitars
  • Pete Jones / Keys
  • Conner Green / Bass
  • Ray Hearne / Drums

“Fauna” track listing:

  1.  Taurus 4:49
  2.  Nightingale 7:25
  3.  The Alphabet Of Me 5:34
  4.  Sempiternal Beings 8:24
  5.  Beneath The White Rainbow 6:45
  6.  Island In The Clouds 5:46
  7.  Lovebite 3:49
  8.  Elephants Never Forget 11:07
  9.  Eyes Of Ebony 08:32
9.0 Excellent

Complex song structures, intricate guitar riffage, dynamic vocal delivery, thought-provoking lyrics, and beautifully layered textures. Haken continues to breathe fresh air into the progressive metal genre.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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