Haken – Fauna
Inside Out Music
Release Date: 03/03/2023
Review by Alex Swift
Running Time: 62:06
Through their ability to wrap stories of human struggle into their multifaceted compositions, balancing technicality with an astute eye for detail, and knowledge of how to tell a story, Haken have become distinguished in progressive metal. “The Mountain” – my jumping on point for them – was unique in the way it told stories of the beasts becoming the new masters, while the companion albums of “Virus” and “Vector” explored the idea of scientific knowledge’s ability to liberate or enslave animals and humans, to amazing effect. Now, with “Fauna”, they’ve taken that idea one step further, being something of a concept album drawing parallels between the animal Kingdom and the human world. Musically, it continues this band’s trend of making each album somewhat more challenging than the last. Still, like “Virus”, while my initial reaction was to be perplexed, I grew to appreciate this more for the way it tested my ability to comprehend and understand music.
Haken establishes highly contrasted sounds as a defining characteristic of ‘Taurus’. The track opens with loud abrupt harmonics, dominating rhythm guitars, and caustic tones. To provide a peaceful aspect, Ross Jennings’ voice cut through the frantic backdrop. Both the migration of wildebeast and the dislocation brought on by the war in Ukraine are effectively drawn together in this track. Meanwhile, the uplifting chorus stands out for its beauty and craftsmanship among the contradictory portions of calm and ferocity. It’s a seductive balance of opposites, releasing a dark weight in the collapse. Non-linear sections with a strong impact and a discordant edge emerge from ‘Nightingale’, which explores the worlds of dreams and nightmares. Birdsong and gentle piano leads are joined with an unsettling atmosphere while the musical and vocal patterns in the verses combine fascinating jazz elements. This album uses dark and light to create juxtaposition, but also fluctuates with different melodic layer intensities.
‘The Alphabet of Me’ took me a while for me to appreciate. Incorporating electronic stabs and pulsating bass rhythms, before returning to the brief but increasingly sophisticated electronic segment, the piece bursts with complex subtleties. With a saxophone entering the mix and providing brilliant brass tones, the track’s strong bass, rhythmic percussion, and soaring choral supporting voices become more and more apparent. This pairing brings the song to a fascinating close. I must admit I was disappointed to learn that this song is not, in actual fact, about Doctor Who. Rather, the words “It’s time to wake up and die or regenerate,” allude to survival instincts, drawing parallels between the ability of a snake – for instance – to shed its skin with the perilous choice each of us have probably at some point faced to reform and change, or else find ourselves trapped in toxic relationships or lifestyles. The band’s ability to write effective yet intriguing compositions is continued on to ‘Sempiternal Beings’. The song’s expert guitar playing demonstrates Haken’s command of each of their particular instruments as well as the band’s overall musical intent. High-speed tapping intensifies the track’s increased and more tense tempo as it approaches its climactic final chorus. “The ocean between us is where we find inner peace. When will we cease to convince ourselves we’re sempiternal beings?” Ross Jennings questions here, perhaps as a reminder that we are not eternal and everlasting, and the strong civilizations we have built could just as easily be consumed by the water that surrounds us and gives us life.
‘Beneath The White Rainbow’ continues the environmentalist message evoking images of “cinder cascades” and impressive structures falling to the rivers below. The piano on this track enhances the listening experience by conveying a sense of weight and significance. They are sufficiently integrated with the low range sounds to avoid feeling out of place, yet it is still heard occupying a distinct space. The track’s eerie aspect truly shines in the bridge when the cavalcade of noise is stripped back, allowing the keys to evoke melancholy and sombre emotionality. ‘Island in The Clouds’ – an anti-war song condemning the animalistic instinct to kill – stuns with its ethereality, as the piece begins on a bass-led groove before transitioning into a majestic piece of disturbing psychedelia. The harmonies and guitars work in tandem to summon an image of a menacing precipice at the end of existence, that far too many fall over before their time, as a consequence of our devaluing of life.
From this point, the album gets strange. ‘Lovebite’ is perhaps the closest this band has come to writing a power ballad. The fast-paced guitars explode with a frenetic character. When the verse begins, the variable extremes of velocity abruptly dissipate, intensifying an already potent impression. Meanwhile, in keeping with the concept, love is compared to a wild animal with lines like “I see you’ve eaten somebody else, won’t let my jealousy affect us, is too much not enough for you?” returning to the concept of our desire and obsession to consume being abusive in our relationship with the rest of the natural world. Following this, ‘Elephants Never Forget’ bears a huge dollop of Devin Townsend influence in the discordant rhythmic patterns and zany theatricality, crafting a magnificent pairing of lead guitar and piano in a fluid melodic performance, contrasted with the darting melodies. Several genres and musical styles are incorporated, causing the tune to change moods and convey an unsettling undertone. “Does it have an elephant mother? Should we take it over to the gallows? Why’s it hiding in the shadows?” runs one line, reminiscent of our tendency to treat outsiders with suspicion. In that sense, moments like this being hard to comprehend, act as a challenge – should we be curious, or shun that which we don’t understand?
‘Eyes Of Ebony’ is a stunning and melancholy conclusion that has delicate clean guitars, soft percussion, and ambient elements. This varied record features orchestral soundscapes, daring rhythmic patterns, and captivating riffs. Haken aim to utilize each instrument, tone, and atmosphere to the fullest. The idea of “Fauna”—connecting happenings in the animal realm to increasingly poignant situations in our human domain—creates an exciting bridge over the chasm between these two fields. We end on a wonderfully touching note as, like with the last record, Haken end by referencing their landmark release, reminding us that ambition can set us free but what matters is how we use our strength. “You left your footprints in the sand. Immortalised, you’ll never walk alone. You gave me the power to dream. As we strode to the mountaintop”.
03. The Alphabet of Me
04. Sempiternal Beings
05. Beneath The White Rainbow
06. Island In the Clouds
08. Elephants Never Forget
09. Eyes of Ebony
Ross Jennings – Lead Vocals
Richard Henshall – Guitars, Keyboards, backing vocals.
Raymond Hearne – Drums, backing vocals.
Charles Griffiths – Guitars, backing vocals.
Conner Green – Bass, backing vocals.
Peter Green – Keyboards, backing vocals.
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