Haken – Virus

My initial reaction to the announcement of the title and artwork for HAKEN’S new album Virus (out now, InsideOut Music) was to laugh at how fortuitous their timing was to be releasing during a worldwide pandemic. But as music fans everywhere are really starting to notice, not being able to see a concert sucks and I’m gonna talk a lot about how HAKEN’S recent shift in style (which continues on Virus) owes to this relationship that they’ve allowed themselves to really embrace between studio and live interpretations of a song.

What do I mean? Seven years out, The Mountain still stands as a landmark release, and “Cockroach King” is maybe the biggest prog “hit” of the decade. They’ve played it at over 200 concerts and even left it off the setlist for the Vector tour, which was a bit odd for narrative reasons I’ll get into later, but it made sense because the setlist that they did play was heavier than a sack of bricks and it would honestly have felt out of place. There are some great melodies and the particular brand of goofiness stuck with me and many others, which is good because much of it is back with a vengeance on Virus.

Like Vector, Virus features a number of musical tributes, particularly to The Mountain but none more noteworthy than the “Cockroach King” reimagining “Ectobius Rex.” HAKEN are no strangers to re-examining past work, as the exceptional Restoration brought back compositions from their earliest demos reworked with a new lineup and compositional approach. Like “Crystallized,” “Messiah Complex” clocks in near 17 minutes total, substantially longer than the track it draws inspiration from and like “Crystallized” the lyrics position it to a different point of view from the original.

While it wasn’t talked about as a concept album upon release, there’s a narrative throughline in The Mountain about ambition, youth, and folly with “Cockroach King” suggesting a childlike fascination with a cult figure that promises answers and guidance but comes up short on delivery. Vector’s “The Good Doctor” referenced a “Dr. Rex” listed in some album artwork as “Ectobius Rex” which is Latin for Cockroach King. The story further suggested that this cult figure was actually performing grotesque medical experiments on his subjects.

“Messiah Complex” then, is the listeners confrontation with the Cockroach King himself, not as a reflective learning experience as in The Mountain or the man behind the electroshock switch on Vector, but in his full megalomaniacal glory. It almost feels like a case of buyer’s remorse on the choice to use the melodies and progressions that made up that original hit in such a goofy manner because each of the five parts takes a slightly different spin. “Ivory Tower” is an overture while “Glutton for Punishment” reminds me of BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, “The Sect” reminds me of LEPROUS on The Congregation, and “Marigold” has a sort of roller coaster acceleration pivot halfway through the track like CALIGULA’S HORSE’S well, “Marigold.”

Still, it is the penultimate track on the album, “Ectobius Rex” that best exemplifies why albums Virus are good and why more bands should have the courage to re-examine their past work. It takes many of the most memorable passages and licks from “Cockroach King”, slows them down and layers them in a tremendous amount of extra stank in line with how performances of the original song have gotten heavier over the years, (Particularly the version present on L1ve). The effect is unlike anything I’ve gotten from a band I love releasing new material because my brain was instantly familiar with what was happening while having no idea what to expect next.

The rest of the album is still strong, particularly “The Strain” and there are other references throughout the album to more great moments from HAKEN’s discography. It’s not as meaty on average as Vector but it still sits very naturally as a sort of Part 2 to what began on that deliciously short record. Check it out for yourself but if you’re new to HAKEN be sure to at least familiarize yourself with the hits first.

STANDOUT TRACKS: “The Strain”, “Messiah Complex” (all parts)

RATING: 8/10


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