Haken & Between the Buried and Me at Gruenspan in Hamburg

Haken after the first Island In Limbo show in the bags

It’s always a massive honour to witness the first show of a tour. It’s an extra special honour when the tour in question has such a bittersweet history behind it.

The pandemic hit hard, and it was a real shame when Haken’s Invasion Over Europe tour (for the then-new album Virus) had to be cancelled entirely after all, despite the various rescheduling attempts. Understandable, but obviously still a shame for not only the fans, but also the band.

That being said, everything has definitely been worth the wait. Haken returns with a brand new album just around the corner, together with fellow Prog-Metal powerhouses Between the Buried and Me, embarking on their Island In Limbo co-headline tour. First stop: Hamburg, Germany. It feels like it has been more or less in the making for almost three years. And oh boy, it’s one of the most triumphant returns I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness!

After an amazing opening performance by US-based four-piece Cryptodira, delivering a brutal wake-up call to everyone in the crowd who didn’t quite realize just how massive the show they’re about to witness is, Between the Buried and Me hit the stage.

Cool as ever, doing a big chunk of their roadie work themselves, one thing that immediately jumps out to everyone who’s been following the band for years: someone’s missing. Unfortunately, guitarist Dustie Waring had to stay home for health-related reasons. I wish him all the best in his recovery and really hope to see his crushing riffs on the next EU tour.

That being said, he did an amazing job pre-recording his parts for this show! While not there physically, his sound undeniably carries a huge portion of BTBAM’s sound, and his delivery is so good you could swear he was just playing behind the big Colors II banner in the background.

Between the Buried and Me commanding you to go crazy

Speaking of Colors II, the show consisted mostly of some fine slices of the best parts of said album. After starting off with the all-time classic Extremophile Elite, we jump straight into what might be the greatest 14-something minutes on the entire album: Revolution In Limbo, leading straight into Fix The Error. It would be a vast understatement to say these performances rocked everyone awake, and it’s these two songs that show how well BTBAM is able to create absolutely crushing riffs, yet still invite everyone in the crowd to sing along to the clean parts. Special shoutouts to guitar tech Travis, who did an absolutely fantastic job delivering those deep harsh vocals on Revolution In Limbo.

The journey continues through a few more tracks from Colors II, with a very surprising performance of Dim Ignition and Famine Wolf from Coma Ecliptic spicing things up a little. I’m actually glad that they didn’t go the save route by playing ‘The Coma Machine’… again. This is such a great album with many hidden gems, and it’s lovely to see all the glory not simply going to the hit single.

The end is in sight, and singer Tommy announces the last song, Voice of Trespass. At this point, the cheers were so loud that I had to stuff my plugs a bit further into my ears. Well, that, and because I knew that this song demands movement. It’s actually insane how it’s possible to have such a mad song with such a positive vibe to it, one that just doesn’t allow anything but going absolutely crazy.

And just like that, BTBAM’s set is over. The cut happened literally as the song ended; no tape music, no crazy drum outro. Just, the end. A bit of an odd move, but drummer Blake made more than up for it by playing a bit with the audience during the break, waiting for Haken to hit the stage.

Haken on stage, sporting tropical shirts in spirit of their upcoming album, Fauna

The lights go out. The music stops. Silence. A minute or more passes, when suddenly, faintly, an amalgamation of riffs starts being played from tape. All random, or is there a deeper meaning behind it all? The more the riff gets played, the more it becomes a lurking suspicion what the first song might be.

The hunch turned into a correct guess, as the six musicians hit the stage to kick things off with the opening title of their previous album Virus, Prosthetic. I screamed as loud as I could, remembering how the album had the most ill-fated timing possible with the pandemic, now finally getting the love it deserves.

This is a theme that can be observed throughout the show, as the majority of tracks are from said album. You would think with Fauna being just around the corner and the tropical shirts clearly being inspired by its theme, the tour would focus on it. Yet, against all odds, Haken chose not to simply leave Virus behind!

However, that obviously doesn’t mean that Fauna isn’t represented at all. After a smashing performance of Invasion, we get a nice five-pack of songs that alternate between new and classic. We get the first taste of the new album with the debut of The Alphabet of Me. This is followed by an old classic that sadly hasn’t gotten any love in three years: The Mountain’s Falling Back To Earth, a 12-minute beast of a song that manages to fly by just like that. This is followed by an evil note being played repeatedly, leading to the debut of Taurus.

After these songs, singer Ross takes a moment to introduce us to Peter Jones, the original keyboardist of Haken, returning after more than a decade. Ross then got out his flashy 80’s sunglasses, and this is where my mind immediately went to “Oh, this is the part where they’re gonna play 1985 again”. But no! In another surprise twist to the usual formula, we instead get an amazing performance of The Endless Knot, a song which hasn’t been played in Europe since the Affinity tour!

The five-pack is neatly wrapped up with the debut performance of Lovebite, one of the shortest tracks the band has ever put out, yet still oozing with that signature progressive charm Haken is known for.

Haken: ‘Fauna’ Review

For all new songs, let me say something on behalf of Haken’s fans: Despite some of these only being a few weeks old, it’s crazy how spot-on the audience was while singing along. A testament to the dedication and loyalty from the fans!

The remainder of the set consists exclusively of songs from Virus, first being the 10-minute beast Carousel. A beast only by absolute reference, though, as the true finale puts that song to shame.

That’s right, for the first time ever, the five-parted, 17-minute Messiah Complex was performed in its entirety! Not only is it one of the most bombastic ways to finish a set, it also beautifully answers a question I’ve heard a few people around me chat about in the crowd: where is Cockroach King? Well, Messiah Complex is pretty much the (better, at least in my opinion) sequel to that song and still carries all the catchy sing-along parts Haken’s most popular song is known for.

This is where the show ends. Engelbert Humperdinck’s Lesbian Seagull played from tape confirms that suspicion. There was no fake encore, but it wouldn’t have been necessary anyway, as nothing would beat the absolute privilege that is seeing Messiah Complex being performed live for the first time. A wonderful show from start to finish. The tour has just started, so get your hands on some tickets while you still can!

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