Haken: ‘Fauna’ Review
It’s official, Haken has written the best album, everyone else can stop making music now. Okay back to seriousness, Haken is one of my all-time favourite bands and I tend to be very picky whenever a band I genuinely like makes a new album. Believe me, I tried to be picky but this album has found a way to not disappoint in any way or form. It has been a long wait since the dynamic duo of Vector/Virus came out in 2018 and 2020 respectively, and in March 2023 we get Fauna, Haken’s seventh studio album – by far their most complex and unpredictable album to date.
The new album feels like a breath of fresh air, whilst not straying too far away from their sound, bringing many new dishes to the table. What’s more, we finally have synths, keys, and sound design again, expertly crafted by Mr. Peter Jones himself with his return to the band after a fourteen-year absence. It’s a most welcome return too as Pete is an expert in his craft when it comes to creating sounds and atmospheres, and his input certainly elevated this album’s unique sonic signature.
Haken has been blessing us with singles before the album release, introducing the first three tracks of the album. And while they do set the mood, they don’t really sound like the rest of the record. Taurus is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, including but not limited to; heavy riffs, infectious vocals, and catchy melodies, with a quasi-Gojira feel. Nightingale was the first song recorded from the album, and Pete’s first song with the band after his return. It has a classic progressive metal song structure and is reminiscent of their previous albums (The Mountain for example), except it doesn’t sound recycled, just inspired. On that matter, Fauna does have the storytelling aspect of The Mountain as well, giving a chronological narrative of overcoming an obstacle or a developing chronicle. The Alphabet of Me is a poppier track with metal overtones, odd grooves, and catchy vocals. It’s a first for the band venturing into this pop soundscape, but they do it so well.
Now that we’ve introduced the album, it’s time to proceed into the meat and potatoes, Sempiternal Beings starts off with a slick drum groove played by drummer Ray Hearne, followed by the rest of the band stepping into the spotlight with ethereal arpeggios, atmospheric sound design and eerie yet soothing vocals, setting a dark tone for the song. Among the calmness that we start off with, Ross Jennings sings the line “I’ll meet you in another life” and that transition from the word “life” into the riff that comes after it is probably one of my favourite moments on this album. Remember the trumpet in ‘The Alphabet of Me’? It has made a sneaky comeback here, supporting the vocals in one of the verses. I like to think of this song as a snake crawling as the riffs crawl their way into your ears making you groove your head to th music. And since evrey song is associated Sempiternal Beings with a snake. But it’s actually inspired by the immortal jellyfish.
Beneath the White Rainbow is one of the heaviest tracks Haken have ever made. It opens with a nasty riff, layered with a piano on the low notes for added nastiness. It sounds almost influenced by Tigran Hamasayan… And this riff is as confusing as it is heavy as you’ll be completely lost trying to work out what time signature it’s in. The chorus is lush and catchy, just like all the choruses on Fauna. Mid-song we get a section that is new to the Haken catalogue of wonkiness, which is Ross shout-singing through an amalgamation of distortion and other vocal treatments, it adds so much power to the song and the section itself. The keys play a huge role here, whilst not being too in-your-face, they add an extra layer of ear candy and undeniably uplift the whole sonic scope.
We kick off with a smooth synth bass that’s playing the main rhythm of the song, accompanied by some fine drumming. Island in the Clouds is groovy – but of course, groove alone isn’t enough. The melodies here are flourishing, the vocals are catchy and memorable, and what’s really impressive is how they manage to fit words like “paraphernalia” into these unconventional vocal rhythms and it somehow still sounds natural and flowing. It’s hard not to move your head while listening to this album, every song has a pleasant pulse to it and a triumphant chorus, and Island in the Clouds is no exception. Before the end of the song we get a whole section that sounds like Nested Shapes (Peter Jones’ solo project), with the signature piano sound and binaural ambience that makes you look over your shoulder if you’re listening with headphones. In fact, these binaural sounds are dispersed all throughout Fauna. Also, there’s a cowbell in this song, but it definitely needs more cowbell.
It’s the 80’s again and we’re listening to a quirky song called Lovebite that is thematically disguised as a love song, it’s groovy and makes you want to dance and it has such a feel-good character to it but underneath the hood, the lyrics are as brutal as a death metal song. I really love this contrast between happy and uplifting-sounding music and lyrics about eating someone’s flesh. The song talks about failed relationships symbolized by the black widow and how she eats her partner after she mates. This is one of their catchiest songs and it feels like a nod to Earthrise in its upbeat nature and 80’s semblance, the chorus is sure to be stuck in your head for days and days.
It wouldn’t be a prog album if it didn’t have at least one 10+ minute song and here we have the epic that is Elephants Never Forget with a runtime of 11 minutes and 7 seconds. Step into the tent because we’re going to the circus and Ross is the greatest showman. It’s not really a call-back to their 2010 album, Aquarius, but it does hold a candle to it and takes it to a whole new magnitude of wonky. The song is complex, diverse, and feels like an adventure. It has multiple different parts to it that are connected seamlessly which are eclectic but memorable – and it really portrays the elephant that’s on the album art. It goes from a bright mood to some really dark passages and Ross really shines here. His vocal performance on this song is surely one of his best and most dynamic, he goes really low in some places like the bit that goes “Noble beast of dignity//Leviathan of Doggerland”, supported by gritty guitar riffs, mighty drumming and intricate sound design. It dips its toes in some 70’s prog rock moments, a tip of the hat to bands like Gentle Giant and Queen.
Eyes of Ebony is the closer and it definitely sounds like a departure song. It is dedicated to the white rhinoceros that is now extinct, specifically the male white rhino, and it is also dedicated to Richard Henshall’s father who passed away a couple of years ago. Sonically, this song is very dark and rich in ambience, the lyrics are somewhat hopeful and uplifting, and the melodies are serene and catchy. It’s a perfect ending to this sophisticated yet beautiful album.
Fauna is as dense as a jungle and is not digestible on the first few listens because of its unpredictability. This album is intense and is a step in a new direction for the band but it doesn’t stray too far from their sound, there are moments scattered here and there that are reminiscent of previous Haken albums which lets you know that this is Haken – even if they’ve developed their sound yet again to give us something fresh. The band has gifted us with an album that sounds both new and mature, bound to please established fans and new listeners alike.
Favourite tracks: Sempiternal Beings, Beneath the White Rainbow, Elephants Never Forget.