Metal Bulletin Zine (est. 2006) (Washington state, USA), 203 issues so far.
pdfs at https://issuu.com/metalbulletinzine
Friday, January 6, 2017
Matt Spall's album number of 2 of 2016
Matt Spall did a countdown of his favorite albums of 2016. This is number 2. Read on. --MMB
Welcome to the penultimate day in my 2016 ‘Album of the Year’ top 30 countdown. It is a series I started at the end of November, so around a month later, here we are nearly at the end of this rather epic journey. It’s one that I undertake every year, so I should be used to it by now.
However, I always forget what a buzz it gives me. I really like having the opportunity to listen to the very best music of the year and to then be able to write about it one last time before a whole new year and a new chapter begins. It’s a labour of love that I fully enjoy – I hope you have enjoyed it too.
Forgive me but, as always, if you’re new to this series or my blog in general, links to the previous posts in this series can be found at the bottom of this post, along with links to the entire 2012-2015 lists, should you be interested.
As I stated at the beginning of the last post, these top three albums are almost inseparable and really, they should be given equal billing as joint winners. In my eyes and in my heart, they are equally brilliant and worthy winners. However, I’ve tried to avoid sitting on the fence for the purposes of this series. As a result, I have put these three records in an order. It is a little arbitrary but is based on the way in which the albums in question made me feel and continue to make me feel some time after their release.
So here goes, here is my silver medal winner…
“…in stark contrast to ‘The Mountain’, ‘Affinity’ captured my imagination right off the bat and has not failed to let go in the month or so that I’ve been listening to it. If anything, the more I listen, the better it gets.
‘Affinity’ is an album that transcends the normal debates around whether it is good or not. Of course it is good, that almost goes without saying.
‘Affinity’ manages to deftly and expertly merge the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future. In spite of the 1980s sheen, all nine compositions on ‘Affinity’ come across to me as fresh and exciting, with accents of djent, post-rock, ambient and all manner of other sounds bursting forth at whim.
How do I sum up an album like this? I could have mentioned a million bands throughout this review, from Textures to King Crimson and beyond as indeed there are reference points all over the place if you’re of a mind to count them. However, Haken are Haken and the bottom line is that they have developed into a modern prog band that is truly unique. ‘Affinity’ is one of the best progressive albums I have ever had the pleasure to listen to but more than that, it truly moves me and I connect to it on an emotional level; it makes me smile, it makes me cry and it makes me feel alive.”
There is no denying that Haken has been an important band in my collection ever since their debut, ‘Aquarius’. This was a seriously great find for me musically and, as it happens, personally too as the guys in this UK based prog band are some of the nicest and most down-to-earth fellows you’re ever likely to meet. Not that they’ll feel the same about me when they find out that I’ve not given them the ultimate number one slot in this 2016 best of countdown!
Their debut was intriguing, full of unique moments whilst paying homage to their musical heroes. However, as it turns out, this was just the beginning. It was hugely enjoyable but moreover, it hinted at even better to come. Those hints were right. Over time, they have built upon their debut, always seeking to try new things and bring in new sources of inspiration. The net result is, in my opinion, a band that has remained one step ahead of their peers, sounding fresh and interesting with each incarnation and each album.
And so we now have ‘Affinity’, an album that once again sees Haken in devastating form. If ‘The Mountain’ was this young band coming of age, ‘Affinity’ silences any doubters to the assertion that Haken are the most accomplished and exciting band in progressive music today. Too much? Nope, I don’t think so.
Throwing the rule book away, they have managed to create an album that is something that only this sextet could have put together. It is incredibly technical and complex but never at the expense of the songs and the vibe that they are trying to create. ‘Affinity’ harks back unashamedly to the 80s whilst also managing to sound new, innovative and fresh, borrowing from all corners of the musical spectrum in the process. The playful side of Haken, never allowing themselves to be taken too seriously, is evident but, at the same time, there is a much more mature side to much of the material. At some points, the music is deeply moving and touching, whilst at others, you can’t help but smile.
Whilst many have rightly lauded the fantastically epic ‘The Architect’ as the best song on the album, perhaps even the best song of Haken’s career to date, I have other personal favourites from ‘Affinity’. The gorgeous ‘Earthrise’ with its wonderfully up-beat vibe has been my ringtone for months, meaning that I never answer my phone on the first, second or third ring…sometimes, I fail to answer at all. Oh well, music comes first.
Then there’s the closer, ‘Bound By Gravity’ which is much more sombre, fragile and stunningly beautiful. There isn’t anything approaching a weak track on this album but these two have become the show-stoppers for me; when they start, I stop. I stop and listen, regardless of time, situation or mood. This is the hallmark of intensely powerful music.
I adore this album and my adoration has only strengthened as the year has gone on. I’d have to say that ‘Affinity’ is now my favourite Haken album, nudging ‘Visions’ off the top spot. But not only that, ‘Affinity’ is the best progressive album of the year and, for me, the best for some time beyond that too.