Despite being over a year old, Affinity by progressive metal powerhouse Haken remains a record that still sounds fresh and draws you back time and time again for repeated listens. All six performers shine here in their respective fields of expertise whilst pushing the boundaries of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideas, doing exactly what any progressive music sets out to do.
Affinity.exe is the perfect introductory track to the rest of the album. Perfectly atmospheric and consisting of barely audible mutterings and overdubbed computer sounds, meshing perfectly into the first real track via a rhythmic pattern which blends the two together. When the first real song, Initiate, does kick in it’s the kind of track that heralds the bands arrival in the most gut-punching way, all instruments combining to play the odd-time riff before vocalist Ross Jennings delivers his first line. His signature clear and articulate tone instantly recognisable.
By the time the next track 1975 rolls we’re already left wanting for more. The band don’t disappoint and we’re treated to a guitar intro by Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths that instantly places us in the soundscapes if the 70s whilst retaining that modern production edge that we’ve come to expect from any Haken release. At nearly 10 minutes in length, it demonstrates the band compositional understanding and develops into a satisfying epic.
Lapse is a track that roots itself in a slower tempo and lighter feel throughout the entire song but manages to have a hooky chorus with an incredibly anthemic and slow head banging feel to it. The bridge of this one is where Keyboardist Diego Tejeida displays his incredible prowess with a tasteful solo utilising note selection and intervallic structure even seasoned musicians would not expect.
After the slow and sing song mood of the previous track, The Architect sounds like a coming apocalypse. From a haunting and reverberating intro to its proggy main riff and a run time of nearly 16 minutes, it’s elements and various sections take you on a journey. Raymond Hearne cuts through with his drum performance here, demonstrating his rhythmic and technical sensibilities with polyrhythms and blast beats whilst Connor Green (the newest member to the band) gets a chance to demonstrate his melodic flavour with a sweet little bass solo in the mid-section of the piece. The epic finishes up with a melodic reprise from Initiate, bringing a massive sense of arrival to the listener.
It’s worth noting that this is very much a concept album, however the concept is purposely left vague by the band. According to Diego (interview here – https://pinnaclemusic.org/2017/06/19/together-we-are-collectively-creating-the-unique-sound-that-is-haken-an-interview-with-hakens-diego-tejeida/) there is a very clear story in their minds which they did not share so that the listeners could interpret it more freely. Upon listening through the whole album, it is clear that there are repeating musical motifs such as the main melody and beat of Initiate as well as repeated lyrical themes such as “Tied together” or “Shifting frame by frame”
These familiar elements are used masterfully to spark our ears interest and subsequently engage us more with the content.
Earthrise is possibly the most accessible track on the album, with pop melody sensibilities and a light atmosphere. It is also notable as using the lower end of Ross Jennings’ vocal range. Quite the opposite of this track is its successor, the jarring Red Giant, which is arguably the weakest track on the album due to the bands insistence on creating an unstable and dizzying feel. They accomplish this by using rhythmic displacement over a 6-4 time-signature. It is done in a way that even the most steel-hearted prog fan will get dizzy.
The penultimate track, titled The Endless Knot, brings the band back to more familiar territory and we receive one more high-octane performance which encapsulates the essence of progressive metal (but with a digital sounding twist) right before the closing masterpiece.
Bound By Gravity closes the album with a beautiful slow burning crescendo of recurring themes throughout the album making their reprise and essentially taking their bows before exiting. Regardless of whether the listener is paying attention to which track they have reached, when the final familiar beat gets reprise at the end of the track, you simply know the album is about to finish. And the sense of longing and emptiness hits you like a bus when the music cuts out and you get the same sound effects from the atmospheric opener. Tying the album into a full circle.
Overall, it’s an album that will surely be remembered as a classic. One that all fans of any type of progressive music should have in their collection.