Music by Richard Henshall, lyrics by Ross Jennings, arrangements by Haken. Drums recorded at Monster Trax Studios by Misha Nikolic. Additional instruments recorded at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama by Loz Anslow. Mixed by Christian Moos at Spacelab Studios. Mastered by Eroc at Eroc’s Mastering Ranch. Artwork and design by Dennis Sibeijn.
I don’t usually read reviews of albums that I’m listening to for this project. But after my first listen through to this album by UK prog-meisters Haken I really wanted to know what others made of it. It seems that people either love it or hate:
Contrast this review:
“The greatest debut album I may have ever heard, Aquarius by Haken would be one of the greatest releases of the year standing alone. Taken in context, it is one of the most promising releases I have heard in an incredibly long time.”
with this one:
“Some asshole took a fat shit in my aquarium […] any point on this album is a perfect time to stop listening […] Aquarius is not an album worth anyone’s sweet time. It’s a piece of shit that’s just as pretentious as it is bloated.
And actually that was one of the more positive reviews. Wilytank there gave it a generous 18%. Another reviewer, Empyreal, gave the album 0%. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. I’ve never seen an album score 0 before. He summed up the review with “disgusting and deceitful” describing the music as
“fluffed up, prissy progressive rock in the Yes/Gentle Giant style with bloops and bleeps and little keyboard noises everywhere beyond a heavy layer of orchestrations and the God-awful vocals, which I’ll get back to later.”
I didn’t find any reviews which said it was alright. A gap in the review market, I feel. So here goes.
Let’s just get one thing out of the way first: this isn’t a metal album. A few heavy riffs a metal band does not make. It’s definitely prog rock. It reminds me in part of Dream Theater at their most pretentious and self-indulgent. It reminds me of Steve Vai… at his most pretentious and self-indulgent. It has elements of… well, any virtuoso musician at their… well, you can probably guess by now.
I quite liked it to be honest. Not on my first listen through, mind you, but as I became familiar with the songs they grew on me, for the most part. There are some songs which I still cringe at while listening to it.
Take the opening track “The point of no return”, for example, which at 6’03” takes a left turn into some kind of 2/4 circus-cum-seaside theme tune. What was that all about?! I’m into a lot of experimental music but that just seems unnecessarily indulgent and to my ear doesn’t really add anything to the song.
The final track, “Celestial elixir”, is another example. All of a sudden it morphs into some kind of 1920s Charleston-like song. As though someone accidentally changed the TV channel for a moment.
It’s annoying! It’s like you’re watching the latest Judge Dredd movie when all of a sudden Mr Darcy suddenly walks into the scene. No! Just don’t do it.
The quality of playing is exceptional, the mix is smooth and well balanced. But it didn’t really set me on fire. It became background music very quickly for me: pleasant enough but nothing really to pay too much attention to.
You know what it reminds me of? The soundtrack to a made-for-TV American movie. I am sitting here listening to track five, “Drowning in the flood” and can imagine the credits rolling up the screen at this point.
Parts of the album was recorded at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama—it sounds like an album for musos who enjoy their progressive rock pretentiously morphing in and out of genres and providing a beautifully played soundtrack to the next 73 minutes.
Yeah… it was alright.
Review score: 50%
Here’s the whole album kindly uploaded to YouTube by someone who doesn’t understand copyright law.