Haken’s new album, Vector, is their shortest studio release at 46 minutes. But Vector is far from lightweight, combining pure metal sounds with complex narrative lyrics to form tracks as dense as uranium.
“It is probably the grittiest, heaviest album we’ve ever done,” says instrumentalist Richard Henshall. “In the past, we’ve dipped our toes into that side of our sound, but never really jumped in headfirst. With Vector, each song has its own heavy moment, and some tracks are quite heavy throughout, which really sets it apart from most of our previous records.”
Narrative concept albums have been a mainstay of prog rock from Shadow Gallery’s Tyranny to Ayreon’s rock opera The Theory of Everything. ‘The Good Doctor’, Vector’s first single, keeps narrative at the fore while exploring sounds heavier than those of traditional prog rock. The narrative concept for ‘The Good Doctor’ came from Haken guitarist Charles Griffiths, says Henshall.
“Charlie penciled this idea about setting the album in the 1950s, in a psychiatric ward,” explains Henshall. “We looked into the sinister experiments that were used on people to understand the human mind. That was really the starting point for the album, and ‘The Good Doctor’ sets that scene perfectly… Having strong themes that can grow and morph throughout the album, and good lyrical content that tells a story, can allow the listener to paint an image in their mind whilst they’re listening to the music.”
Prog rock Reddit has been abuzz with debates over the intended meaning of ‘The Good Doctor’. The Rorschach blot on the album’s cover conveys an invitation to the audience to interpret the music themselves, says vocalist Ross Jennings.
Elsewhere in Vector, narrative lyrics are used to thread together a range of musical styles into a single coherent track. ‘Puzzle Box’ moves from the metal sound typical of the album to dreamy interludes reminiscent of Muse. It’s little surprise, given the space-rock undertones of tracks like ‘Puzzle Box’ and ‘Veil’, that Henshall and Jennings grew up on a diet of Muse, whom they saw at Reading as teenagers.
“They’re a rare band that’s really cracked it in the mainstream without sacrificing any of that musicality,” says Henshall. “Matt Bellamy is an incredible musician and a great songwriter as well, so I think it’s a great testament to them as a band that they’ve done so well.”
Haken have traditionally recorded their albums piece-by-piece, laying down the drum track in-studio before dispersing to their home studios to record their respective tracks individually. Vector took Jennings to Mexico City to work with Haken keyboardist Diego Tejeida in his home studio. With the help of Adam “Nolly” Getgood, previously of Periphery, who mixed the album, Jennings was able to develop and refine the album’s more technically challenging tracks.
“Usually we’ve done it in London, and it changed the vibe up a bit to do it in a different country,” says Jennings. “For me, ‘Puzzle Box’ was a tricky one. For that song in particular, we had a couple of different ideas about how the chorus was going to go. We had a lot of last-minute decision-making on that track in particular. The rest of it was pretty smooth going – we demoed everything quite intensely. That was the only one that that threw me a curveball.”
Haken played their first Australian tour in 2017, flying straight from New York to Sydney and playing five shows back-to-back on little sleep. The band expect their 2019 return Down Under to be a little more relaxed, with stops across Australia and New Zealand. The Vector Studies Tour will include a new programmed light show and a lengthy setlist composed of tracks from Vector plus vintage crowd-pleasers. Aussie fans who come in costume may earn themselves an invite onstage, à la Iron Maiden, says Jennings.
Haken plan to follow up the Vector Studies Tour with a tour across Europe in support of heavy metal singer-songwriter Devin Townsend.
“We’re hoping that this time, when we come back, we’re going to have a better production,” says Henshall. “We’re going to build upon what we laid down on those tours… All in all, it’s going to be a nice little Haken celebration.”
Haken visit Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in June.