Sunday, 20 December 2020

Log #221 - Spotting Haken From The Panopticon

Eddy Bamyasi

The heavy rock/metal band Isis are a surprise to me... because I really like them. Why do I like them when I have previously written about how I don't much like "post rock" instrumental bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky or Mogwai? I can only put it down to a significant difference even if I can't quite put my finger on what that difference is. To be fair I heard the band name mentioned in despatches in connection with Tool and Opeth, who I do like. 

Anyway right from the very first power chord Panopticon is a tremendously exciting album. The sound is full on wall of sound - rather like My Bloody Valentine (who I don't know much to be honest - I used to have Loveless but fell out of love, if you excuse the pun, with that possibly overrated album quite early on). The pace of Panopticon is much slower and more ominous than the musically more dynamic Tool and Opeth. In fact some of the music is verging on ambient or drone. But boy is it heavy! 

Melodies are provided by repeated simple four or five note guitar sequences supplemented by long drawn out chords drenched in feedback and sustain, rather like Neil Young's languid playing on Zuma's longer tracks. There are very few vocals - singer Aaron Turner growls but the voice is so low in the mix it is really used as just another instrument in that very thick wall. The other distinguishing feature is clear sharp down tempo drum taps which at first sounded a bit out of place to my ear: these remind me of some of the "shoegaze" bands from the early '90s, particularly Ride. Now Ride had that famous album Nowhere which I, again, had at the time but never really got (notice how the album artwork is similar too). More on that later.

Isis only produced 5 studio albums. The final one Wavering Radiant in 2009 broadened their instrumental palate with more keyboards, without, I'm glad to say, reducing their raw power. 

Generally the music on both albums is simple and goes where you expect in a satisfying way. There are less of the sudden mindbending U-turns you get with bands like Opeth and Tool - hence the drone descriptions. The tracks tend to shift and build gradually usually over 7 - 10 minutes. 

Will I ultimately find this music unsatisfying? I don't think so. Like pure ambient music there is more to discover the more you listen. I think Isis will have staying power at Bamyasi Towers.

So on to the Ride album Nowhere. Was my initial impression from 30 years ago wrong? Well, actually no. I still don't like it. This has got to be one of the most overrated albums in history (were the band just lucky in time and place)? I'm not going to spend much time writing about it here. The 40 minutes or so I spent listening is long enough suffice to say the out of tune singing doesn't help - painful - better off growling. 

There were quite a lot of new rock bands emerging around the turn of the 80s/90s decade weren't there, combining traditional guitar led rock instrumentation with a shuffling dance beat - most disappeared as quickly as they came - Jesus Jones, The Farm, The LAs, Inspiral Carpets, The Wonder Stuff, Charlatans etc. Did any have staying power other than The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses?

Isis - Panopticon
Isis - Wavering Radiant
Ride - Nowhere
Opeth - Sorceress
Opeth - Blackwater Park
Haken - The Mountain

I thought the Opeth trajectory would continue upwards but I was left slightly underwhelmed with Sorceress (their 12th album from 2016). It has several tracks which are right out of the early Love, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd catalogues. It also has classical guitar, bongo drums and strings. 

Mmmm, what did the trad. Opeth fans think of this release? Had they finally taken their prog influences too far? One easy listening instrumental is actually entitled The Seventh Sojourn which is a Moody Blues album title - a rather too obvious homage. I hope it's a grower. Either way it's the first album from Opeth I haven't been hugely impressed with so they are allowed an off day.

Last new album this week and continuing my discovery of nu prog metal I tried The Mountain by London prog band Haken. Honestly this is a whole new world to me. I thought prog music died in 1974 (apart from a tiny revival in the early '80s with Marillion). I had no idea. But of course, every other type of music has been revived so why not prog? I'm just surprised at myself, having been a keen fan of prog back in the day, I had not discovered this vibrant current scene. I guess, good music, like cream, will eventually rise to the surface irrespective of any current trends or fads. 

Opening track is a gentle piano ballad in the style of The Cinematic Orchestra around the time of Ma Fleur. This gives way to the exceptional Atlas Stone - a sort of combination of Rush and Yes. Think that is exceptional? Then hear Cockroach King! Here the band throw in Queen on top of Rush and Yes - in particular the operatic Queen of Bohemian Rhapsody: 

The Cockroach King sits on his throne
With the Midas touch and a heart of stone
An empire built on guile and greed
A bleeding ground for those who heed

In Memoriam is on the face of it a 4 minute rocker, but there is so much packed into this modest timeline it really needs to be heard to be believed. There's a whole Genesis album in this track. 

Because It's There starts with acapella harmonies before moving into skittish jazz percussion and guitar. There are also some distant glitchy effects giving the song a Radiohead flavour, but ultimately it's a beautiful ballad with a moving chorus.

Falling Back To Earth is the longest track on the album at a more traditionally proggy 12 minutes. It's an epic number containing multiple shifts and the deepest metal riffs on the album. Similarly Pareidolia allows Haken to display all their Opeth chops.

The musicianship is amazing throughout but it's the vocals that really standout as on As Death Embraces and the slowly building closer Somebody - singer Ross Jennings resurrects the high clear enunciation of classic prog vocalists Jon Anderson, Geddy Lee and Rodger Hodgson.

The whole album is blindingly technical, but the beauty of what has been crafted here is that The Mountain doesn't feel like an exercise in how to get the most notes out of any given instrument.

Steven Reid 

I realise I've thrown around a lot of casual comparisons and influences here which could lead to a dog's breakfast of a sound. But fear not, Haken offer a unique perspective on the metal prog scene and The Mountain, albeit constantly shifting across a myriad of styles, presents a very cohesive whole. I'm looking forward to hearing more from this talented band.

About The Author

Eddy Bamyasi

Eddy is a music writer from Brighton, England, named after a Can record. Each Sunday he logs and reviews the albums that happen to be in his vintage Pioneer 6-CD magazine changer, amongst other things.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

Leading Artists (by appearance)

neil young (26) van morrison (22) john martyn (18) tangerine dream (18) felice brothers (16) pink floyd (14) led zeppelin (13) black sabbath (12) brian eno (12) whitest boy alive (12) bonnie prince billy (11) can (11) david sylvian (11) radiohead (11) talk talk (11) beatles (10) cluster (10) cocteau twins (10) laura marling (10) nick cave (10) afro celts (9) beck (9) bob dylan (9) fennesz (9) genesis (9) iron and wine (8) loscil (8) midlake (8) paolo nutini (8) tom waits (8) autechre (7) foals (7) nucleus (7) richard hawley (7) stars of the lid (7) camel (6) david bowie (6) dj vadim (6) efterklang (6) elo (6) fairport convention (6) harmonia (6) holger czukay (6) kings of convenience (6) low (6) luke vibert (6) matthew e white (6) miles davis (6) sahb (6) the doobie brothers (6) tord gustavsen (6) war on drugs (6) william basinski (6) arovane (5) bear's den (5) black keys (5) boards of canada (5) bob marley (5) calexico (5) edgar froese (5) father john misty (5) hawkwind (5) jan jelinek (5) king crimson (5) mouse on mars (5) nils frahm (5) public service broadcasting (5) robert plant (5) sigur ros (5) takemitsu (5) arbouretum (4) badly drawn boy (4) budgie (4) carly simon (4) carole king (4) decemberists (4) emeralds (4) four tet (4) handsome family (4) hidden orchestra (4) jethro tull (4) jj cale (4) john legend (4) klaus schulze (4) kruder and dorfmeister (4) manuel gottsching (4) opeth (4) penguin cafe orchestra (4) ravi shankar (4) soft hair (4) steely dan (4) the unthanks (4) tim hecker (4) trees (4) ulrich schnauss (4) KLF (3) alan parsons project (3) alex harvey (3) alison krauss (3) alva noto (3) barclay james harvest (3) bon iver (3) bonobo (3) caitlin canty (3) caribou (3) chicago (3) coldplay (3) curtis mayfield (3) david crosby (3) deep purple (3) depeche mode (3) eilen jewell (3) enid (3) fleetwood mac (3) floating points (3) free (3) gorillaz (3) gram parsons (3) grateful dead (3) grobschnitt (3) incredible string band (3) james morrison (3) jill scott (3) john grant (3) john surman (3) keith jarrett (3) kraftwerk (3) lal waterson (3) last shadow puppets (3) lift to experience (3) lynyrd skynyrd (3) mahavishnu orchestra (3) manitoba (3) mike oldfield (3) mike waterson (3) monolake (3) neu! (3) palace brothers (3) philip glass (3) popol vuh (3) quantic (3) rodriguez (3) rokia traore (3) rolling stones (3) rory gallagher (3) roxy music (3) rush (3) simon and garfunkel (3) sly and the family stone (3) steve hillage (3) suede (3) sufjan stevens (3) the comet is coming (3) tim buckley (3) wagon christ (3) wilco (3) 4hero (2) abc (2) ac/dc (2) al stewart (2) amon duul II (2) aphex twin (2) arctic monkeys (2) baka beyond (2) band of horses (2) belle and sebastian (2) blue oyster cult (2) blue states (2) bonzo dog band (2) boris salchow (2) burial (2) cardigans (2) carlos barbosa-lima (2) charles mingus (2) chemical brothers (2) chris rea (2) cinematic orchestra (2) compilations (2) crosby stills nash (2) david darling (2) death in vegas (2) debussy (2) dj shadow (2) doors (2) earl sweatshirt (2) eloy (2) emilie simon (2) erik satie (2) farben (2) festivals (2) fleet foxes (2) francois and the atlas mountains (2) fripp and eno (2) gas (2) gong (2) granados (2) green on red (2) griffin anthony (2) jazzland (2) jean sibelius (2) jeff buckley (2) john coltrane (2) johnny flynn (2) josh t pearson (2) julian cope (2) kamasi washington (2) kanye west (2) kate bush (2) ketil bjornstad (2) la dusseldorf (2) lambchop (2) larkin poe (2) little feat (2) ludovico einaudi (2) magma (2) marianne faithfull (2) marvin gaye (2) mike lazarev (2) money mark (2) morton feldman (2) nektar (2) nightmares on wax (2) ninja (2) nirvana (2) nitin sawhney (2) peace (2) porya hatami (2) prefuse 73 (2) prem joshua (2) randy newman (2) robert fripp (2) ryan adams (2) scorpions (2) scott and maria (2) scott matthews (2) servants of science (2) soft machine (2) steve miller (2) susumu yokota (2) talvin singh (2) the who (2) thievery corporation (2) traffic (2) truckstop honeymoon (2) ufo (2) up bustle and out (2) weather report (2) wiley (2) willard grant conspiracy (2) wishbone ash (2) wyclef jean (2) yes (2) abba (1) acid mothers temple and the cosmic inferno (1) aimee mann (1) air (1) alabama 3 (1) alice coltrane (1) amadou and mariam (1) andy shauf (1) anthony hamilton (1) april wine (1) arcade fire (1) ashra (1) asia (1) badger (1) barber (1) beach boys (1) bee gees (1) beirut (1) bert jansch (1) beuno vista social club (1) bill laswell (1) biosphere (1) bjork (1) blow monkeys (1) bob geldof (1) bob holroyd (1) bob seger (1) bombay bicycle club (1) boubacar traore (1) broken social scene (1) bruce springsteen (1) bruch (1) byline (1) captain beefheart (1) cardi b (1) cast (1) cat stevens (1) catfish and the bottlemen (1) charles and eddie (1) chopin (1) chris child (1) christine and the queens (1) chuck prophet (1) climax blues band (1) cosmic jokers (1) crowded house (1) d'angelo (1) daft punk (1) david goodrich (1) davy graham (1) dexy's midnight runners (1) dolly collins (1) donald fagen (1) dreadzone (1) dub pistols (1) eagles (1) echo and the bunnymen (1) eden espinosa (1) eels (1) elbow (1) electric ape (1) emerson lake and palmer (1) erlend oye (1) erukah badu (1) essays (1) euphony in electronics (1) faust (1) feist (1) flaming lips (1) future days (1) gamma (1) gang of four (1) gentle giant (1) goat roper rodeo band (1) godspeed you black emperor (1) gorecki (1) groove armada (1) grover washington jr. (1) gun (1) guru guru (1) hatfield and the north (1) hats off gentlemen it's adequate (1) heron (1) hiss golden messenger (1) hozier (1) human league (1) idles (1) india arie (1) iron and wire (1) isaac hayes (1) james brown (1) james joys (1) jamie t (1) janelle monae (1) jayhawks (1) jean-michel jarre (1) jerry paper (1) jim croce (1) jimi hendrix (1) jjcale (1) john cale (1) john mclaughlin (1) jon hassell (1) jurassic 5 (1) kacey musgraves (1) keith berry (1) kid loco (1) king tubby (1) king's consort (1) kings of leon (1) kirk degiorgio (1) kodomo (1) lenny kravitz (1) lighthouse (1) love supreme (1) luc vanlaere (1) lumineers (1) mark pritchard (1) mark ronson (1) me'shell ndegeocello (1) messiaen (1) metallica (1) micah frank (1) michael hedges (1) michael jackson (1) mike west (1) mitski (1) modest mouse (1) moody blues (1) morte macabre (1) motorhead (1) national health (1) nick drake (1) nusrat fateh ali khan (1) oasis (1) omd (1) orb (1) orquesta reve (1) other lives (1) oval (1) paco pena (1) paladin (1) panda bear (1) pat metheny (1) paulo nutini (1) pentangle (1) pierre bensusan (1) portishead (1) proprio (1) protoje (1) purcell (1) pussy riot (1) queen (1) rainbow (1) ramsay midwood (1) rautavaara (1) rem (1) rhythm kings (1) richard strauss (1) robyn (1) roni size (1) ryuichi sakamoto (1) sada sat kaur (1) saga (1) sam jordan (1) sammy hagar (1) santana (1) scaramanga silk (1) shakti (1) shirley collins (1) shostakovich (1) snafu (1) snatam kaur (1) sparks (1) st germain (1) stanford (1) steeleye span (1) stereolab (1) steve reich (1) styx (1) supertramp (1) susumo yokota (1) t bone walker (1) terry riley (1) the band (1) the clash (1) the jayhawks (1) the streets (1) the wreks (1) tricky (1) tycho (1) uriah heep (1) velvet underground (1) venetian snares (1) vladislav delay (1) whiskeytown (1) whitesnake (1) william ackerman (1) yngwie j malmsteen (1) zhou yu (1) μ-Ziq (1)