[Live Review] HAKEN (Sydney)

Factory Theatre, Sydney
Saturday September 30, 2017 :

I found it hard to believe that I would be seeing two of my favourite bands within a couple of weeks of each other – Dream Theater and Haken. For old skool lovers of Progressive Metal, New York’s Dream Theater still remain the Gold Standard, but London based Haken have earned their stripes in no time flat – well ten years actually. They were playing at the Factory Theatre in beautiful down town Marrickville.

Three bands were on tonight’s bill with Sevsons opening the show. The Sydney based five piece were eager to provide the listening audience with a selection of their songs that were played with vim and vigour. Their performance was let down by less than ideal sound that made the drums hard to hear over a trio of electric guitars. Vocalist Rhys Weeks did a more than capable job up front with an animated performance that had those in attendance bopping along to a range of numbers – hopefully we’ll see more from this proggy quintet.

I attended the show with my son Kiel and his mate and all three of us were not prepared for the tour de force that the James Norbert Ivanyi trio were about to serve up to us. Within a few bars of their first song, ‘Noir’, we were looking at each other in astonishment. All three, guitarist James Norbert Ivanyi, bass player, Liam Horgan and drummer Liam Weedle laid down a thick textured progressive blend of fusion that took the entire audience by surprise – no they really did.

Time and again after a song was finished someone from the audience would shout, “You guys are incredible”, and they were. My son Kiel is a drummer and after seeing Mr Weedle in full flight said to me “this guy is a monster”. He managed to put out a huge barrage of sound that along with Horgan, laid down a solid base that Ivanyi could shred right over. The latter’s capable chops were lapped up by all and sundry with ‘Reawakened’ and ‘Malevolent’ being my personal favourites.

After a quick turn around, Ivanyi’s band’s instruments were removed, the lights dimmed and the lead in anthem for Haken started to sound as the six members of the band filed on stage. To say there was excitement in the air would be an understatement as Haken went straight into ‘affinity.exe’ from the Affinity platter.

Unlike the previous times I had photographed bands at the “Factory” there was no barrier to keep the punters at bay so it was a free for all as I wrestled my way to the front of the room. Trying to fit six players into a photo was nigh on impossible so I tried to individually target different members of the band as ‘affinity.exe’ finished and another Affinity song, ‘Initiate’ began. By now the fans were getting right into it as lead singer Ross Jennings, leaned over and touched hands behind me as he moved on to – ‘In Memoriam’ from The Mountain platter – my personal favourite.

Up until then Jennings was running around in a heavy black coat that didn’t seem to cramp his style, but this was soon discarded and his sleeves were rolled up as he got into the swing of things. Prior to the next song, ‘1985’, he walked off to the right side of the stage and came back wearing a green tie and electric green and white sunglasses. With the stage darkened around him, he hopped about with the sunglasses giving a somewhat surreal effect while using the microphone stand as a twirling baton.

As the song progressed the sunglasses instilled an almighty presence as the crowd focused on his wild antics. Pointing to the crowd he seemed to engage everyone in the room as he progressed for the nine minutes of this track from their Affinity album. When it was finished the crowd erupted into spontaneous applause – visually it was the highlight of the night, especially as there was a lacklustre light show with the odd red and green spotlight being used now and then.

The band put out a huge sound that saw drummer Ray Hearne beating the living hell out of his Tama drum kit while swinging his mic around when he added backing vocals. To his left was bass guitarist Conner Green, strumming his Sonus Special 6 bass guitar with dexterity as his long fringe hung down in front of his face while he concentrated on delivering extremely complex bass lines. To Hearne’s right was keyboard player Diego Tejeida who played like a man possessed. My favourite keyboard player is Derek Sherinian who has played with everyone from Alice Cooper to Zakk Wilde. Tejeida certainly comes close to Sherinian’s high standards as he also plays in drummer Mike Portnoy’s “Shattered Fortress” who are due back here in some six weeks.

Also tickling the keys was Richard Henshall who did double duty playing an awesome Strandburg eight string guitar as well. Most of the world’s guitarists play six string guitars while those with outstanding talent might pick up a seven string. A much smaller percentage wouldn’t even try to wrap their hands around an eight string. That said fellow band member Charlie Griffiths also has a Strandburg eight string guitar and both were instrumental (pun intended) in the development of Strandburg’s Varburg model. Needless to say it was awesome to hear these two maestros go back and forth across the stage.

Back to the gig and the theatrics were put to the back burner as the band started the intro to ‘Earthrise’ from the Affinity platter. The opening guitar chords gave way to the full band coming in with bright lighting to match. It then settled down to the rather catchy pop riff that had all and sundry feeling in a good mood. A great way to spend a Saturday night (even though it was my anniversary and I was in the dog house for leaving “her indoors” at home with the cat).

Pop then made way for “Prog” in simply the finest tradition as Henshall started strumming the opening riff to The Mountain’s ‘Pareidolia’. Instrumentally this was the highlight of the night for me as all the members of the band tried to hit this tune right out of the park. After Jennings finished his opening vocals, the five players started to play as one and as I looked over to my son mid-song, he and his mate were just awestruck with the level of complexity and achievement that was shown – absolutely brilliant.

Progressive metal seems to draw two types of fans to it like a magnet. You have those instrumentalists who want to learn how to better play their chosen instrument and then you have the “nerdy” fanatics who usually wear glasses and an array of pimples to a gig. While both groups were in abundance, there were a couple of good looking girls that made the effort too.

Jennings returned to the stage to finish his vocals and nearly eleven minutes later the song came to an end to the deafening applause of those in attendance – just the best of the best here. Next up it was like Sherman and Mr Peabody were twisting the dial to the WABAC machine as Haken went back and plucked ‘Insomnia’ from the band’s second album Visions.

Clearly there were a lot of punters in the room that knew of the band’s earliest work as they sung and hummed along with this standout track. Suddenly we went from Haken’s second earliest work to their latest when Tejeida’s spacey synthesiser intro to ‘Red Giant’ permeated the room. Jennings’ vocals roared above the infectious sounds and with lyrics like “A trial by fire on shoulders of giants. We’re scalded and burning, yet she keeps on turning”, he got the point across.

Clearly “burning” was the theme for tonight as The Mountain’s ‘Atlas Stone’ opened with the words “Hearts will burn come what may – With lessons learned along the way”. This was a very uplifting version with a big sound coming out of the five players – so big in fact that the floor was rumbling along the way. Too bad for the comedy show attendees elsewhere in the building.

Well it has been said time and again that cockroaches will outlive us if fire and brimstone does arrive so it seemed to be on cue that a fan favourite, ‘The Cockroach King’ was up next. I must admit I didn’t like this song when I first heard it and it was well over a year before the quirky odd signature song began to put a smile on my face. On the night the opening bars bought a roar from the crowd as Jennings was joined by each of the other vocalists in telling the tale of the Cockroach King. Needless to say it was warmly received by all and sundry.

The main set finished with two more tunes from the Affinity album – ‘The Endless Knot’ and ‘The Architect’ and just highlighted what an incredible band Haken really are with both drums and bass being brilliantly joined by the two guitarists and Tejeida on keys. According to Wikipedia “Affinity covers subjects such as the evolution of computing and humanity, the relationship between man and machine, human behaviour, modern society” and it also asks if “artificial intelligence will ever surpass the human capacity to create/recreate life”, in this case all six members clearly surpassed normal human capacity in Sydney this Saturday night.

After a one and a half hour show, the band filed off for a break however the crowd were very keen to see them come back and add some more Hakeness to the night. A few minutes later the band members filed back on stage for a fitting finale in the form of ‘Visions’, the nearly twenty three minute song written by Jennings about a young boy who sees his own death in his dreams and believes it’s going to happen and spends the rest of his life trying to avoid it.

I guess if you wanted to see the best of the best then this was pretty close to it with drummer Ray Hearne, bass player, Conner Green and the synths of Diego Tejeida laying down a progressive carpet that guitarists Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths could play on with vocalist Ross Jennings taking us through his story. This was close to the thirtieth time the band had played this ditty in five weeks so they had got it down pat and didn’t disappoint.

While Progressive Metal might seem a bit left of field, there are a lot of bands playing it. American Progression magazine has probably one hundred new bands in every issue that I have never heard of before while British “Prog” magazine has 20 or 30 British and European outfits that come out of the wood work. As soon as I heard Haken ten years ago there was just something special about their slant on odd timed metal. They are even better live.

Haken Setlist – Affinitour v3.0

affinity.exe
Initiate
In Memoriam
1985
Earthrise
Pareidolia
Insomnia
Red Giant
Atlas Stone
Cockroach King
The Endless Knot
The Architect

Encore:
Visions

James Norbert Ivanyi

Noir
A Fatal Eminence
Pray Darkly
Thumb Trick
The Matter Circumvention
Reawakened
Avarice Curse
Precarious Passage
Malevolent

Reviewer and Photographer : Jon Van Daal