Album: The Mountain
Review: Kev Rowland
Thoughts: I was sat at my desk the other day when I was asked if I had yet played Haken's The Mountain (2013). When I responded by saying that it was on my list and hadn't got to it yet, I was told that I needed to. So, when I got home that night I made the time to actually play it for the first time. It was a lot later when I was asked if I was actually going to go to bed, as I had just sat there in awe, taken away into a new musical world. To say that this is one of the finest albums to ever come out of the prog scene is something of an understatement, but accurate. I've just had a quick look on Progarchives to see what others feel about this and note that there are two collaborator/expert reviews, both of whom give it 5 stars, and I am convinced that the only reason they have done that is because we're not able to give it any more.
This is absolutely stunning stuff, arguably taking Spock's Beard to a whole new level. But, that argument would in itself be flawed as they have instead looked to one of SB's influences, the incredible Gentle Giant (surely still one of the most under-rated British prog acts ever, and I know that they are rated highly, just not highly enough), and have moved on from there. Honestly, I have no idea where to start with writing about this. The vocals and harmonies are incredible, and they go from full on metallic monstrosity to a cappella in a way that should never be possible, but somehow with these guys it makes total sense. Metallic riffs combine with harmonies, strong bass with 'out there' keyboards, and the feeling that here is a band very much in control.
It is just not possible to fault this album, everything they do is accomplished and polished yet never loses that feeling of spontaneity and rawness that is so important. Unlike some progressive acts, there is nothing here that sounds contrived, the music just oozes honesty and passion. This is not something created by navel gazers in a sterile environment to prove how clever they are, but rather is the product of a band that are not going to conform to any pre-conceived ideas of what they should be producing but instead are out to do whatever they damn well please. I mean, what on earth is a prog band doing starting a song with a barbershop quartet? ('Because It's There'), but within the feel of the album as a whole it makes total sense with what they are doing.
My album of the year, of any genre, is Clive Nolan's Alchemy (2013) (yes I know it's only September, but given how often I am playing it I just can't imagine anything else getting even close). But, although that features many famed progressive performers, it is in fact a theatrical musical production as opposed to a prog epic. When it comes to prog, I am convinced that I have found my album of the year and am listening to it now, as this is one of the most exciting and vibrant pieces of work that I have ever come across. The way that they can go from complex bombast to restrained and simple beauty, such as on 'As Death Embraces' where the vocals and piano interplay is quite different to what has gone before, but still contains a compelling majesty.
Looking at reviews that have been posted in various places I note that not everyone shares my opinion, but life would certainly be boring if everyone had the same view on everything. However, if you have never heard Haken then the time to do it is now, and if you have, then you can rest assured that these guys have kept pushing the envelope to create something which is stunning, just stunning.