Haken: Affinity (InsideOut)
Haken are at a point now where they can pretty much go anywhere or do anything they want creatively, for a lot of bands this would mean extreme levels of experimentation that can sometimes tip the band over the edge, however Haken have really gone the other way, their first two records are breeding grounds for all kinds of sonic experimentation based around a progressive metal backing, however their sound was tightened up, refined and mellowed for The Mountain meaning the songs were shorter, cleaner in sound but packed more an emotive punch than before. With their fourth album Haken have built on The Mountain's foundation but with an added sense of retro-futurism, Affinity is an 80's inspired piece that wouldn't sound out of place in TRON, The Running Man the cover art screams Amiga, Spectrum or indeed Apple (when they still made computers), continuing the retroism of the design the album is available as vinyl, CD, cassette and even a thought to release on floppy disc (seriously!)
The record itself brings a touch of AOR to the complex arrangements Haken are known for. The 80's love continues on opening intro track affinty.exe which boots up into the opening salvo of Initiate a heavyweight track with some modern tech metal riffage but the swirling keys and soundscapes of Diego Tejeida and the piercing emotive vocals of Ross Jennings who has one of the most unique rock vocals since Jon Anderson, it's crystalline and gentle but with a hidden power to it. Initiate is a defining opening statement it is a bit of everything Haken have done before but hints towards their future something that is expanded upon on the rest of the record, things do change on 1985 which is driven by a repeating keyboard/guitar riff that brings to mind Behind The Lines-era Genesis, Trevor Horn-era Yes, The Blade Runner soundtrack, all in one robotic mid-eighties package
1985 is the first of the long songs on this record, the others being the uplifting finale of Bound By Gravity and The Architect which sits in the middle of the record at 15+ minutes and is almost a suite of all everything that has come from the band before even getting the harsh vocals from their debut back with Leprous' Einar Solberg helping out Jennings. The Architect is a real showcase for the bands incredible talent with Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths playing the understated, deft guitars that at any moment can open up into magnificence and regularly do usually in conjunction with Diego's sweeping synths, Henshall himself adds yet more layers on Diego's sound once again splitting his time between guitars and keys giving band it's mellifluous style underpinned by the technically precise intensely dexterous percussive drumming of Raymond Hearne and the nimble bass mastery of Connor Green, who is now on his second release with the band (the first being the Restoration EP) on this record he gives evidence to his skill throughout the record (see the middle section of The Architect for a bass solo fans)
I've played this record a fair few time since it's release and every time I notice something different especially in the sprawling epic The Architect it's a masterpiece in progressive music. The 'second' part of the record starts with the twitching melodic Earthsize that leads into the building Red Giant that has an electronic percussive dance back beat bubbling away with an ambient trance sound, then into the first single The Endless Knot which adds dashes of dubstep and ends with a euphoric uplifting chorus, the record ends with the contemplative Bound By Gravity which sees the band yet again delving into more ambient soundscapes with Pete Rinaldi adding extra acoustic guitars to the records slowest track that borders on Coldplay territory at times (which is no bad thing honestly) and explodes into a beautiful crescendo with bells ringing, drums smashings, guitars chugging and Jennings trill vocal over the top. As I said earlier the final part of this record points to the future and also shows that Haken are unafraid of taking risks, from here the band can do whatever they like musically. 10/10
Purson: Desire's Magic Theatre (Spinefarm)
Once again we go back to the psychedelic mind of Rosalie Cunningham for the second full length from Purson which once again trawls their particular and peculiar brand of "vaudeville carny psych" (Rosalie's words). Purson are like a less cheery ELO, playing with a drug addicted Beatles, while Sabbath turn the amps up. Their debut was a dark affair but this record is lighter, more whimsical and a bit more ambitious, its still has folky neo-progressive touches melding with the doomy, fuzz riffs but this time there are Tull-esque flutes, lots of jazzy sax especially on the hazy opener which is driven by the electric piano, the wind instruments and Raphael Mura's clattering drums and ends with a little bit of jazz odyssey at the end. Mura is the only person other than Cunningham to appear on every track, she handles every other instrument from guitar, through keys and percussion as well as designing the hypnotic cover and creating overall retro feel of the record.
Her haunting vocals are the ever present reminder that are Purson are not your usual band they are hallucinatory experience that one minute rocks out with a searing guitar duel (Electric Landlady) then the next creeps and slithers (Pedigree Chums), goes through a folksy The Sky Parade which is a bit Spaghetti Western at the beginning with big organ stabs, into the jaunty Fab-Four-like Mr Howard before the record ends with a storytelling epic The Bitter Suite that serves as a fitting climax for the musical orgy that preceded it. Desire's Magic Theater sees Purson upping their game, producing their most accomplished, dramatic, mind bending and cohesive work yet. All the pieces just fit on this record which sees them moving from their psychedelic folky doom roots into a more colourful menagerie of sounds, (although when stripped back on the acoustic interpretation bonus tracks they still carry a lot of weight especially The Sky Parade) Purson are now on the next level of their evolution and from here they can go anywhere. 8/10
Massive: Destination Somewhere (Self Released)
Aussie's Massive were tipped to be a bit of a next big thing on the release of their debut album, the four piece made up of Brad Marr (vocals/guitar), Brendan Forward (guitar), Aidan McGarrigle (bass) and Jarrod Medwin (drums) brought the same alcohol fueled hard rock of so many Aussie bands before them but with the gutter sleaze of G'N'R, the debut was a nonstop hard rock record with some arena baiting tracks contained on it. So have they still got the magic on this second record, short answer is not really, the songs are good, classic slices of hard rock on Sinking Ship which has all the cowbell and some big swaggering riffage, as does The Fall and Up In Smoke but like many of the more modern rock bands the lure of the arenas are obviously calling as the band have added more radio friendly material.
The punky Buckcherry apeing titled track, the country picking The Way It's Always Been sounding a like something from Diamond Dave's playbook. Its' on the bluesy Beaten Dog and the ballad Made Of Stone that Massive show what I've come to call the Black Stone Cherry affect the band sacrificing the harder rock edge for a more commercial sheen, I don't blame the band for this but it means that album just blends into the background a little. Still it's a sturdy hard rock album that will give Massive more songs to play live when they next do the rounds. 6/10