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Friday 3 March 2023

Reviews: Haken, Lunar, Trench Dogs, Reboot The System (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Haken - Fauna (Inside Out Music)

Returning to having a previous member in your band could be a recipe for disaster but on Fauna, the seventh album by British prog kings Haken, the return of original keyboard player Pete Jones was probably the only choice as he has been adding additional keys and drum programming to Haken's last two records alongside Diego Tejeida who left the band in 2021.

So with Jones behind the keys have Haken's sound shifted in any major way? Well Virus and Vector upped the heaviness of the bands music after the Eighties-tastic Affinity but it seems that with Fauna they are leaning on their prog rock influenced early days. The palm muted, start-stop riffs still drive first single Nightingale, making for the 'iconic' Haken sound of Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths' girthy riffs.

This is a Haken album though and The Alphabet Of Me shifts the tone to a breakbeat, electronica driven track Jones' sound design and closes with sax. Yep it's a prog record as genre shifts happen often but are never startling, you just ride along with them, the virtuosity and composition keeping you grounded in their own Hakenverse. Ross Jennings vocals are so unique and identifiable, he is the strong melodic edge to any heaviness while he interweaves with the lighter moments, blurting our complicated lyrical wordsmithery that is inspired by the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? which became the film Blade Runner. The philosophical ideas explored in the book and the film(s) about what makes us human heavily influencing the concept of Fauna, as I'm sure does Darwinian theory, from the cover and title.

Now it is a loose concept, like their their album The Mountain, and for me Fauna similarly attempts to explore new realms while keeping a familiarity; Sempiternal Beings an 8 minute observation in tone, the drumming of Ray Hearne particularly dexterous and dense both here and on the jazzy Beneath The White Rainbow, the most off-kilter proggy moment on the record that backroom augmented by Jones' impressive keyboard wizardry. Beneath The...reminds of the first two Haken records where the genre-bending was jarring and in your face, here though it has been treated by a band with lots more experience than they had on their debut. The basslines of Conner Green are the primary component of the dreamy Island In The Clouds.

As the last few songs of the album come close Lovebite is a fun little distraction musically similar to a metal band playing Phil Collins or Hall & Oats poppy love songs but with gore-soaked lyrics, it is the shortest song on the record by whets the appetite for the colossal Elephants Never Forget. Fighting for prog moment of the record with Beneath The... but here it's like a Yes epic, hooked by those Griffiths/Henshall riffs, as another audio journey unfolds. Fauna finishes with Eyes Of Ebony, a menacing, manipulative, insistent track with lots of layered repetition that owes as much to Soundgarden as it does to King Crimson. 

As much as I liked Vector and Virus, Fauna feels like the continuation of what Haken did pre-Affinity, but also where they are now as a band. It's a wonderful thing that deserves your full attention and time. 10/10

Lunar - The Illusionist (Self Released)

More progressive metal as Sacremento band Lunar shook off the often career curtailing circumstances of a death of a founding member by returning with their third full length album a concept around The Illusionist in the title. Founded by drummer Alex Bosson and singer/guitarist Ryan Erwin, they last released and album in 2019, the mighty Eidolon, which was the first without Ryan Erwin who passed away in 2018. Bosson continues to honour his friend with each Lunar album, sticking to the songwriting style they had together, influenced by Opeth, Cynic and anything Dan Swåno, the classic prog and extreme metal styles colliding, but played without any sort of constraints so they can experiment within the songs themselves. 

Maintaining the same band as on Eidolon, Bosson is joined by guitarist Balmore Lemus, bassist Ryan Price and keyboardist Alex Nalsa as Brian Lewis growls against Chandler Mogel's clean vocals, this experience working together pays dividends with some of the most complex, heaviest music of Lunar's tenure as a band. The concept is I think built around the 2006 film The Illusionist, dealing with love, betrayal and possible necromancy, it's actually quite a good watch but this album is better. There's a lot of guest on this album as there were on their last ones Gleb Kamasevich's clarinet on the intro, Patrick Corona (Cyborg Octopus/Ex- River Of Nihil) and Jørgen Munkeby (Shining) giving brass to the title track and the throb of Disassembled respectively, Andy Gillon (ex-Mors Principium Est) shreds on the title track too. 

It's not all guest dependent though as the Persian strains of Worship The Sun has no guests and is a great prog metal track with Orphaned Land/Myrath style, For My Next Trick too is just the core instrumental membership. Bossons drums are of course the linchpin for these songs Turn Off The World for example is all about the shifts in the percussion before evolving into a synths solo from Nasla, his presence is really felt on this album making it keyboard heavy in places. and guitars solos from Lemus and Caligula's Horse man Sam Vallen, increasing the prog productivity. 

The galloping Showtime features Paladin six stringer Taylor Washington, Ryan Price's bass locking down with Bosson's expansive drumming. The Illusionist uses its concept well, with similarities to Haken on a track like Juggling Chainsaws, guest solo by Eternity's End man Christian Münzner, the jazz breaks typical of the British band, another British prog influence comes on the final Now You See Me, as it's very Pink Floyd or Camel from the guitars, though the dreamy vocals and violin/viola from Ben Karas (Thank You Scientist) also makes me think of Kansas in their introspective moments until the final moments of extreme metal blasting.

The Illusionist again is at the highest level of the progsphere, Bosson's continuation of the Lunar name, honouring his co-founder and friend, through the medium of progressive metal, is an advantageous endeavour. 910  

Trench Dogs - Stockholmainia (Wild Kingdom)

The second album from Swedish band Trench Dogs is ruined by the faux nostalgia, it's an audio Pepperidge Farm advert that constantly nudges you as if to say "remember the good old days" the biggest culprit being Pumpkin Soup which tries to be an Ian Hunter-like ballad but fails to have any substance to it. The rest of the album heavily apes the styles Sweet, Mott The Hoople, The New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks, the affected sneer of Andy Hekkandi trying to be Bowie but as much as an Australian living in Sweden can be. 

Formed in 2013 and having released their debut full length in 2018 Trench Dogs have got a pedigree behind them for sure but this frothy, filthy, rock n roll becomes a little faux. I know they're serious and I know they probably care about what they do but I don't need any more glans rock songs about drinking a lot of wine and feeling fine. It's great if you're glam/sleaze rock fan but it won't get much more attention than passing listen from me. 5/10

Reboot The System - The Fall (Self Released)

Sweden's long history with death/thrash metal is noteworthy enough to fill many books on the subject. Words like Swedeath or Gothenburg Scene are frequently used by journalists to describe the genre, so from the heart of Gothenburg Reboot The System release their debut album with At The Gates, In Flames and Soilwork all inspiring the songwriting as Matthias the creative brain behind the album, uses blastbeat flurries, melodic leads and death metal grooves to highlight that this my friends is HM-2 Swedeath, with a few tweaks that add Sepultura to the first two tracks. 

He even goes as far as having Björn Strid of Soilwork on the industrial title track and All Is War/Nightrage growler Ronnie Nyman on the thrash assault of Bloodshed. The Fall is an album that deals with some quite depressing themes but that usually is the nature of this melodeatb/thrash sound, the world we live in and societal problems coming through the lyrics. Reboot The System is not different and it uses the Swedeath formula to build on with groove (Hourglass) and thrash metal, all in all a strong debut album from this Swedish band which avoids loading up in safe mode for the most part. 7/10

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