English prog-metal ensemble Haken continue their reliably steady output with the release of their seventh studio album Fauna, available via Inside Out on March 3.
Bolstered by the return of keyboardist Pete Jones and a massive European tour with Between The Buried And Me, the authors of such bombastic and mind-bending cuts as "Cockroach King" and "Initiate" pull no punches on their latest acid trip to the senses.
"Well, firstly, thank you so much for enjoying Fauna," shared guitarist Richard Henshall in a sitdown with Metal Injection. "We've been stuck in this bubble for the last couple of years whilst writing and recording it, and it's sometimes hard to even be able to gauge whether it's any good anymore by the end of the whole process. So it's been great hearing feedback from fellow music lovers and it's always very promising when people are into what you've been doing."
The return of Jones, who collaborated with Haken in what Henshall affectionately refers to as the demo years, comes as a welcome shot of enthusiasm and creativity to a collective already bursting with the stuff.
"Yeah, it's really great working with Pete again. He was in the band way back during the demo years, so 2007, 2008 and a little bit before that, just kind of crafting ideas together to record the demos. So we've known each other for a long time now, 15 years or so. He went off to study theoretical physics for a bunch of years, so he's a very clever lad, a lot cleverer than any of us [laughs]. For a start, that kind of added a whole new dimension to the band dynamic," Henshall shared of Jones, who he further collaborated with through the Nova Collective.
"Over the years he's matured as a person obviously, but also his musical tastes have broadened. His playing is obviously very proficient, but in terms of his tastes, he's really expanded into kind of jazz influences and there's a very strong electronic sound to his playing, which has really added a certain sound to this album, and I hope he'll carry on on future albums as well."
While stopping short of calling Fauna a concept album, the tracks are tethered together with a nod to the animal kingdom, with metaphorical strands connecting the Brits to their spirit animal of choice, if you will.
"I feel like maybe halfway through the process of writing the tunes, we came up with this idea of basing them on the animal kingdom, and we use different animals or different species as metaphors generally for, you know, things that are going on in the human world or personal experiences as well. And it really proved to be quite effective because the animal kingdom is such a majestic and eclectic thing.
"It really reflected the music on the album because it's all over the place and there's lots of different colors and moods going on which is very similar to the animal kingdom." Henshall explains, adding that the writing process, for him personally at least, took a much more close-to-home turn following the loss of his father.
"But yeah, we use the animals as metaphors and there's a whole bunch of different ideas across the album, even personal experiences. For example, my father passed away during the process of writing a song. It was very tricky to deal with because he'd been such a supportive figure for me as a musician. But not only that, he was very supportive of the band.
"He was almost like the seventh member of the band during the early years of Haken. He would send out demos that we'd made to all corners of the world for free and send photos of the band. He wrote a little bio as well that he'd send to everyone and he would never charge people, he'd just do it for free.
"Like a true, true prog fan, he had a big long list of all the Haken shows that he'd been to and he'd seen us like over 100 times. He was really dedicated to the cause and he never once wanted to be on the guest list. He'd always pay for the tickets because he wanted to support what we were doing. And he knew that ticket sales meant that we could carry on doing what we're doing. So yeah, very, very sad when he passed away. So I decided to write this song ('Eyes of Ebony') about him and I used the metaphor of the plight of the final male white rhino to kind of tell that story."
From the riff-heavy opener "Taurus" to the eclectic mashup "The Alphabet of Me" and the cathartic closer "Eyes of Ebony", Fauna is Haken at perhaps its most dynamic and ferociously brave. For Henshall himself, the creative process was healing in a time where clouds of grief hovered woefully close to home.
"It was very therapeutic, and it was a tricky time. I've never dealt with grief on that level before. Just the idea that something's there and that it, it's gone the next day and you can never quite get that back. So that was hard to deal with and I felt writing the song was definitely therapeutic and it healed me for sure," Henshall admits candidly of Fauna, which he compares in scope and ambition to 2013's The Mountain.
"Yeah, the album for me is very special, like I imagine Fauna will be in ten years time," Henshall shares of the tenth anniversary of The Mountain. "It was a pivotal moment for us. We'd just signed to Inside Out records, so we had a lot of attention. And I remember we put out 'Cockroach King,' and we did a quirky video with it, which really caught a lot of attention. And even the likes of Jordan Rudess and Mike Portnoy heard of us at that point. And we're like, 'Whoa!' I remember even seeing a video of Rudess playing through a bunch of themes from The Mountain. It just blew my mind. Suddenly we were thrown into the attention of some of our heroes, so it was a real turning point for the band, and it really started a ball rolling, to be honest.
"I like to think of Fauna almost like a spiritual partner to that album in terms of the way we approached it. It was a very kind of almost, I wouldn't say loose, but it was very liberal and we didn't really have much of a filter when it came to writing. We were just like anything goes, you know? It could be as wacky and zany as you like, anything goes. And that really resulted in it being very diverse and varied. And I like to think Mountain has that similar vibe and feeling when you listen to it."
Catch Haken on tour throughout Europe with Between The Buried And Me and Cryptodira before hitting North America on a run of headline dates with special guests Arch Echo! Fauna is available worldwide March 3.
2/21 – Hamburg, GER – Gruenspan
2/22 – Leipzig, GER – Werk 2
2/23 – Berlin, GER – Heimathafen
2/24 – Warsaw, POL – Proxima
2/25 – Prague, CZE – Palac Akropolis
2/26 – Vienna, AUT – Simm City
2/28 – Budapest, HUN – Durer Kert
3/1 – Munich, GER – Freiheitshalle
3/2 – Karlsruhe, GER – Stadtmitte
3/3 – Aarau, SWI – Kiff Saal
3/4 – Roncade-Treviso, ITA – New AGE
3/5 – Milan, ITA – Alcatraz
3/6 – Lyon, FRA – Ninkasi Kao
3/8 – Barcelona, SPA – Razzmatazz 2
3/9 – Madrid, SPA – Mon
3/10 – Murcia, SPA – Garaje
3/11 Seville, SPA – Custom
3/12 Lisbon, POR – Lisboa ao Vivo
3/13 Porto, POR – Hard Club
3/15 Toulouse, FRA – Connexion Live
3/16 Nantes, FRA – Ferrailleur
3/17 Paris, FRA – Alhambra
3/19 Esch-sur-Alzette, LUX – Rockhal
3/20 Cologne, GER – Burgerhaus Stollwerck
3/21 Antwerp, BEL – Trix Club
3/22 Tilburg, NET – 013
3/23 Bristol, UK – SWX
3/24 Manchester, UK – Academy 2
3/25 Glasgow, UK – Garage
3/26 London, UK – Shepherds Bush Empire
North American Tour:
5/3 – Nashville – TBA [Tickets]
5/4 – Cleveland – House of Blues [Tickets]
5/5 – Toronto – Opera House [Tickets]
5/6 – Montreal – Corona Theater [Tickets]
5/7 – Quebec City – Imperial Bell [Tickets]
5/9 – Boston – Paradise [Tickets]
5/10 – Philadelphia – TLA [Tickets]
5/11 – NYC – Le Poisson Rouge [Tickets]
5/12 – DC – The Black Cat [Tickets]
5/13 – Charlotte – Underground [Tickets]
5/14 – Fort Lauderdale – Culture Room [Tickets]
5/15 – Orlando – The Beacham [Tickets]
5/17 – Atlanta – Terminal West [Tickets]
5/19 – Dallas – Granada Theater [Tickets]
5/20 – Austin – Come and Take it Live [Tickets]
5/21 – El Paso – Lowbrow Palace [Tickets]
5/22 – Phoenix – The Nile [Tickets]
5/23 – San Diego – Brick by Brick [Tickets]
5/24 – LA – Regent Theater [Tickets]
5/25 – San Francisco – August Hall [Tickets]
5/26 – Portland – Hawthorne Theater [Tickets]
5/27 – Seattle – Neptune Theater [Tickets]
5/28 – Vancouver – Rickshaw Theater [Tickets]
5/30 – SLC – Commonwealth Room [Tickets]
5/31 – Denver – Gothic Theater [Tickets]
6/1 – Lawrence – Granada Theater [Tickets]
6/2 – Minneapolis – Fine Line [Tickets]
6/3 – Chicago – Concord Music Hall [Tickets]