Haken emerged with a well-received demo in 2007. Keyboardist Peter Jones was part of that era of the band, but left to pursue his academic studies before the group released their debut in 2010. Following a fourteen year absence, Jones has returned to the fold for Haken's seventh studio album Fauna.
Vocalist Ross Jennings says Jones has made a big impact on this record. "What Pete's brought sonically to the band has played a massive role in why we do have a lot of new sounds on this record," Jennings says. "It's always a new dynamic when there's a change in personnel, and this is a fresh and reviving one."
Between the lineup change and the additional time they had for songwriting due to the pandemic, Fauna turns out to be one of the band's most ambitious and wide-ranging efforts. The lyrical concept of the album started with the premise that each song would have an animal assigned to it, but it would also connect to the human world and how that animal related to the song's composer.
For example, the opener "Taurus" is about the wildebeest, with its destruction and displacement likened to the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war. The song is one of the record's most streamlined at just under five minutes with syncopated djent rhythms shifting to melodic sections with smooth, melodic singing from Jennings.
While the band has explored djent on recent albums, Fauna is a representation of their entire music oeuvre. "Nightingale" is classic Haken, while they push in new directions with "The Alphabet Of Me." It is the band at their most accessible, a very contemporary sounding track that's as close to radio-friendly as Haken is going to get while still showcasing progressive sections.
"Beneath The White Rainbow" features a diverse vocal performance from Jennings. Soaring melodic singing turns more urgent and high pitched toward the end of the track, which has some of the album's heaviest moments. Brief ambient sections and constantly shifting soundscapes make "Islands in the Clouds" compelling.
Haken takes it back to the ‘80s with the clever "Lovebite," a melodic and upbeat sounding song with a singalong chorus whose dark lyrics are a commentary on failed relationships featuring the black widow, as the female kills and devours the male after mating.
Fauna's most ambitious song is the 11 minute penultimate track "Elephants Never Forget." It unfolds slowly, a dynamic song with complex arrangements that gives each band member a chance to display their musical prowess. A bit self-indulgent at times, the track still manages to be engaging and able to maintain interest.
The album closes with the emotional "Eyes of Ebony," which addresses death, both that of the near-extinct northern white rhino and guitarist Richard Henshall's father, who recently passed away. The introspective track starts out mellow, but increases the intensity before easing into a mid-song instrumental break and quiet ending.
With Fauna, Haken has done a great job of encapsulating all eras of their career while still pushing in different directions. Like most prog albums, the listener will absorb more of the subtleties of the compositions with multiple listens, but Fauna has plenty of immediately memorable parts as well.