British progressive masters Haken have gained somewhat of an underground following since the release of their 2010 debut, Aquarius. Naturally the following only progressed further with their undeniable masterpiece Visions in 2011, and if quality of work correlates to fan base growth like it has in the past, then their upcoming 2013 release The Mountain should open the floodgates for new fans of the band. What I'm saying is that The Mountain puts Haken at 3-for-3 when it comes to releasing perfect albums.
From the opening track "The Path" and the follow up of "Atlas Stone," listeners get a much different feeling than how the band have previously opened their records, or even sounded in general. Both Visions and Aquarius opened with overture-type pieces that contrasted the light and dark elements of each record. "The Path" opens with a looking-toward-the-sky feeling of hopefulness and largely relies on piano and the ambiance of a few strings and horns to pull you through. "Atlas Stone" expounds on the adventurously optimistic nature of "The Path" in a big way, bringing the band in to blast you out through the misty skies of "The Path" and right into the sunlight. Unlike Aquarius' second track "Streams," it doesn't give a false feeling of hope; both tracks on The Mountain feel genuine in their optimism.
The record then takes a turn for the odd on "The Cockroach King," and deals with some a capella, odd keyboard patches, and general strangeness one comes to expect from a Haken record. The record hangs on to the opening optimism through a few songs, mostly the gorgeous "Because It's There," and but slowly spirals down to the driving and pleading end of "Somebody." Whereas Aquarius went from good to bad in the story arch, and Visions comes to a simply accepting-of-death ending, The Mountain feels more torturous and alone… as if the band are trying to convey a feeling of riches-to-rags, a feeling of slowly coming on dread that overpowers the listener and ends with the powers that be laughing in your face at your thoughts of a potential happy ending.
The Mountain is a much looser record, if we're going to try and describe it with an adjective. Where their previous two have been very concrete in their composition, The Mountain feels much more slinky and improvisational in an odd way. Songs like "The Cockroach King" and "Pareidolia" are multifaceted in instrumentation and technique (slap bass and fingered bass, for instance) that overall, as these elements aren't only present in the aforementioned, almost a live, emotional, real, raw feel to them that only benefits the record in the best way possible.
The verdict is clear on The Mountain: Haken have done it again. While they've switched sounds from Visions to The Mountain, they've managed to retain that now-classic Haken sound fans have come to know and love. This isn't a repeat of old material, nor is it only a slight progression from one to the other. Haken have taken yet another step out of their comfort zone and nailed it.