Haken have become a major name on the prog scene since the release of their third album, 'The Mountain' in 2013. Not only did this get the band enormous acclaim, but it also gave them the chance to undertake a huge touring schedule. They played with bands such as Between The Buried And Me, The Neal Morse Band and Leprous, headlined their first ever US shows, were invited to play on the bill for Cruise To The Edge, as well as appearing on the bills at Hellfest (one of Europe's biggest summer festivals), and the inaugural Ramblin' Man Fair in the UK.
But now all the attention is on their fourth album, 'Affinity'. And it's perhaps not quite what people might expect. Because, to some extent Haken have delved into their love of '80s music for the new album.
“Everybody knows the 1970s was a golden age for prog music” explains guitarist Charles Griffiths. “In the past we’ve taken a lot from bands of that era whom we enjoyed, especially Gentle Giant, but this time, we have gone more towards the next decade for our inspiration. For me, it means albums like '90125' from Yes, 'Toto IV’ and Crimson’s ‘Three of a Perfect Pair’ and even Vince DiCola’s score from ‘Transformers The Movie’. We all love the sounds they used; the keyboard and drum sounds gave the music a cool flavour and we've incorporated some of that approach throughout ‘Affinity’, but especially on the track ‘1985’. Of course there’s still a modern edge to the drums and heavy guitar tones on what you'll hear.”
It's not only in this shift of emphasis to the 1980s that things have slightly altered for the band this time around. As Griffiths explains, calling the album 'Affinity' is rather appropriate for the manner in which it was conceived.
“In the past, Richard Henshall (guitars/keyboards/backing vocals), who founded the band in 2007 with Ross Jennings (lead vocals), has tended to come up with initial demos for songs, on which the rest of us have then built. But this time everyone was equal from the start; we all threw our hats in the ring when it came to the writing process. So, there was more of a feeling that we were all connecting with the music on the same level”.
“It is the most collaborative we have ever been on an album,” agrees Jennings. “We wanted to develop and expand our sound by having every member contribute initial ideas from the very beginning of the process. It naturally takes longer to filter through the mass of material and fit it all together coherently, but this approach has helped to create something completely fresh whilst maintaining the core elements of Haken’s sound. It’s truly a group effort”
Haken began the process of writing for the album about a year ago. However, the recording part of the schedule was done rather quickly.
“We spent about a year writing and developing the material, but recorded everything in a really short, focused period, just a few weeks last December,” informs keyboard player Diego Tejeida. “We have once again called upon Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios (Opeth, Devin Townsend, Between The Buried And Me) for mixing and mastering duties. He is a wizard in this department! We are always confident his mix will bring out the best from our performance but his mix has surpassed our expectations.”
While this is not a concept album, Griffiths explains that there is a loose theme running through the lyrics.
“The broad lyrical theme of the album is about how we are all connected, both literally and in more abstract sense. ’Affinity’ seemed like the perfect title since it can refer to the biological connection between all living things; our common ancestry. But we’re also reflecting on our personal relationships, as well as looking at human nature from a more global perspective.”
Aside from the band members, there is also one guest on 'Affinity'. This is Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg, who guests on the song 'The Architect'.
“This song grew into a 15-minute monster, the longest we have on the album,” says Griffiths. “It's also the most diverse and involved arrangement, being split into various sections. It starts off in a metal vein, before switching into a more atmospheric approach and ends up being quite epic and cinematic. There's one part of the song which hints at some Norwegian black metal tonalities and we thought it would be cool to have what I’ll call ‘authentic' vocals. Einar was the obvious choice as he’s a very good friend of ours and an incredible vocalist; he blew us away with his performance”
“The artwork is by Blacklake, who have designed our previous two releases” Griffiths explains. “It is a minimalist, almost brutalist style in keeping with the 1980s aesthetic that inspired some of the music. I think it will be a really nice package to hold in your hands when listening to the album”.
The album will be released in the usual formats including a vinyl pressing. There will also be a special ‘double CD’ edition available. So, what will be on the second disc?
“That will have all of the same tracks, but just instrumental versions,” reveals Griffiths. “You could say it's the Haken karaoke version. It’s the first time we’ve done this, and we thought it would be interesting for people to hear what’s going on under the vocals”.
Griffiths believes that 'Affinity', although exploring new musical territory, will appeal to longtime fans.
“The last thing we want to do was to repeat what we’ve done before. Just because 'The Mountain' has been our most successful release to date, we didn’t want to just copy the formula. I’m sure people will recognise that it is the same band, but we’ve tried to bring different influences and fresh, interesting sounds to the fore; to evolve as musicians and as a band. I'm sure we have found the right way to move forward, while keeping enough of the Haken style to satisfy our fans.”
London, January 2016