Review – Richard Henshall – The Cocoon

“Acclaimed for his work as a founding member of prog metal standouts Haken, as well as Nova Collective, Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress, and as a Strandberg Guitars associate artist, Richard Henshall is now prepared to release his debut solo album, ‘The Cocoon’.  Consisting of eight tracks that range from dense polyrhythmic passages to delicate minimalistic interludes and everything in between, ‘The Cocoon’ features Henshall’s trademark guitar and keyboard playing throughout, and marks his debut performance as a lead vocalist.”

I was intrigued when I heard that Richard Henshall was releasing a solo album, I’m a big fan of Prog-metal behemoths Haken and a major factor behind their success and sound is this talented musician.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this does sound, in parts, like a Haken release but that’s not a criticism, the song composition and musical variety on show will not only appeal to fans of the band but also bring in a wider audience. The rhythm section is composed of Conner Green (Haken) on bass and Matt Lynch (Cynic and Nova Collective) on drums who bring a unique, energising approach to the record.

Richard calls on a plethora of musical guests who add their own individuality including Jordan Rudess, Marco Sfogli and Haken vocalist Ross Jennings and this gives a very different feel to that of the last Haken offering.

The album opens with the introductory instrumental “Pupa” which transforms from calm and collected to frenetic and energetic before seamlessly integrating with “Cocoon”, a ten minute musical foray into dense polyrhythmic passages and short, frantic staccato bursts that throws the listener right out of kilter, the King Crimsonesque saxophone from jazz aficionado Adam Carillo is suitably mind bending and brilliant.

“Silken Chains” provides a calming influence and really showcases Henshall’s impressive vocal skills. Following the low key intro, an upbeat, almost pop infused vibe runs throughout the song with the pared back vocal and edgy rhythm and the guitar solo from guest David Maxim Micic is just a delight to listen to. “Limbo” is a short musical interlude with pared back vocals and hushed tones that gives an almost industrial feel.

To this reviewer “Lunar Room” channels Linkin Park and Eminem with its Nu-Metal/Rap vibe and notable vocals from Ben Levin and Jessica Kion and really gives this album its own sense of identity. The dense musical passages contrast perfectly with the deliberated vocals, it is intelligent and thought provoking and contains yet another impressive guest solo, this time from prog-metal legend Marco Sfogli. It is about this time that I realised how engrossed I had become in Richard’s creation, a testimony to his skill as a songwriter.

Perhaps the most Haken-like track on the album, “Twisted Shadows” sees Richard collaborating with his Haken band mate Ross Jennings who provides a powerful, polarising vocal performance. The song seems to skit through the verse, edgy and restless, Jennings providing just the right amount of unease and Henshall’s guitar a willing collaborator. The dominant chorus seems to erupt almost out of nowhere and Jordan Rudess turning up to add his signature keyboards makes the track a captivating and coruscating musical journey.

My favourite track on the whole album is the wonderful “Afterglow”, I just love the whole feel of this song, like a beacon of light in a world edging every closer to darkness. The humble guitar, uplifting keyboards and Chris Baum’s strings add a soulful tinge before everything breaks out with an outpouring of hope, like the sun rising above the horizon to signal the beginning of a brand new day.

The Cocoon is a truly impressive release and one that shows Richard Henshall at the height of his creative powers. He takes the influences from his time in Haken and Nova Collective and fuses them into something truly individual that can sit astride the progressive and metal genres with equal appeal and that is not an easy thing to do.

Released 26th July 2019

The Cocoon is available from Burning Shed:

https://burningshed.com/store/richardhenshall

Review – Haken – Vector – by James R. Turner

I was a little torn when I read the press about this album and heard on the grapevine that it was a return to the heavier sound of the band, and a step away from the more electronic influences that permeated the marvellous ‘Affinity’ album. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much as ‘Affinity’ and its corresponding tour, I wondered if it would be a step backwards for the band and veer off into prog metal territory. My attitude to that genre (which seems such a misnomer, and lumps so many disparate and diverse bands together in such a narrow band to be almost meaningless) is indifferent at best. Bands like Dream Theater, Anathema and Opeth have drifted into my hearing but passed me by, and if I get a CD with ‘tramp shouting down a megaphone into a dustbin’ alleged vocals then off it goes and never gets listened to again.

Luckily for me, and you, I listened to the album and didn’t just take the blurb at face value. Yes whilst it’s heavier, it is a distinct evolution of the Haken sound, taking the best parts of their last albums and including more of the electronic elements to their sonic template, creating an album that sits on the right side of heavy. Of course, as any fule kno’, Haken have a wonderful vocalist in the form of Ross Jennings who can sing, and has a superb voice, perfect for the light and the soft that peppers their sound.

Another arsenal in their sound is the harmony vocals provided by all 5 of the other members, which is a rarity in many bands, especially bands operating in the heavier sector, and this also sets them apart. It also helps they are bloody good musicians, who manage to capture their live essence on record, and having seen them on the last tour they are amazing live, loud and complex, but amazing.

Again, on this record there is plenty of ability on show but it’s not one of those guitar wankery albums you get where it’s all skill and no soul. ‘Vector’ is chock full of emotion and soul, and is superb evolution of their sound from ‘Affinity’, true musical progression in the original dictionary definition of the word.

Across these seven tracks Haken wring out every ounce of emotion from their performance and put together a sublime album in doing so.

Tracks like The Good Doctor and, my personal favourite, Puzzle Box incorporate more of the electronic and keyboard sounds that hung over from Affinity whilst not losing any of their power. Diego Tejeda and Richard Henshall put together a formidable onslaught, whilst Henshall and Charles Griffiths on guitar remind me of that other fantastic musical duo of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton from TFATD, both pairings are guitarists with plenty of skill and the intuitive ability to bounce off each other, but more, much more than that, they play with heart and soul. That is what so many technical shredders are missing, the best music has soul and emotion and without that you’ve got nothing.

Veil is the centrepiece to this album and it is epic, a real masterclass in how to mix light and shade. The way Haken go about things, with their sound anchored by bassist Conner Green and drummer Raymond Hearne, remind me very much of Iron Maiden in their ethos. A band who are not afraid to rock out and turn it up where necessary but how have both the skill and the ambition to tackle the big concepts and pull them off in style.

In fact, across this album there’s no bad track, some wonderful symphonic sounds on A Cell Divides, the opener Clear and the brilliantly enigmatic The Good Doctor, all of which set the pace and the tone of the album, and the overriding concept, which has elements of psychoanalysis and deeper meanings to the title.

The band themselves say there’s a concept, but the meanings are there to be deciphered by the fans, unwrapping the Puzzle box if you like. However you see it though, you cannot deny that Haken are one of the most interesting and exciting bands currently making music and, as for where they sit genre wise, who cares?

They have made a sublime album that takes the building blocks from their previous albums, with nods right back to the debut, and still manage to push their sound on and create something that is new, that is vibrant and that is nothing other than what it is.

What a joy to be able to write about bands like Haken on today’s scene.

Released 26th October 2018

Order the album from the link here

 

 

Review – Haken L-1VE – by James R Turner

 

Haken released their rather special ‘Affinity’ album back in 2016 and followed it up with a celebratory 10th anniversary European tour which, unsurprisingly, focused on that electro inspired album and its predecessor, the album that made their name, ‘The Mountain’.

Now, in the best tradition of all bands, they have decided to release their first live album, and what a package it is for fans.

Not only do we get a double disc live set taken from their gig in Amsterdam last year, but we also get the full set on DVD, complete with a 2nd DVD of their 4-song set at ProgPower USA in 2016 and the official music videos for Initiate, Earthrise and Lapse.

For anyone who was on that tour (and I was) this is a wonderful memento, and for those who weren’t lucky enough to be there, well, let me tell you more.

Its good to see Haken releasing their first live album as I get incredibly bored with bands getting on the album, tour, live album treadmill, especially where (particularly with the bigger bands) the set lists are written in tablets of stone and, much like dinosaur remains, are very much museum pieces. The key to a great live record (like ‘Wings Over America’, Wishbone Ash’s ‘Live Dates’ or ‘Field Recordings’ by The Fierce and the Dead) is its scarcity, and its immediacy. No-one wants to see a concert where the band duplicates their album sound live on stage with no spontaneity or the feeling that you are living in the moment, and no-one wants to buy a live album from a gig that sounds like the studio recordings, that’s the ultimate example of irrelevance. If you keep releasing live albums you lose your audience and Haken, wisely, have chosen a moment when they have a breadth and depth of songs to chose from and a moment in time when they are currently an energetic and enthusiastic live band with a lot of presence and charisma.

The current line-up of Ross Jennings (vocals) who works the stage like a frontman should which, added to the powerhouse drumming of Raymond Hearne and driving bass of Conner Green, puts that bedrock together to give Richard Henshall’s & Charles Griffiths guitars room to stretch. The keys of Diego Tejeida round it out and it’s the electronic sound that helps make the ‘Affinity’ material so strong on stage.

This taut and assured performance is reflected throughout this record. One of the treats for those of us who love the longer songs is Aquamedley, 22 minutes of the tracks from their debut album ‘Aquarius’, reworked and forming an integral part of the set.

That is what a live show, and album, should be all about, all eras are covered, with a rousing version of Visions closing the record. As previously stated, ‘The Mountain’ and ‘Affinity’ make up the bulk of the tracks, as songs like 1985, Affintiy.exe/Initiate and epic The Architect get a good work out, making their their mark on the bands set.

The only minor issue I have with Haken at this juncture of their career is that they seem to have their feet in a number of camps, neither being full blown prog, prog-metal or sitting in the electronic arena that ‘Affinity’ introduced to their sound. I would like to see them pick a direction (preferably the electronic sound) and move more cohesively towards it, but that’s my opinion, and it doesn’t detract from what is an excellently produced and sublimely performed live show.

With the superb bonus material on the second DVD, and the videos from their excellent Affinity album, this is a fantastic snapshot of where Haken are now, and of what a powerful and confident band they have become.

If they continue down this road, and hone their sound following the electronic influences of ‘Affinity’ they could be well positioned to be one of the defining bands of the new era.

Released 22nd June 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here