Haken, Leprous & Maschine @ Manchester Academy 31/10/2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaschine got the night off to a great start, opening with a new track and continuing with two from their debut album Rubidium. They combine powerful and heavy riffs with moments of subtlety, jazzy guitar solos and nice vocal harmonies to make for a really impressive live set. ‘Eyes Pt. 2’ was the highlight, a mini masterpiece performed with precision and intensity but set closer ‘Rubidium’ deserves a mention for the brilliant guitar solo and the drumming at the song’s finale. One of the best support bands I’ve seen, and one I would pay to see again.

The first main slot on this co-headline tour of two of my favourite bands came from Leprous, a Norwegian prog metal band whose newest album Coal is one of the best albums in recent years. ‘Foe’ was a brilliant start with its powerful intro descending into some extended note-perfect vocal harmonies, but the set’s first standout came with ‘Chronic’. The middle section of this song is an intricate and brutal work of genius which took on a new level of brilliance live. The band throughout were tight and fun to watch, dressed smarty with some nice coordinated moves in most songs, and singer/keyboard player Einar Solberg was one of the most captivating frontmen I’ve ever seen – a master of headbanging and intense stares who hit every one of the frequent high notes and screams.

 

After beautiful ballad ‘The Cloak’ and some older tracks from Bilateral, they played the two epics from Coal, ‘Echo’ and personal favourite ‘The Valley’. They were the highlights of the gig so far, the rhythm section of Baard Kolstad and Martin Skrebergene really shining on both tracks. The final chorus of the ‘The Valley’ is one my favourite bits of music ever and it was even more entrancing and emotional live. To finish the concert, the band played two older epics. Heavier and more intricate than those on Coal, either of these would have been a great set closer. ‘Passing’ was wonderfully intense and Einar’s scream of “Tonight I’m passing away” was maybe the set’s best moment, ‘Forced Entry’ was ridiculously complex with constantly shifting moods and time signatures, and they brilliantly rounded off one of the most brilliant live sets I’ve witnessed.

Haken really had a hard act to follow, but being the best new prog new band around, they had no problems matching the stupidly high standard set by the first two bands. After an intro tape of the beautiful ‘The Path Unbeaten’, the band came on all in Christmas jumpers and played ‘Atlas Stone’. This song is a work of genius – a melting pot of time signatures, musical styles and solos which never loses its power and emotion despite all the musical complexity. Sandwiching a ‘Happy Birthday’ sing-along for drummer Ray Hearne, ‘In Memoriam’ and new single ‘Darkest Light’ followed, showing the band’s heavier side and often baffling rhythms.

‘Pareidolia’, one of two epics from recent album The Mountain was an early highlight, new bassist Conner Green and singer Ross Jennings giving great performances. The strong, energetic chorus and instrumental section were fantastic live, and the three-part vocal from Ross, Conner and keyboardist Diego Tejeida was brilliant. Silly yet impressively complex single ‘Cockroach King’ followed. Despite being my least favourite track fromThe Mountain (not that I don’t love it – I do, but everybody has their favourites!!)it really was a lot of fun and Ross’ stage presence really came to the fore on this one. The last two tracks, taking up half an hour, were the real highlights of the set. The start of ‘Drowning in the Flood’ from debut Aquarius is all down-tuned riffs and growls, before breaking into a tender chorus. After returning to the heaviness for an awesome instrumental section, the song drops off into a beautiful piano break before a build up into a wonderful epic section.

Sadly this was the only song from either of their first two albums, but it really was amazing. The finale of the concert was new 19-minute epic ‘Crystallised’, a song which definitely stands up there with the very best Haken songs. The song goes through countless sections, some heavy and dark, some light and beautiful, some incredibly epic – everyone is world-class. The highlights were the a cappella section with the whole band singing, which leads into a joyous medieval-style riff with some great vocalising from Ross and the last five minutes, where every second becomes more and more epic. Ray and guitarist Charlie Griffiths even had time to play balloon tennis in the middle of the song. Due to time constraints, they couldn’t play ‘Visions’, which many regard as their masterpiece, but luckily ‘Crystallised’ was a suitably brilliant end to the set. This concert showcased Haken’s massive musical skill and their ability to not take themselves too seriously and above all, it cemented their place as the best prog band to come out of Britain in years.

For me there was no comparison between the bands playing, just three fantastic bands delivering one of the best concerts of my life.

Review: Hal C

Photos: Felicity Hall


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