One of the most enjoyable and memorable Australian tours of 2017 was by UK Prog-Metal sextet Haken. Haken have become one of the most revered bands in the progressive scene today, with their unique blend of heavy riffs and complex licks, combined with uplifting melodies and counterpoint harmonies. An official DVD release from the band has become the most requested item from their loyal fans, and now they’ve delivered. L-1VE consists of two CDs and two DVDs containing a full show recorded at the Melkweg Oude Zaal (Milky Way Old Hall) in Amsterdam, as well as four songs recorded at ProgPower USA in Atlanta.
Upon first glance, the Old Hall seems an odd choice to shoot a concert, since it only holds up to 700 people and the band seem very cramped together onstage. However, I think this actually suits Haken’s style pretty well, as their music appeals to both the metal crowd (who are great at standing-room only gigs), and the prog crowd (which is on a smaller scale anyway.) Also, this was the final show of their 10th Anniversary European Tour in April 2017, so no matter where they played, the energy would be high and the performance would be just as powerful as in any large venue. Indeed, lead singer Ross Jennings uses as much of the space he’s given as possible to interact with the audience and all his bandmates.
The audio mix on the DVD and the accompanying CDs is the album’s strongest selling point. Every instrument is given the right amount of definition and clarity without detracting from the ‘live’ feel or sounding too much like the original recordings. If you’re a serious Haken fan, you’ve probably heard these songs many times already but it’s pleasing to hear them in a new context with true live energy.
The the setlist focuses mainly on Haken’s most recent album Affinity, including fan-favourite “1985” (which has an old VHS-style effect applied to the footage for the 80’s breakdown in the middle), the rhythmically daunting “Red Giant”, 15-minute epic “The Architect” and the dubstep influenced “Endless Knot”. There’s also a few choice cuts from the preceding album “The Mountain”, including the piano/vocal ballad “As Death Embraces”, the hypnotically bouncy “Atlas Stone”, and of course the band’s signature song “Cockroach King”, which instantly transported me back to the show in Melbourne where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) sang along.
An extra treat is the previously unreleased “Aquamedley”, a twenty-two-minute suite containing the best bits from all seven songs on Haken’s debut album Aquarius. I always thought there was a lot of filler on that album, so this way I get to hear the best bits in one well-constructed tune. There’s no variation in arrangement or solos from the studio versions of these songs, but as Haken is a band based around composition rather than jamming, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As with a lot of recent concert DVDs, the weakest point is lighting. Because it’s been set up for a live show instead of a ‘motion picture’, the DVD has been heavily affected by the cramped space. For the most part, the actual colored lights compliment the band really well and because they’ve gone for a “filmized” 24FPS look (as opposed to straight-up video), the whole thing has a crystal-clear aesthetic to rival any Blu-Ray Disc. However, there is a lot of strobe lighting and bright white flares which distract from the performances and will more than likely cause a bit of a headache if you’re trying to watch the whole show in one sitting.
The bonus disc, filmed at Prog Power in September 2016, is where your eyes get a bit of a rest. Because it was recorded in a theatre with only four cameras, the lighting doesn’t get in the way and you get plenty of time to see what the members are actually doing throughout the forty-five minutes of music. The four songs included are some of my personal favourites; the epics “Falling Back to Earth” and “Pareidolia” from The Mountain, the short but atmospheric “Earthrise” from Affinity, and “Crystalized”, another twenty-minute song which itself was reworked from one of the songs on Haken’s first demo. I almost wish another CD was included so we could have audio of all the songs, but of course that would have driven the price of the package up even further than it already is.
Whether you saw Haken in Australia last year or not, if you’re a fan this is a must-have in your collection. If you’re not a fan but are still interested in discovering what they’re all about, this is a pretty good starting point. The only suggestions I have are to hold off buying it until you find it for a reasonable price (JB Hi-Fi currently has it listed for a whopping $60) and when you do buy it, give yourself space and don’t watch it all in one go. In the meantime, check out the album on Spotify and Apple Music, and immerse yourself in the best that modern prog has to offer.
Pick up your copy of L-1VE now HERE!