Haken at The Foundry, Philadelphia - live review

Haken and Sithu Aye get technical in Philadelphia

The crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Having released four critically acclaimed studio albums since forming in 2007, London’s Haken have spent this year celebrating their 10th anniversary in several ways, such as a series of retrospective North American concerts. Their performance here demonstrates why they have had such a meteoric rise since starting out. While not perfect, it’s a thrilling, endearing and varied show in a very leisurely setting – one with sofas and a sizeable bar.

Opening act Sithu Aye serve up a kind of technical instrumental wizardry that overtly emulates acts like An Endless Sporadic, Scale The Summit, and Nova Collective. Unfortunately, they lack much of the diversity and dynamics that make those better-known ensembles so fascinating, instead focusing almost entirely on an aggressive style of showmanship that rarely, if ever, offers anything distinguishing. They even play a song called Anime As Leaders, insinuating that even they regard themselves as copycats.

It’s impressive on a musicianship level, but there’s little added depth to their sound, and even their banter between tracks, though charmingly humble and humorous at first, becomes repetitive before too long.

Haken take to the stage and launch into several highlights from their latest album. Of particular note is the early one-two synth punch of 1985 and Red Giant, both of which sound very close to their studio counterparts (albeit being a bit muddled, with too much low-end) as vocalist Ross Jennings encourages audience participation while wearing glowing blue sunglasses.

Playing in front of an Affinity backdrop while adorned in blue, green, orange and white lights, they also replicate the rhythmically manic The Endless Knot and throwback agitator The Architect (featuring Next To None’s Thomas Cuce in lieu of Leprous’ Einar Solberg on growls) with great accuracy and joy.

The group also delve deeply into their back catalogue to honour their entire career. Fan-favourite Cockroach King earns deafening applause (though it was a bit lacking in terms of its trademark vocal counterpoints), while Premonition from Visions serves as a thrilling way to kick off their whole set.

Arguably the highlight of the entire night is the Aquarius medley, during which they offer a survey of the entire record with a seamless focus. All in all, it is a wonderful, if slightly flawed, way for the band and fans to commemorate how far Haken have come over the last decade.

Jordan Blum

Jordan Blum hails from Philadelphia and has been writing about progressive rock and metal—among other genres—for over fifteen years. He's written books on Jethro Tull, Dream Theater, and Opeth. Outside of writing for Prog, he serves as the Associate Features Editor at PopMatters and a contributor to magazines such as Loudwire, Metal Injection, Kerrang!, Consequence of Sound, WhatCulture, and Ultimate Classic Rock. Beyond that, he holds an MFA in fiction, runs a creative arts journal called The Bookends Review, and teaches writing at several local colleges and universities.