Haken at the Islington Assembly Hall, London - live review

Haken celebrate their 10th anniversary with Next To None and The Algorithm

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(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

It’s spring – hurray! – and all the clocks have gone forward. Confusingly, so has the stage time for Max Portnoy’s teenage prog metallers Next To None, so we miss their set entirely. Darn it, they would have been such a good start to tonight’s celebration of Haken’s 10th anniversary.

Big of backdrop but bijou of kit, Perpingnan duo The Algorithm fit Jean Ferry’s drums and Rémi Gallego’s keyboard, laptop and guitar rig front of stage, twiddle some settings and then blast off. They may hammer out relentless djent-powered techno rock, but they’re ready to tackle stadiums and Ibiza-sized megaclubs.

Some have never seen or heard anything like it as the adrenalised electronic barrage mows down all genres in its path: synthwave, AOR and gabba on Pointers, and manic arpeggioed dubstep drum’n’bass on Shellcode. At one point, they’re like Jean-Michel Jarre mixed with Gojira, gatecrashed by black metal (Brute Force).

Finishing with Access Granted – a terrifying collision of happy hardcore and the smooth reggae of the Bergerac theme – there will be haters in the house. Fair enough, it’s confrontational and confident stuff. But if you have Squarepusher, Justice and Meshuggah in your collection, you’ll love this.

As Haken fire up Affinity.exe, there’s a noticeable difference in the sound. For all their jaw-dropping technicality, there’s always a raw, rock edge, matched by frontman Ross Jennings’ rock’n’roll flair. He wields the mic stand like Freddie Mercury, whips up a crowd like Bruce Dickinson and has vocal prowess too – even if he doesn’t always hit the note. But as a companion says, “It’s nice to hear a voice with character.”

And that’s Haken’s consistent appeal – character. Ambitious from the off with Aquarius, 2010’s mermaid-themed concept album that straddled death metal and neo-symphonic, there really is no one quite like them. Tonight’s near-two-hour set underlines the bold strides they’ve made with their fusion of old and new influences – 1985 is a perfect storm of prog pop, Super Mario widdle and crunchy djent, and yet they could still impress Marillion’s crowd.

It’s great to see former bassist Tom MacLean welcomed back with hugs to guest on Cockroach King, before The Architect’s virtuoso breakdown floors the place. But it’s the epic finale of Visions that strikes home, Jennings leading the traditional collective chant and arm-sway session.

Ten years on, and still with an exciting future ahead.