And so here we are. It has been an epic journey I’m sure you’ll agree but we’ve made it. With your support, I have once again made some tough choices, worked long and hard and have finally completed my ‘Album of the Year 2013’ countdown. The past 20 posts have hopefully given you a better insight into the kind of music that makes me tick and I hope that I’ve either reinforced your own choices or made you take a look at a few bands that you might otherwise never have tried. If I’ve done either, I will be happy.
But, without any further ado, I bring you my number 1 choice, my gold medal album for 2013:
I’m almost certain that this is no surprise to many of you. I’m sure that those who know me personally or via this blog will have half expected this result. ‘It was inevitable’ I hear you cry. Well, yes and no. I have made no secret of my love for this band over the years, even writing a blog to try to explain the importance of Haken on me. And, when I knew that we’d see a new Haken album in 2013, it was without doubt my most eagerly anticipated release of the year.
But, it has to be said that when I eventually heard ‘The Mountain’, it was not love at first listen. In fact, for a week or so, I listened with more than a hint of disappointment for company. The reasons were two-fold: 1. I had what I now know to be ridiculously high expectations, based on my utter devotion to ‘Visions’ and 2. Haken on ‘The Mountain’ is quite a different beast.
However, all that being said and true, I now feel very differently about this album than I did at the beginning. The fact that this is my number one choice should be enough to demostrate that quite clearly. Living with it for a few months, chatting to vocalist Ross about the thinking behind the album and hearing some of the compositions in a live seting has made the music well and truly click with me, to a point where I know for a fact that this is my favourite album of 2013.
Both ‘Visions’ and ‘Aquarius’ before it were extremely ambitious affairs and, although I love them both, tended to divide opinion amongst listeners. There were those that thought these two albums were the greatest things since sliced bread and there were others who thought that the music was simply too much; too quirky, too bold, too over-the-top.
‘The Mountain’ remains a very bold work but there is a demonstrable toning down of those outlandish and ever so slightly bonkers aspects. Gone are the computer game samples and growled vocals, to be replaced by a more focused, more grown-up approach. There are still moments of the eccentric to be found, as ‘The Cockroach King’, with its Gentle Giant influences aired for all to see, ably demonstrates. However, in the main, ‘The Mountain’ is the sound of a relatively young band coming of age and taking things much more seriously.
Some say that the heaviness of the last two albums has disappeared but I’d disagree to a certain extent. This album still has it’s aggression, but you just have to listen more closely this time around. The biggest change that I hear relates to the feelings that ‘The Mountain’ evokes in me. This is a more personal album than those before it and, as such, it is more of an emotional roller coaster. The opening piece is so poignant, it can bring a tear to the eye and the themes of personal struggles and overcoming life’s obstacles really strike a chord with me. You have to be made of stone not to get swept up in the emotion of this album.
‘The Mountain’ is very much a ‘band’ album too, with no one member trying to steal the limelight. And yet, it is fair to say that in every department, there is a significant improvement on what went before. When the likes of Mike Portnoy declares the album as one of their favourite prog albums of 2013, you must be doing something right. And when the magnificent ‘Falling Back to Earth’ wins the award for being the best epic track of the year, the accolades that people like me are bestowing upon Haken are simply reinforced that little bit more.
I could go on about this album for hours but instead, I will let the sample tracks do the rest of the talking. In summary, all I can say is that ‘The Mountain’ is the absolute pinnacle of modern progressive music and, although it takes time and effort to fully appreciate it, the rewards are all the sweeter for the effort. Bravo Haken, bravo.
Day 1 – Number 20
Day 2 – Number 19
Day 3 – Number 18
Day 4 – Number 17
Day 5 – Number 16
Day 6 – Number 15
Day 7 – Number 14
Day 8 – Number 13
Day 9 – Number 12
Day 10 – Number 11
Day 11 – Number 10
Day 12 – Number 9
Day 13 – Number 8
Day 14 – Number 7
Day 15 – Number 6
Day 16 – Number 5
Day 17 – Number 4
Day 18 – Number 3
Day 19 – Number 2
And remember, if you missed last year’s countdown, you can read my Top 20 of 2012 here.