I’ll admit to having an interesting relationship with Haken, having absolutely loved their ’80s inspired album Affinity, whilst I felt Vector was a bit of a step backwards for them, so having heard Richard Henshall, a mainstay of the band, was releasing a solo album, I was unsure as to what to expect.
This is Henshall’s debut solo album, and I was hoping it would be more akin to Guy Garvey’s solo album in relation to his work with Elbow, rather than Ian Anderson who just keeps releasing Jethro Tull albums in all but name.
Surrounding himself with a talented core cast of Haken bassist Connor Green and Nova Collective and Cynic drummer Matthew Lynch, The Cocoon was recorded over a 4-year period and features Henshall’s debut performance as a lead vocalist, and he’s got a hefty list of collaborators, including Ben and Jessica from Bent Knee on vocals and Jordan Rudess.
What makes this cohesive as a solo album is the fact that all seven tracks were recorded with the key power trio, so instead of having a revolving list of musicians, and there being a lack of vision or ‘togetherness’, the fact that Henshall and Green already have that musical partnership which works so well almost shortcuts the period of allowing collaborators to bed in, and Lynch fits in perfectly, his powerfull drumming working beautifully.
When it started (and I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read any of the background about it) I was expecting an instrumental album, and one that sounded like Haken, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear vocals, and yes, this is a Richard Henshall album so there’s plenty of his trademark guitar shredding going down. However, and again I was pleasantly surprised, as the album got going and started to build, that it is, whilst due to Richard’s distinctive playing style, reminiscent in parts of Haken, it is not a Haken album in all but name, and that’s what drew me in, the fact that there is more going on here than I expected. It sees Henshall pushing himself musically and creatively, and opens with Pupa, with its twisty riffs and combined keyboard soloing sounding the most Haken-like piece on the album, and I guess if it’s designed to ease us in gently then it works.
The next one is the title track Cocoon, an epic which if it had been on Vector would have made it a far better album, but that’s an aside, the work of Henshall and his trio make it sound far bigger than the work of three men, and some sublime keyboard/guitar work builds together nicely to create a piece that culminates in a crescendo with some suitably heavy riffing and then a rather funky solo.
Taking lead vocals doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem for Henshall, whose vocal tone is perfect for the work here, softer than would have been anticipated, and it means that Cocoon is a nicely structured, well-made piece of prog metal, and whilst I am not the biggest fan of that genre, this really took me by surprise as to how melodic it is, the guitar work enhancing rather than distracting from that melody.
As ever, there is a lot going on, but Henshall has the musical chops to pull it off and make it work confidently. The other tracks are all pretty epic, which allows the band a lot of time and space to grow and build these magnificent beasts.
Of particular interest is the Henshall/Ben Leven collaboration, Lunar Room, with Leven’s vocals more spoken word and a harder musical undercurrent, it is a real departure for the sound of the album. With additional vocals from Ben’s Bent Knee colleague Jessica Kion, this is one of the most interesting pieces on the album, Henshall stepping into totally different territory, and the mix of Ben and Jessica’s vocals, the trio’s powerful playful performance, some incredibly choppy keyboards and free-form sounds, makes it a real musical treat.
The alternative to that is the follow up Twisted Shadows, which starts off in far more traditional form with some lovely guitar/keys interplay and some wonderful Henshall riffing, before the mood twists into something more funky and grooveful. The band lay down some nice fat beats, with the bass and drums hitting a smooth rhythm, and then along comes Jordan Rudess with a superb jazzy/fusion keyboard vibe that really pulls things together. The mix of fusion jazz, traditional prog sounds and Henshall’s shredding shouldn’t work, but it really does and makes for a wonderfully vibrant sound.
Afterglow with its soft acoustic, almost folk-tinged riff, slowly builds and builds into this immense and anthemic piece of haunting beauty, reminiscent to these ears of the longer musical soundscapes created by bands like Explosions in the Sky, with some beautifully haunting strings arranged by Cris Baum, and rounding the album off in style.
Going back to my original point about being a bit ambivalent about Haken, and believe me I love them live, just sometimes it doesn’t quite hit the spot on CD. I was a tad reluctant to review this album, as Haken are probably as heavy as I would tend to get in the whole prog metal genre, and it’s a bit out of my comfort zone, albums like this. Which is why I am glad I have listened to this and reviewed it. It’s an exciting, eclectic and intelligent record that is full of ‘Wow’ moments and none of the over-complex, noodly for the sake of it sounds that sometimes creep out of this genre.
Henshall is a master of his craft, and this is a fantastic debut that showcases his talents and abilities to the fore. I highly recommend this one.
01. Pupa (2:26)
02. Cocoon (10:26)
03. Silent Chains (8:10)
04. Limbo (3:54)
05. Lunar Room (8:21)
06. Twisted Shadows (8:46)
07. Afterglow (5:16)
Total Time – 47:19
Matt Lynch – Drums
Conner Green – Bass
Richard Henshall – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Ben Levin – Vocals (on Lunar Room)
Jessica Kion – Vocals (on Lunar Room)
Ross Jennings – Vocals (on Twisted Shadows)
Jordan Rudess – Keyboard Solo (on Twisted Shadows)
Marco Sfogli – Guitar Solo (on Lunar Room)
David Maxim Micic – Guitar Solo (on Silken Chains)
Cris Baum – Strings (on Afterglow)
Adam Carrillo – Saxophone (on Cocoon)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 9th August 2019