Lest anyone think that this album is an attempt at Covid-themed marketing, Haken was marketing a pandemic well before it was in vogue to do so. A direct sequel to 2018’s Vector, Virus was one of the year’s most anticipated albums from the prog metal sphere, and will likely occupy the Album of the Year position for a majority of metal and prog metal fans with ease – it is hard to overstate what Haken has accomplished with this album.
Musically, Virus does not deviate too much from Haken’s established sound. All of the heaviness, catchy hooks, and long-winded technical instrumental sections you’d expect are here, and better sounding than ever. Where Virus does deviate from Haken’s sound is in it’s approach as a sequel to Vector, and this deviation is an excellent development for the band. It is one thing for bands to release a string of concept albums that build on each other lyrically or thematically (see Coheed & Cambria), but the extent to which Haken weaves in musical references and melodic callbacks both to Vector and to their entire discography is a feat only rivaled by The Dear Hunter/Casey Creszenco at the height of his powers. Virus is the prog metal equivalent to Infinity War/Endgame, with the “Avengers Assemble” montage being captured in the absolutely outstanding “Messiah Complex” closing suite. To hear the unexpected reprise of “Cockroach King”, all the way from 2013’s modern classic The Mountain, was wonderful enough, but to hear it expanded and developed upon in the final two movements of “Messiah Complex” was something far beyond the wildest of Haken fan pipe dreams, and one of the most uniquely joyful moments I may have ever experienced in listening to music.
The only downside to this being Haken’s Endgame is that the bar has been set impossibly high for whatever they release after Virus, and they will not be able to pull a similar stunt like this again. But if any band could set such standards for themselves and have the potential to meet them, it’s Haken – they are titans in the genre for a reason, and Virus cements their status as being one of prog metal’s most important and genre defining bands of all time.