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Brainchild of French keyboardist and stalwart of the prog scene, Vivien Lalu, his self-monikered band are back after an eight year hiatus. It seems he's been busy writing soundtracks within the realm of movies and television since the release of 'Oniric Metal' as well as indulging in a smattering of session work with the likes of Shadow Gallery. But here he is, back with Lalu's sophomore offering in the form of 'Atomic Ark' and what a return it is! Something of a French Arjen Lucassen, he's been able to attract and assemble a fine supporting cast of contributors - namely, Stratovarius' Jens Johansson; Cloudscape's Mike Andersson; Darkane's Peter Wildoer (who steps out from behind his kit to add a few death vocals on 'Bast'); Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess; and Ryan van Poederooyen of Devin Townsend Project fame to name but a few. This is in no way a case of "too many cooks..." though, as they merely contribute the odd solo here and there, adding a touch of further class to an already classy record, rather than participating in any major way. The main players are also prog-scene luminaries within their own right: Mekong Delta's Martin LeMar provides vocals; bassist Mike LePond from Symphony X; DGM's Simone Mularoni on guitar; sticksman Virgil Donati from Planet X; and, of course, the man himself, Vivien Lalu on keys. Now, if that lineup's not enough to whet the listening appetite then, well... there are no words. The musicianship level is, therefore, expectedly, first rate with flashes of virtuosity sporadically posited throughout the record although, refreshingly, and the sign of true virtuosos, these are players who know how and where to practice restraint so it's not all mindless widdle. Like I say, there are only flashes of such, and they're befitting of songs' arrangements and general vibes when they do appear. It can even turn into a game of "spot the player by their style" for those of you who are familiar with the contributors (although each solo spot is credited individually within the CD's booklet for the lazy listener). Against the generic prog grain of lengthy tracks, the album's constituted by nine cuts where the longest clocks in at a modest 4 minutes and 5 seconds, although the tenth piece is an epic 19 and a half minutes, which Vivien co-wrote with Jordan Rudess (probably explains why it's keys-centric in places, more than any other track). Generally, 'Atomic Ark' is an album with much light and shade in terms of mellow/heavy sonics and melancholic/optimistic atmospheres. Its musically heterogeneous soundscape is a thoroughly engaging one through both its diversity and skilfully written/executed arrangements and compositions. Martin LeMar has a widely expressive voice and, although he's joined by Cloudscape's frontman on 'War on Animals', it would've perhaps been nicer if the album was more of a polyvocal effort to match its poly-instrumental nature. That's an ever so small criticism though as, in general, 'Atomic Ark' is a mightily fine listen from start to finish. This is prog-metal finesse and refinement from a bunch of seasoned musicians who know exactly what they're doing. Recommended.
Review by Mark Holmes
October 2013
1) Greed
2) War on Animals
3) Tatonka
4) Mirror Prison
5) Deep Blue
6) Bast
7) Momento
8) Follow the Line
9) Slaughtered
10) Revelations
"...prog-metal finesse and refinement from a bunch of seasoned musicians who know exactly what they're doing."