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Atoll - Musiciens - Magiciens CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.54 | 91 ratings

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4 stars Mais Oui?

Atoll, regarded in France as the French Yes (and for good reason), provided a fine and mature debut with this album that is well worth checking out;

"L'Hymne Medieval" is positively dripping with Mellotrons and rich bass, providing just the right kind of nostalgic feel that Genesis and King Crimson perfected. The early accellerando picks the piece up well, and the vocal harmonies soar, Queen-like. The only let-down is the lead guitar, which is just a little noodly and aimless. The structure is fairly basic, but well blurred, and a nice extension of the old song format.

Again, the Mellotron rings out for the 11 minute "Le Baladin du temps", which is full of vocal experimentation; melody lines that wind and twist into unexpected territory, soft harmonies and high falsettos make for a great dynamic range. A few intonation issues and rough production don't hurt this piece - the music continues in inventiveness through passages reminiscent of Yes and ELP, from the grinding, propelling bass with more than a nod and wink to Chris Squire to the scrunchy, angular harmonies so beloved by Keith Emerson. Yet this is not particularly derivative - there is a distinctly original flavour to the composition, although it does have the tendency to tread water and pop off at a tangent every now and again, which I find mildly annoying. Around 7 minutes, this piece starts to feel a bit long, and like ideas have just been crowbarred in - some of these ideas are cool, with mad rhythmic devices, but some are not so enjoyable - just filler until we get to the next bit, and the 3 minutes or so of ending feels overdone, even for symphonic Prog.

A funky blast kicks off "Musiciens - Magiciens" (next on my copy), which has a fantastic Yes-inspired bass riff, and is more a groovy song than a piece of Prog rock, but it's absolutely blinding in terms of solid groove energy and dramatic build-ups. Let down a bit by another weak guitar solo, but a killer choon - turn this one up to 11!

More Yes is evident in "Au-Dela Des Ecrans De Cristal" in the solid groove, but again, this extremely well done, with a lovely drop- down to Mellotron and bass around 2:50, and some nice keyboard and vocal textures - oh, and some great rhythms! I get a feeling of a Can influence here - the drummer is particulaly inventive and pulls out some very tasty licks. Not sure about the mad panning of the ride across the stereo picture though...

"Le Secret Du Mage" continues in much the same vein - another fantastic track, most strikingly, the vocals remind me of "Flash" by Queen.

At last, we get something a bit different in the intro to "Le Berge" - a classic Symphonic Prog sound with flute melody, then Monk- style "Ahhs", reminiscent of the superb "Tips Zum Selbstmord" by Necronomicon. This piece does feel somewhat familiar - but it doesn't matter too much, as, intonation and weak pentatonic scale issues in the guitar apart, it's very well executed and feels nicely developed. A very dramatic piece, almost Zeuhl in flavour.

"Je Suis D'ailleurs" has some nice synth work in the intro - and this is different again. While the first few tracks would have you place the band into a narrow, somewhat derivative soundscape, the latter half of the album really opens up into something different and more original. The band clearly feel more comfortable with grooves, and this 8 minuter settles into a Genesis- inspired groove pretty quickly - not a little unlike "Apocalypse in 9/8" until the bass cuts across with a "Squire special". Sadly, the guitarist chucks in some noodle over the top - but check out the rhythm section! A tribal beat cuts in, and the rhythms swirl all over the place, time getting mashed up in a hypnotic trance of polyrhythms. Some promising synth textures are sadly given way to an acoustic flavoured start to a new section (more like a new song idea), with nicely fluttering flutes reminiscent of Gong, that opens up to a symphonic flavoured section with a curious lead line that makes it sound like the Moodies with bagpipes. A beautiful slow groove is built up beneath it, but then drops away... amazingly, most of the short sections in this piece fit together in a logical way - the flow is not obvious, yet the pieces all work together to form a coherent whole in a modern jazz-like way. I'm even reminded a little of the Soft Machine here. Sadly, the piece just cuts off at the end, and we're left wondering what might have been.

The live tracks do little to showcase the band - while the execution is top notch, and indicate how good the band must have been live, the sound quality is utterly appalling, with the keyboards dominating, and everything else sounding like they were recorded in the room next door, except the drums, which were locked in the broom cupboard. The whole sound has a terrible left bias, so if you're listening on headphones, it feels like your right ear has suddenly gone numb.


As a package, the live tracks actually let the whole thing down.

Taking the studio album tracks on their own, a slightly derivative and homogenous, but very competant groove-based outing that improves as it goes on, and digs well into Prog Rock territory - the best is saved for last, even though the ending is somewhat chopped.

It would make a fine addition to any Prog collection - even though I'd say this isn't really an essential album, it still weighs in well enough to get regular spins by any fan of Symphonic Prog.

Overall, 3.6/5 (the weak guitar parts let it down badly, but the arrangements and grooves are excellent, and the latter tracks push it closer to a 4 than a 3.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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