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Ark - Ark CD (album) cover

ARK

Ark

 

Progressive Metal

3.96 | 100 ratings

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maani
Special Collaborator
Founding Moderator
4 stars Although it is sheer coincidence, I am truly pleased that this, my 100th review, is for a band that has become one of my favorite "neo-neo-prog" groups. Indeed, Ark is simply one of the best current prog groups in any subgenre, and second only to Dream Theater in the prog metal category. Remarkably, given that DT is their unabashedly strongest influence (others include Pink Floyd, Arena, IQ, and bits of Marillion, Pendragon and recent Crimson), there are times when the "student" equals, and even outdoes, the "teacher." In this regard, one of Ark's fortes (which they have in common with DT) is that they are masters of the instrumental break - and this eponymous debut has plenty of those. / The album opens with an unexpected (for prog metal) percussion figure, and moves into classic prog-metal mode. Ark's very first instrumental break (3:09-4:04) gives DT a serious run for its money: indeed, throughout the album, guitarist Ostby, and especially drummer Macaluso, keep pace with, and sometimes outshine, Petrucci and Portnoy. "Where the Winds Blow" opens with more Macaluso madness, and has a neat jazzy break at 2:41-2:55, and an excellent guitar break at 2:56-3:10. A superb segue brings us to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" - not only the stand-out track (and my favorite), but one of the best prog tracks I've ever heard. Stunningly crafted, it opens with what may be the world's first prog-metal samba, with super spanish-style classical guitar from Ostby. It then moves into a heavier prog figure. The song ends with a 6/8 prog-metal samba which increases speed until Ostby and Macaluso are moving so fast you can just make out the notes and beats. Throughout the song, Lande's vocal moves from sweet to savage, almost Hammill-like. Another excellent segue brings us to "Singers at the World's Dawn," which has Lande growling some of the album's best lyrics. Just as you notice he sounds a little like Steve Perry, he sings the line "go for journey"; a neat touch. There is also a strange but excellent jam at 3:51-5:15. Yet another segue brings us to "Mother Love," another superbly structured, stand-out track. Opening with an eerie chorus, the verses have a recent Belew/Crimson approach, while the choruses are almost thrash-metal. There are two tremedous jams, at 6:12-7:12 and 8:15-8:30. "Center Avenue" is a truly odd composition, which sounds like a mixture of DT and current Crimson, and has a wonderful jam at 3:00-3:55. The album closes with "Can't Let Go," which opens with a quasi-Arabic rhythm, moves into a Floydian "sound," and ends with a "turn" of the opening riff of "The Wall" combined with a piano figure and overall eerie sound similar to the end of "Crime of the Century." / One of the things that adds to Ark's excellence is the strength of Lande's vocals. As noted, his voice moves comfortably from "sweet" and fairly sensitive to outright growl and scream, something which James Labrie (among others) cannot do (i.e., although I like Labrie's voice, and he can certainly scream, he does not have the capacity to "growl," which is important in some cases). The only misgiving I have about this album is that it is not as well recorded as it could be; there is something strange about the way the bass is recorded, and it detracts (but only a little) from the overall "atmosphere." However, that quibble aside - and although their second album, Burn the Sun, is a definite step forward for them - this album is not only a great prog-metal album, but a great "new" prog album in all senses.
maani | 4/5 |

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