Lalu – Atomic Ark
Lalu – Atomic Ark (2013)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Progressive metal assembly Lalu is the side project of, I think, all of its members, including such well-known names as Martin LeMar (Mekong Delta, Tomorrow’s Eve), Simone Mularoni (DGM, Empyrios), guest appearances from Jens Johansson, Jordan Rudess, and more, and of course, Vivien Lalu himself. In this way, Atomic Ark being the group’s first release since the 2005 debut, Oniric Metal, is not such a shame. All the same, this release seems to have been hotly anticipated by a number of folks, and I’ve been eager to dig into it.
First things first: I don’t know what Oniric Metal was like, but this album seems to be more a vocal feature for LeMar than anything else. Surprising, considering that the band is named for the keyboard player. For being labeled as “progressive” music, Atomic Ark is not, by and large, a very complex album in terms of instrumentation, time signatures, or virtuosity. It does, however, accomplish a number of interesting things sooner or later.
While a number of tunes left me rather nonplussed after several listens, “Tatonka” is a very cool song, with its almost lurching (I mean that in a good way) spiritual vibe, catchy chorus, and smart songwriting. I’d also like to draw attention to “Bast”, with its harsh, uncanny spasms of longing, as well as the nightmarish “Slaughtered”. The real feature on this album for the prog fans, however, is the protracted closing epic, “Revelations”.
Standing in stark contrast to the rest of the album, “Revelations” clocks in at nearly twenty minutes, and its impressive sprawl is made that much more remarkable in comparison to the relative brevity of the rest of the album. Indeed, most of the other nine tracks clock in at or under four minutes. “Revelations”, on the other hand, takes a full song’s worth of time merely to build itself up with eerie string samples and powerful and sweeping, yet morose grand piano. With this masterful development, I was somewhat disappointed by the meat of the song, a solid portion of which mounts up to nothing but the relatively unexceptional LeMar-fronted power balladry. Fortunately, slithering synths and a superb guitar solo save the entire song from being a meltdown. Heck, even LeMar stands out when he cuts loose and begins roaring properly. When all comes to an end, I find that this great effort is wonderfully atmospheric, but suffers from a paper-thin concept and silly-sounding vocal sections (too many effects, and a yelled section that just doesn’t work) that the excellent instrumentation just can’t compensate for.
And I’d say I’m let down by instrumentation here in general. Mularoni, in particular, feels very reigned-in on Atomic Ark, and there’s little opportunity to play up to his potential as a monster guitarist. While the progressive touches are light and mostly compositional or textural, this album is just too simplistic for my palate. Especially with all the fringe trappings of a well-detailed, expertly dressed up prog album, the contents are just too bland. Recommended for those who enjoy solo vocal albums, lightly progressive melodic heavy metal, and those two don’t mind the former, and who are searching for interesting atmospheric elements. Those like me, who are searching for some showy melo-prog or more Mularoni goodness, are advised to give this the skip.
3.0 // 5