Wow, is this a treat or what? There are so many metal bands out there that keep trying to forge a new sound by going forward. Everything has to be faster, heavier, more brutal, or more self-indulgent, depending on what subgenre you’re looking at. But Ark take a different approach: make something new and fresh by looking back and re-introducing those elements to the today’s metal world. So, instead of trying to build on something and running the risk of sounding like a clone band, you get something that’s creative and unique.
Ark plays what’s classified as progressive metal, but that’s not really fair to this album; it should be called PROGRESSIVE metal. Yes, you read that right. Progressive in caps. There is some very heavy progressive rock and jazz influence on here, and that should be acknowledged, damn it! But seriously, Ark draws from many 70s and 80s progressive acts and mixes them together with metal guitar work in a way I have never heard before. There are your obvious influences, like early Dream Theater (what progressive metal band hasn’t been inspired by them?), but some more subtle ones as well; Mother Love features a couple of keyboard lines I swear come from Eloy’s Planets, for example. Flamenco guitars and organs pop up several times. When you can hear the bass, you can tell that it doesn’t come from this time period, either. I can’t say that this whole spiel is easily accessible, but if you like prog, you should have little to no problem getting into the sound of this album.
What’s a huge shame is the way that this thing was produced. I don’t know if the band was on a low budget or what, but this piece of work deserves so much better. The percussion, while fantastic, is too loud, with the guitars buzzing softly in the background. I almost want to say that the drums sound like the lead instrument because of how horribly they are produced. Jorn hops from place to place, as if each of the vocal lines were recorded differently and patched across the songs at different times. The whole thing just sounds cheap. This really sucks, because it brings the album down; normally I can tolerate thin 80s metal because technology hadn’t caught up to the musicianship yet, but there is no reason this album should have been mixed so poorly.
But, let’s get back to the good parts, huh? When I first saw this band, I thought, “Okay, Jorn Lande and a bunch of guys that used to play with Yngwie”. Again, Ark are so much more than that. Out of all the individual performances on this album, Jorn’s might be the third best, and that’s saying something. For one, the drumming is incredible; John Macaluso uses an amazing array of different beats in odd time signatures, changing things up at a pace that you don’t hear very often. If there’s one upside about the production, it’s that every piece of Macaluso’s kit comes through loud and clear. Guitarist Tore Otsby plays the axe with both quality and zest, being the main receptor through which the various influences are transmitted. The instrumental sections are a joy to listen to, simply because Otsby’s clean guitar sounds so earnest; the dude can shred, as he shows on opener Burning Down, but the real fun begins when he employs a jazzier style. Then, you have Lande, who…well, he’s Lande. His vocals are superb as always. Those of you familiar with his voice should know to expect by now: pure excellence.
I was extremely disappointed to see that this album had only 7 ratings at the time I wrote this. I know that their second album Burn the Sun is probably better, and is certainly more popular in the prog community (how does that happen?), but this is still a gem of creativity and should be one of the first recommendations to those looking for something different. Ark isn’t perfect, but it’s incredibly fresh and innovative for its time period, which is something everyone should respect.