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(54:23, Progrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Boudicca's Chariot 5:14 2. Coats of Red 4:36 3. Flagday 3:27 4. New Scientist 5:47 5. Hagley 4:52 6. Gaia 4:27 7. Eighth Deadly Sin 5:02 8. Change-II 5:27 9. So You Finally Made It 5:16 10. Kaleidoscope 4:34 11. Nowhere's Ark 5:41 LINEUP: John Jowitt – bass; vocals Anthony Short – vocals; flute Steve Harris – guitars Peter Wheatley – guitars Tim Churchman – drums
Prolusion. The UK outfit ARK (not to be confused with the classic art-rock band Arc, which had existed – also in England – at the dawn of the ‘70s) was formed in the mid-‘80s, and established itself as a second tier Neo-Prog band in the decade or so they were active. Constantly changing lineups were at least partially responsible for the band never managing to really get going, though, and in 1995 the last incarnation of Ark called it a day. Come 2009, and former member John Jowitt, now a household name in the Neo-Progressive scene, decided to revive his old band after being in contact with guitarist Steve Harris. They were promptly signed to Progrock Records, which issued their new album "Wild Untamed Imaginings" in the fall of 2010.
Analysis. Ark may not be a highly familiar name in the world of progressive rock, unless you're talking about the Norwegian band of the same name that explored the field of progressive metal a decade or so ago. The hero of this occasion is a different beast, and with bassist John Jowitt involved one might expect it to explore a stylistic expression close to some of the other bands he's been involved with over the years, like IQ and Arena, for instance, especially as Ark is has been considered and regarded as a Neo-Progressive act from their first avatar. However, the music explored on this disc does cover a slightly different territory. Energetic, rhythm and lead guitar riff-driven compositions make up most of this material, which is more similar to artists like Magnum, Billy Squier or Aldo Nova. The guitar synth of Harris provides some neat atmospheric touches, adding floating synths, majestic organs and even soaring violin layers to the proceedings in the case of final number Nowhere's Ark. And vocalist Short's flute soloing combines neatly with Harris' guitar synth to add some nice ‘70s flavored symphonic inserts on select occasions. But these are first and foremost minor details and flavorings; the dominant expression is closer to hard rock, and the genre explored more similar to what was once called pomp rock. Majestic passages featuring lush guitar synth layers underscored by drawn-out heavy riffs are something of a key feature alongside the energetic riff-based sequences and singalong choruses of the kind stadium rockers excelled in a few decades ago - another facet running like a red thread throughput this production. The ballad-tinged piece Flagday may arguably be the song with the strongest appeal for dedicated neo proggers, the rich Mellotron-sounding textures featured in this emotionally laden number creating a unique and at times highly intriguing atmosphere. Personally, I admit to having something of a soft spot for many bands adding progressive flavor to a hard rock sound. But in this particular case I found it hard to be truly enthralled. After seeing this band live at Summers End 2010, I found the CD version of the tracks to be less spirited and, for some reason or other, vocalist Short doesn't manage to add the same amount of life and energy to these recordings as he does live. An additional trait is that many songs sound slightly dated. I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least some of this material turned out to be written a couple of decades ago. It all adds up to a production that is fairly enjoyable, but only rarely manages to really impress. The live performance they gave at Summers End earlier this year indicates that there's more to this band than they have managed to convey on this production however, and it should be interesting to see how they will develop in the next few years.
Conclusion. "Wild Untamed Imaginings" might not contain too many compositions subscribing to such a description, but the blend of hard rock, stadium rock and art rock should most likely go down well with quite a few fans of all these genres, with fans of artists like Magnum and, maybe, Uriah Heep among the ones I'd imagine would enjoy this material. Dedicated neo progressive fans might want to approach this one with a bit of caution, especially those amongst them who don't care too much about harder-edged material.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: December 14, 2010
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