Unless you read the fine print on the sleeve notes of the Hubi Meisel album EmOcean, or you are one of those who anxiously awaits the coming of the Shadrane album Neurastasia, chances are that you have never heard of Vivien Lalu. With the release of his first solo project album, Oniric Metal, this is about to change.
Vivien Lalu is one creative and enthusiastic keyboard player and composer out of Paris, France. Being the firstborn of the keyboard player (mother) and the singer/guitar player (father) from a late 1970's French Progressive Rock band, he was literally breastfed his musical legacy. Today, he considers himself a composer more than a keyboard virtuouso, as he claims being too busy composing at the expense of practicing. Well, at least he is honest. The truth is, however, he seems to handle the keyboards pretty well, too.
Oniric Metal is a project initiated and pulled through by Vivien Lalu himself (keyboards and all music), with generous contributions by Joop Wolters (guitar), Ryan Van Poederooyen (drums), Martin LeMar (vocals), and Russell Bergquist (bass). The intention is to present some material not released with Hubi Meisel, and to satisfy those who are getting impatient while waiting for the Shadrane album, Lalu says. You can probably assume a marketing intention in the mix as well ...
And what marketing there is! Even as soon as at "YesterDayMan," you get a hint of something special. The massive and syncopated opening riff leads to some kind of dreamy verse, which is a little pale compared to the incredibly melodic and catchy chorus. Next one out, "Wolven Eyes," picks up nicely from the slightly strange ending of its predecessor. The main riff has a Grunge feel to it, but with a distinct Metal root! The song further grows into something majestic halfway through, with a howling wolf leading into an ending equally powerful compared to the opening. All in all a very atmospheric song, with a hint of Classic Progressive Rock in the choral parts.
Lalu goes soft in "Windy,", which is a ballad with less than convincing words. It survives on a neat piano arpeggio, which sounds as if it's taken from a movie. With "Night in Poenari," Lalu is back to speed, after an Ambient opening with some rather demonic sounding choirs. The main riff is fast and angry and it is cleverly counterbalanced with an emotional, soft piano and harp theme acting as a bridge between the speedy parts. Again, there is a hint of Classic Progressive Rock and fans of British Metal will nod their heads in recognition over the vocal line of this song.
The German Metal style grove in "Moonstruck" emerges from another Ambient intro. The melody is painted in a melancholic shade that simply grabs your attention and sticks with you. The middle part offers some classic Progressive Metal syncopated riffing, before the softer ending fades out and clears the stage for the astonishing final 3 compositions.
The gentle noise and strings in the intro of "Moonstop" opens the more than 30-minute long conclusion of Oniric Metal. "Moonstop" is a roller coaster as far as tempo is concerned, but its root is a down tempo, heavy groove song with a slightly odd choral arrangement dropping in from time to time. This is definitely the most progressive composition so far on this album, much thanks to the intriguing shape shifting throughout the song. Just listen to the solo parts, which have all that one can ask. Also, worth mentioning is the clever use of a delay effect on the vocal line towards the end of the song, creating a surprising duet feel.
"StarWatcher" acts as a dreamy, yet intense, intermezzo and works well, even if it seems a little undefined at times. It's attached to "PotBoy: The Final Fantasy," the monumental epic composition on Oniric Metal. "PotBoy: The Final Fantasy" kicks off with a typical Progressive Metal opening riff in full speed. The intro offers some mighty nice guitar work, before a very, very peculiar dialogue pops in. Supposedly, this is a bizarre conversation between Infinity and the Devil himself. However, the riff and song that follows really suits the Fantasy part of the title well. The song stretches across nearly one third of the albumís total length, so Lalu gets a chance to drop in on a variety of styles, tempos, moods and riffs. Itís a composition with a Progressive edge, indeed.
Oniric Metal is definitely a Progressive album, with a melodic and vocal approach, as well as a solid dose of atmospheric, ambient moods. The outcome is an album with an edge of Metal, but also with a considerable "soft" side, which might displease a die-hard Metal fan. However, much to one's surprise, the formula is successful and it points out a course for a promising career. Vivien Lalu reveals his potential as a songwriter/composer and he keeps shaking those beautiful melodies out of his sleeve like a magician pulling rabbits out of a top hat.
Lalu is best when he lets the guitars roar, the drums rage, and the bass spank you silly. Also, the great moments of Ambient moods shows he's got a good eye for movie soundtracks. Sure, there is no film to this album, but when listening carefully to the quieter parts, pictures appear and a movie is indeed projected onto the inside of your forehead.
Allowing a critical view, Oniric Metal sometimes has a sense of being unfinished or incomplete, as some songs are too diverse for their own good. Also, the words are often less poetic than the accompanying music and that takes some edge off of it. Still, this is a very promising album, and it's a must have for future reference, as it might be a collectable a decade or two from now. Finally, one is bound to think that the anticipated Shadrane album is something special, since Oniric Metal sure seems to point in that direction.
For further information on Vivien Lalu and his busy schedule, please visit www.lalusworld.com/lalu