Recorded in 1994 and 1995 -- roughly halfway in between their formation in 1991 and their seemingly sudden breakthrough in 2000 (when their debut album, We Are the Ark, catapulted them to national megastardom) -- the Ark's earliest extant release captures the glam rockers when they were just a trio in their late teens. The fundamental elements of their polished, theatrical style are in evidence -- including bombastic orchestral interpolations, grandiose rock guitar, and of course Ola Salo's searing vocals -- but it's clear that they still had a ways to go to toward developing their characteristic effervescent panache. For one thing, it's far more raw and ragged than anything they'd release later on -- not so much a function of dingy production as the fact that the guitars are often relegated to grungy, distorted chord playing rather than pure, glistening leads. Interestingly, along with harder, decidedly metal-tinged rock and a lyrical flair for the religious and mystical, the trio also demonstrates a distinct prog influence that's more difficult -- though not impossible -- to detect in their later work. It's most obvious in the multi-part, epic-length "Od Slatrom Ekil" (how classically adolescent is that backward title?) with its goofy woodwinds and churning, turgid Eastern-tinged motif. The tellingly named "Cracked Messiah" has its share of ponderously earnest doomsaying (though not too earnest for handclaps and na-na-nas), while "I Laid It Down" is a forgettable, formulaic rocker. That leaves the title track -- which still occasionally crops up in the Ark's live sets, more than ten years down the road -- as the clearest highlight. It may be prone to the same overdriven hard rock and quaint baroque tendencies as the rest of the EP (it features, among other things, multiple recorder interludes), but amid all the Sturm und Drang, "Racing with the Rabbits" (or "wabbits," as he mispronounces it, deliberately it seems) at least boasts a decent vintage Salo melody. Obviously, this will be of interest strictly to serious fans of the band -- in particular those who enjoy the harder edges of their sound -- but those who care enough to seek it out will find a revelatory and moderately enjoyable piece of juvenilia.
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