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Arena - 2005 Peppers Ghost



ARTIST: Arena
ALBUM: Peppers Ghost
LABEL: Verglas
SERIAL: VGCD 028
YEAR: 2005

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Rob Sowden - vocals * John Mitchell - guitars, vocals * Clive Nolan - keyboards, vocals * Ian Salmon - bass, vocals * Mick Pointer - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Bedlam Fayre * 02 Smoke And Mirrors * 03 The Shattered Room * 04 The Eyes Of Lara Moon * 05 Tantalus * 06 Purgatory Road * 07 Opera Fanatica

RATING:

WEBLINKS: ArenaWorld


Background
When a band moves from pure progressive rock and integrates metal like heaviness into the mix, then the results will either be horrific, or stellar. In the case of UK band Arena, the results are indeed stellar. I think we all saw the first glimpse of their new found direction on 2003's 'Contagion' (reviewed here at GLORY DAZE). Previous efforts such as 'The Visitor' and 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' all demonstrated how capable this outfit were, but it's taken a good ten years to release what is arguably their best effort thus far. Taking on Victorian super hero characters (the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen springs to mind), 'Peppers Ghost' is resplendent with narrative and lyrics, with the theme taking on elements of imagery, and illusion. The music is definitely heavier than most of the work they've done before ('Contagion' excluded), but the emphasis on melody and cleverly constructed passages remains. Clive Nolan, beastmaster of the keyboards strikes again, and while Rob Sowden doesn't ordinarily grab first prize for oratory performance, he doesn't let the side down here. In fact, his vocals are the great counterweight to the beefy musical mix provided by the rest of the band.


The Songs
That beefy mix is presented to us on the opener 'Bedlam Fayre'. Power, distorted vocals, and tangled lyrics all caught up in a progressive maelstrom that only fans of the genre could appreciate. 'Smoke And Mirrors' is beautiful, heavy and melodic in the same breath, the vocal harmonies on the chorus remind me of Starcastle's best five-part harmonies from 'Fountains Of Light'. One of my favourites tracks is the changeable 'The Shattered Room'. Mild and lilting one moment, full-on prog metal the next. Melodic to the core as always with a band of this class. 'The Eyes Of Lara Moon' meanders through acoustic soundscapes, taking snippets of Queensryche and Phantoms Opera with it. A pretty good trrack admittedly with a beautiful middle section and solo spot. 'Tantalus' starts off with a piano laced intro, before long the big guitars and intricate keyboard work come home to roost. An interesting story to boot, relating to the tale of Tantalus, son of Greek god Zeus. Marillion on steroids is the best comparison I can think of. 'Purgatory Road' sends us off into prog-metal territory. The searing guitars catch up with Nolan's dreadnought organ work. Yes, a band like Phantom Opera spring to mind again, but they don't pull it off as well as Arena do. The finale 'Opera Fanatic' is a swirling 13 minute epic, where disclosures of the 'king is dead' echoes all around the song. Only Threshold could perform anything similar to this masterpiece.


In Summary
So far the response to the album has been mixed. Die hard fans prefer the light prog oriented approach, while others love the change. Certainly, it goes to show that progressive rock fans are very finicky in their taste in music. Finicky to the point of being fussy. Whatever!! Me, I have a foot in both camps as I love pure prog and prog-metal both. And a happy camper am I. Fans of Marillion and Threshold should eat this up for breakfast. Throw a bit of pepper on it first!


Related Articles
Arena - 2003 Contagion
Arena - 2005 Peppers Ghost


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Comments
#1 | Jez on June 16 2008 02:06:53
Album number 6 and another high quality release from this excellent band. First thing noticeable about this CD is the excellent packaging,featuring an old comic book style Digibook - very nice. 'Bedlam Fayre' blasts out of the speakers with a certain gusto - very very good track this one, and probably my fave on the whole disc. 'Opera Fanatica' is the epic of the album, clocking in at a mighty 13 minutes. Along with 'The Visitor' & 'Contagion' Arena's strongest release.
 
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