Arena - Pepper's Ghost

Year of Release: 2005
Label: Verglas
Catalog Number: VGCD 028
Format: CD
Total Time: 52:32:00

Here's how I knew I was hooked: I was listening to a heavy goth-metal album and even as that heavy grunting and all those distorted power chords were slamming my speakers, I found I was humming the chorus of Arena's "The Eyes Of Lara Moon"! And that song is representative of the catchy, melodic songs Arena presents right across this album.

It is interesting to compare Arena's lineup changes with the developments in their music. For the band's first seven years the turnover in their front office was enough to send any corporate exec running for cover. In fact the only members who remained in place were the two founders, Mick (ex-Marillion) Pointer and Clive (Pendragon) Nolan. And their style has changed with every release, with the biggest shift being 2003's hard-edged Contagion that had us wondering if Arena was moving into the melodic progressive metal territory of compatriots Threshold. Interestingly, Threshold's Karl Groom has been in Arena's back office, with engineering credits, since Contagion.

The lineup has been consistent since 2001, though, and the music on Pepper's Ghost is a comfortable compromise of the variety of styles developed in their past catalog. The new record is as melodic as The Visitor, as emotional as The Cry, and almost as heavy as Contagion. The creativity and solid musicianship of their earlier years is intact yet it benefits from 12 years of maturity and the recent consistency of the lineup.

This CD showcases Arena's solid songwriting and the hooks that will catch you on the first spin, the excellent guitar work, and vocals that have been criticized by many in the past but work remarkably well here. "Opera Fanatica" inserts caricature snippets of operatic voices in various points, wrapped into a wonderful 13 minute mini-epic that is the most "progressive" piece on the album and will win many converts for the band. "Tantalus" explores a story from Greek mythology. (Tantalus was a son of Zeus, who - in one version of the legend -? tested the gods by killing his own son Pelops and serving him up for the gods to eat? they didn't bite, and instead condemned Tantalus to Tartarus where food was always too high, and the water too low? from this we have the root of the English word ?tantalize.") This song deals with the idea of "so near yet so far." The lyrics are intelligent and as with previous albums by Arena, the prose is as much a part of the music as every note played on an instrument. "Purgatory Road" for example has a metallic sound with strong emphasis on the bass clef, but the choral piece has a wonderfully rhythmic, poetic cadence:

I'm here to stay - Till the Martians land on London Town
Won't fade away - Till the science world takes cancer down
I'm here to stay - Till they synthesise the ozone layer
Won't fade away - ...
and later
I'm here to stay - Till humans walk the ocean floor
Won't fade away - Till man can find an end to war
I'm here to stay - Till the polar caps freeze up again
Won't fade away - ...

Just reading that that lilting tempo can get your head bobbing.

The title of the album refers to a ghostly illusion that can be projected into a dark space via glass reflections, and the lyrics are peppered with themes of mis-perceptions of images. David Wyatt's excellent cover art and sleeve-design reflect the band in the role of Victorian comic book characters, which is unusual and quite fun.

With Pepper's Ghost, Arena has merged the heaviness of Contagion, and the progressive symphonic, melodic sounds of their earlier releases and arrived at a modern-day equivalent of Mick Pointer's alumni, Fish-era Marillion. No, it doesn't sound like early Marillion, but it has similar symphonic and emotional qualities, stellar musicianship, wonderfully tight execution of well structured songs, and above all, those melodic hooks.

Bedlam Fayre (6:08) / Smoke And Mirrors (4:42) / The Shattered Room (9:45) / The Eyes Of Lara Moon (4:30) / Tantalus (6:51) / Purgatory Road (7:25) / Opera Fanatica (13:06)

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

Songs From The Lion's Cage (1995)
Pride (1996)
The Edits (1996, OOP)
Welcome To The Stage (1997)
The Cry (EP, 1997)
The Visitor (1998)
The Visitor - Revisited (1999) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Immortal? (2000)
Unlocking The Cage - 1995-2000 (2001) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Breakfast In Biarritz (2001)
Contagion (2003)
Radiance (2003) (fan club only release)
Live & Life (2004) (box set)
Pepper's Ghost (2005)
Ten Years On (2006)
The Seventh Degree Of Separation (2011)
Live 2011/12 Tour (2012)
Arena XX (2016)
Contagion Max (reissue of Contagion) (2014)
The Unquiet Sky (2015)
The Visitor - 20th Anniversary Remastered Edition (2018)
Double Vision (2018)

Caught In The Act (DVD) (2003)
Smoke And Mirrors (DVD) (2006)
Rapture (DVD) (2013)
Arena XX (DVD) (2016)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: January 31st 2005
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday
Artist website:
Hits: 1354
Language: english


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