Arena - The Visitor

Year of Release: 1998
Label: Verglas
Catalog Number: VGCD 012
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:37:00

What can I say about Arena's latest, The Visitor? It is rich and lushly composed - the arrangements are painted with broad strokes. The lingering, soaring guitar lines of John Mitchell sound like a mix of Karl Groom, Steve Rothery, and David Gilmour. Each note, or sequence of notes, gives rise to an emotional response, or at least a physical response: breathe in on the upper register notes, breathe out on the lower register. That brings to mind the most haunting and lingering song on the whole album - the creepy "(Don't Forget To) Breathe." This is the one that sold me on the album, the hook that has the disk practically glued to my player. I had to listen again, closer, to find out what led to this point in the album, and what follows after. Um, yes that means that it's a concept album.

Musically the album isn't really any different from any other Arena release or from other Clive Nolan projects - vocalist Paul Wrightson evens sounds like Nolan. But, I hear this an evolution of Arena's sound - more complete, more cohesive. This is a musical and lyrical journey designed to be experienced more than once. The Visitor is more than just background music. It is because of the broad strokes, the epic feel, that I like this release, putting it at the top of my list for '98.

The concept here is intriquing and is basically self-reflection during a crisis of faith. What triggers this examination isn't pinned down really - it either begins with the protagonist challenging fate, or God, to prove himself ("Crack In The Ice"). Who does so, I suppose, but not in the manner that the protagonist expects. And so, having fallen through the ice, the protagonist lies near death and thus begins his journey.

Of course, it could also be argued, or interpreted, that the beginning of the journey is actually outside of where the album begins, and that the first part of the journey is the challenge on the ice - where the titular crack is that fine line between life and death. The temptation here is make a song by song analysis - the tell the whole story, but I think it is thoughtful and deep enough to let you discover on your own - and you should.

The production on this album is crisp and clear, and each successive listen brings out new facets of the instrumentation.

As dark and ultimately depressing as this album is thematically, musically it enjoyable to listen to. Many different textures are explored - "The Hanging Tree" begins acoustic, employing almost choral harmony in the chorus. "Tears In The Rains" begins with a simple, but beautiful piano line. In each of these, it is Mitchell's crying guitar which shifts the songs into a higher gear - not necessarily rocking but bigger, more expressive.

One of the other tracks that find sticks in my mind long after I've listen to the disk (okay, I wake up hearing in my head, too.) is "Enemy Without." The rolling, energetic main rhythm is lead mainly by the keys, which swirl behind the defiant chorus.

Yes, there are moments here that will prove the accusation that much of progressive rock gets - that it is pompous. This is most evident during the last minute or so of "Running From Damascus."

For those unfamiliar with prior Arena albums or with Clive Nolan, the easiest comparison to make is that Arena sound like Marillion (drummer Mick Pointer was once a member), Pendragon (Nolan plays keys there, too), Asia, and even IQ (bassist John Jowitt) in some respects.

A Crack In The Ice (7:25) / Pins And Needles (2:46) / Double Vision (4:24) / Elea (2:36) / The Hanging Tree (7:09) / A State Of Grace (3:26) / Blood Red Room (1:47) / In The Blink Of An Eye (5:29) / (Don't Forget To) Breathe (3:40) / Serenity (2:10) / Tears In The Rain (5:43) / Enemy Without (5:05) / Running From Damascus (3:44) / The Visitor (6:13)

Paul Wrightson - vocals
John Mitchell - guitars and backing vocals
Clive Nolan - keyboards and backing vocals
John Jowitt - basses and backing vocals
Mick Pointer - drums

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 1st 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 2404
Language: english


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