Arena - Immortal?

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Verglas
Catalog Number: VGCD 019
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:18:00

Arena (courtesy)One of my favourite albums from 1998 was Arena's The Visitor. Although Immortal? sees a change in personnel in the form of vocalist Rob Snowden replacing Paul Wrightson and Ian Salmon replacing John Jowitt (IQ, Jadis) on bass, there is a continuity in the sound. There is no mistaking this as a Clive Nolan penned, composed, and produced project, though it must be noted that both drummer Mick Pointer and guitarist John Mitchell co-wrote the music with Nolan and that Simon Hanhart gets co-producer credit. "Waiting For The Flood" has a kinship to "The Hanging Tree" and "Tears In The Rain." This suggests to me that Nolan and Pointer have a particular sound that they want Arena to have and seek out artists who can produce this sound - that is, Snowden truly does replace Wrightson, such that if you didn't know about the change, you'd swear it was the same person. In fact, place this and The Visitor next to any Nolan project where Nolan sings - Shadowland, for example - and what you discover is that Nolan chooses vocalists who sound a great deal like he does. John Carson, the original vocalist with the band, leaned more towards Fish, so I'd almost say he's an aberration in that regard.

In any event, Immortal? is a solid Arena release, even if you find there a great deal of similarity between this and The Visitor...and not so much to their earlier material. Like The Visitor, the subject matter is often dark, deeper tones being used than on, say, Songs From The Lion's Cage, their debut. I think of the energy of "Jericho" in particular. And like The Visitor, everything is painted with long, lingering brush strokes - slow, aching guitar solos; big, sweeping, and emotion drenched choruses; quiet, almost whispered, haunting interludes ... all filled with drama.

Now, I won't say that Immortal? is totally without new colours, as there are some cold, industrial, electronic noises that begin the album, and begin "Ghost In The Firewall." It wasn't really until hearing this track, that I made some strong connections between Pink Floyd and Arena...though of course upon reflection it's pretty obvious. In the case of this particular album it is in that "Ghost In The Firewall" is eerily like "Hey You!" and a slowed down "Young Lust," both from The Wall, and yet not exactly like it. What should have made any connection obvious was Nolan calling his studio Thin Ice studios...but I didn't even notice that until The Visitor and felt it related to "Crack In The Ice."

Parpy, swirly, Marillion-like keyboards open "Climbing The Net," something I don't think we've heard from Arena since Pride (at the latest) and, in fact, not from Marillion in years. Think a little bit of Script-era Marillion. There's a line here that I find somewhat ironic - "we've been here before..." - acknowledgement that musically we've "been here before"? Probably not. This same thought concludes "Waiting For The Flood," too, in "You've walked with me before, you know..." (and harks back to a line in "(Don't Forget To) Breathe" - "A devil in the dark, we've met before").

A question is posed on the first page of the booklet - "And where will you find Immortality? Kneeling in Misery? Making endless reassurances, lost in naivety? Standing up, looking up? Conjurors hoaxers exploiters killers occultists volunteers? Hatred or love leading you? Submerged in lifelong kudos? Perhaps you have already found it!" While I won't do a track by track tracing of the theme (have to save something for my Progression column), know that each track tackles some aspect of each of those posited answers to a greater or lesser degree, and perhaps more than one at a time.

The centrepiece to the album is "Moviedrome," once one of the prospective titles to this album (as was "Chosen" at one time, I recall). "Moviedrome" spans about 20 minutes and concerns how much technology has permeated our lives, in rather dystopic terms. There is a line here, "What will I be when summer comes once more? And we're naked and weak in the eye of the sun once more," that made me think of Ray Bradbury's haunting short story "All Summer In A Day." The companion piece of lyric precedes it and reads "What will I be when winter comes again?" The cycles of life, though winter and spring are the usual opposites - where winter is death and spring is rebirth. Though I suppose it could be also questioning how we will survive if we depend upon technology too much and it's taken away - will we be able to live outside our computer controlled environment? I mean, with the internet, faxes, and phones, we don't have to really go out anymore to buy anything...though the delivery of such purchased goods might still require some human intervention...if we don't have AI UPS drivers. Will what was once a mild winter become horrendous because we are so unused to it? Summer become scorching when it was once merely hot? Of course, there's also the standby winter meaning nuclear winter and summer meaning what's left after the fall out, but perhaps that's putting too fine a point on a couple of lines in a track that has about 84. Think I'm excessively nerdy for counting lines? Hmm...without giving anything away, I suspect Nolan counted on someone to focus on his lyrics with close scrutiny, though not necessarily in counting them.

Like on Marillion's Brave, the closing track is like a bright, breath of fresh air after some very gloomy thoughts....except "Friday's Dream," isn't the "happy, that goodness everything's really okay" song that it at first seems to me. In fact, I'd say it's quite the opposite. And, unlike with Brave, doesn't seem stuck on to make sure people don't walk away depressed, or in this case, more thoughtful.

It's an album that equals their best and is a good, if somewhat similar, follow up to The Visitor. I'll admit that on my first few listens, I wasn't sure if I liked it, but after a few more in better settings, I can honestly tell you that I do ... one of my favourite tracks being "Waiting For The Flood."

Also released by InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2012)

Chosen (6:20) / Waiting For The Flood (5:52) / The Butterfly Man (8:56) / Ghost In The Firewall (4:55) / Climbing The Net (4:40) / Moviedrome (19:43) / Friday's Dream (4:44)

Rob Sowden - vocals
John Mitchell - guitars, backing vocals
Clive Nolan - keyboards, backing vocals
Ian Salmon - bass
ick 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: February 1st 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 994
Language: english


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