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Arena - Immortal? CD (album) cover





3.94 | 537 ratings

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Man Overboard
4 stars Take a leap of faith if you want to find out...

In the year 2000, Arena returned to the studio for a polyfold purpose. It had been 2 years since their groundbreaking album The Visitor, and the lineup had changed quite significantly since then. The year prior, a live album including new vocalist Rob Sowden on the first five tracks had been issued, but it was only an acoustic set, and the fans wanted to know how he'd hold up with original material, with the full band. Furthermore, John Jowitt had left the band, being replaced by the incomparable Ian Salmon. It is my opinion that this is the ultimate Arena lineup, making the ultimate Arena songs.

The album opens with 'Chosen', an extremely dark, moody hard rock song with more in common with the underground goth rock scene than the Marillion-esque material Arena fans had previously been accustomed to. From the opening whisper "Take a leap of faith if you want to find out!" from Sowden, you know you're in from something different. Heavy power chords and syncopated drumming flavors the track, while Sowden's dark and dreary proclamations of an alien race drive the song forward, culminating in a mind-blowing polyrhythmic section. Mick Pointer really is at the top of his game, grooving along effortlessly here, with an actual, bonafide -polyrhythm- (!!!) on his percussion, accentuating the other members' melodies and rhythms.

'Waiting For The Flood' allows you to catch your breath, with a soft acoustic song punctuated with Clive Nolan's spacey, melodic keyboards, Pointer's subtle, atmospheric drumming, Ian Salmon's fretless bass, and of course led by John Mitchell's acoustic guitar and Rob Sowden's emotional, gripping voice. The lyrics are dark and apocalyptic, a theme which permeates the entire album. After the gorgeous Mellotron outro, we're treated with...

THE BUTTERFLY MAN! If there were any song that shows that Arena had finally found their niche, this is it. One thing I've always loved about this lineup of Arena is that no man ever puts himself ahead of the music. The opening keyboards from Clive are subtle, but rhythmic and melodic enough to provide a backdrop for Rob's narration; a Bradbury-esque tale of a strange butterfly creature who collects humans as if they were insects. After a few minutes, the rest of the band kicks in full force, having restrained themselves entirely for the previous duration, and delivers the chorus with incredible energy and a bit of a dissonant, uneasy feel, before jumping into one of the best Arena instrumental parts. This 9-minute epic track would serve as the longest running piece of the album, were it not for the 19-minute sidelong piece coming later. Still, this track remains a crowd favorite at Arena shows. The prowess of the band is shown with Pointer playing a simple 4/4 beat while the rest of the band plays within it, syncopating their riffs in several different iterations, as the incredible Mick Pointer accentuates each part with his masterful percussion technique. When it finally climaxes in a slow, singalong chorus, you must feel as if the Butterfly Man could be waiting in the darkest corners of your home, or even your mind, waiting to take you for all eternity.

In keeping with the themes of darkness, paranoia, and xenophobia, the next track, 'Ghost In The Firewall', opens with the sound of a heartbeat, slowly transforming into an electronic buildup; a collage of sounds serving as a backdrop for Sowden's vocals. This track is really a showcase for Clive's incredible compositions and keyboard abilities, with the rest of the band accentuating his soundscapes for the most part, rather than taking the lead themselves. The lyrics themselves deal with an entity in a computer network that has come to life; inspired by science fiction, like so many of Clive's songs. Its powerful chorus is a driving point, along with the passion of Rob Sowden.

Up next we have Climbing The Net, a hopeful anthem. Arena are not all doom and gloom; the lyrics portray an optimism not found in the other tracks, perhaps to give balance. The opening synths remind of Marillion's Garden Party, a reference to Pointer's past career in Marillion, but the song is pure Arena. That is to say, great lyrics, great melodies, excellent development, and leaving you feeling emotions of varying degrees. Personally, this song makes me want to climb onto the roof of my house, stare into the night sky, and enjoy a nice cigarette. John Mitchell has a particular good guitar melody here, very inspired when Nolan adds accentuating harmonization from his synths.

Finally, we reach the epic of the album. I'm going to have to take a star off of the score because of this track alone. It's not a bad track, for sure, but it is probably my least favorite Arena epic, and doesn't flow as perfectly as the rest of the album. It certainly scores high for its many lyrical references to the other tracks (and they said it wasn't a concept album!); it simply doesn't feel like it -had- to be 19 minutes. This is a personal point, though, others may love it dearly. I won't attempt to describe it; rather, judge it for yourself.

The album's finale is a different story. Friday's Dream is one of the best songs that Arena have ever, ever, ever penned. The melodies, the instruments, and the vocals are absolutely perfect in every way, and the song stays in my head for days. I generally listen to it between two and fifteen times before moving on to another album... it's just that good. Sowden's soaring, sensitive vocals are truly gorgeous here, and I think you'll agree.

When you get down to it, this album represents a beginning for Arena: the first studio album with their 'definitive' lineup, and certainly the longest lasting lineup, with 3 studio albums, 2 DVDs, and countless EPs, live albums, and fan club releases to their name. I want so badly to give it 5 stars, for without Moviedrome, it would be a perfect LP-sized album, but I cannot do that, so 4 stars! The beginning of an era of greatness.

Man Overboard | 4/5 |


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