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Marsupilami - Arena CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.09 | 88 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
5 stars Poor English group Marsupilami - forever destined to be confused for being an Italian band! But one thing they sure had in common with the vintage Italian acts on their second and final album `Arena' in 1971 (after a superb organ-heavy proto-prog flavoured self-titled debut the year before) was an energetic, unpredictable heavy sound jam-packed with filthy keyboard danger, thrashing drums, mangled guitar intensity and a deranged and coarse singer full of charisma! A concept album about the gladiator arena of the ancient Roman Empire, the LP was produced by Pete Bardens of Camel fame, but those expecting a similar lush symphonic ride similar to that will be rudely kicked in the plums right from the start of the disc!

Mostly performed in the studio live to best capture the lively spontaneous energy of the group, the album instantly rages to life from its opening seconds with possibly one of the greatest ever introductions on a Seventies prog album - just listen to vocalist Fred Hasson's unhinged and demented feral outburst - "We've come here today to rip the veil from your eyes, unhinge your heads and pull out your BLOODY MINDS!!" - Love it or hate it, `Prelude to the Arena' will instantly grab your attention! It goes on to bombard the listener with wailing guitar soloing, snaking thick bass punctuations and a breakneck pummelling of drums, with quieter breaks of careful organ, flute ruminations and nimble fingered jazzy electric piano runs. `Peace of Rome' holds lurking darker organ and flute-driven symphonic unease behind pained crooned vocals and fiery tearing electric guitar rumbles.

The schizophrenic thirteen minute `The Arena' presents dramatic narration alongside piercing twisted female cries, madly darting huffing flute, devilish stop-start organ blasts and dreamy piano passages before sauntering into some very exotic themes and drifting reflective passages that still manage to hold a serrated harshness. Some blasting up-tempo spots almost come close to Genesis and the shimmering reaching guitar strains briefly remind of Yes' Steve Howe.

After an echoing narration, mud-like Black Sabbath guitar snarls and droning treated vocals, `Time Shadows' tears into lengthy improvised passages, where jazzy piano sprints ripple with tension behind wisps of flute, harmonica and saxophone and warm humming dominating Hammond organ, and there's some cleverly executed reprises of earlier themes. After opening with aggressive panning organ stabs over rumbling drums and stormy brimstone-heavy electric guitar mangling, closer `Spring' is probably the nearest the album comes to a Camel-like moment with a recurring charming and breezier rejoicing melodic theme with pleasing flute, harmonica, piano and violin, the bass constantly pulsing with hypnotic unease.

Some will find the borderline flat vocals in parts to be a bit of a deal-breaker, but `Arena' contains all the symphonic grandiosity you could want from a Seventies prog album without the fancy production polish and politeness, and the welcome tougher edge and raging sense of danger is refreshing and highly distinctive. While it's far from a complete obscurity, `Arena', so close to being a minor masterpiece and not sounding like any other album or band before it, definitely hasn't received the attention it truly deserves over the years, and this gutsy symphonic rough gem deserves a complete reappraisal and rediscovery now.

Four and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 5/5 |


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