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Arena - Pepper's Ghost CD (album) cover

PEPPER'S GHOST

Arena

 

Neo-Prog

3.61 | 384 ratings

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Gatot
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I have a chance to enjoy this album very late when many of my prog mates have already had it months ago and there were many reviews available in this site and also on the other sites. There were so many differing views. It boiled down to a view that this album is not Arena's best. The first time I listened to this album, I felt like listening to truly Arena sound. It reminded me to the band's previous albums: "The Visitor" and "Pride" with one track has some touch of "Immortal?" album. The only difference is probably that this album is heavier, and rockier than the previous ones - I thought. I had experienced different feeling than what colleague collaborator Bob McBeath has put in his review. The first time I listened to this album, it blew me away with its crispy composition. It's probably at the time I was much more listening to heavier prog stuffs so when "Pepper's Ghost" CD was spun, it relieved me and gave some sort of Arena "sound" I had been longing for.

Unfortunately, that good (even excellent) experience happened only until approximately three or four spins of the album when I started to feel disappointed with this album. Don't get me wrong, it's not something to say this album is bad at all. No! It's just not living up to my expectation after their groundbreaking "Contagion" album. Having spun more than ten times I conclude that this album is like a head and a tail. It starts with wonderful track "Bedlam Fayre" followed with just good - not excellent - tracks and it ends up with a wonderful closing track "Opera Fanatica". It's just like head and tail. Luckily, all songs still demonstrate the origins of Arena sounds. Out of seven tracks only two tracks that really stand out as excellent Arena tunes. Well, so sad to say this but this is the truth. It's probably John Mitchell's concentration was not focus to Arena as he was also busy to write materials for his side project with KINO. The results are two mediocre albums. For me personally, I'd rather have one masterpiece album than two mediocre (just good) albums like "Pepper's Ghost" and KINO "Picture".

Bedlam Fayre (6:08) [**** ]

This album opener begins with an ambient crowd voice followed with hard driving rhythm typical Arena sound in relatively fast tempo. Clive Nolan's keyboards dominate the opening part, producing beautiful notes and chords. The music flows smoothly in an attractive way and brings us to the origins of Arena sound. The rhythm section that comprises guitar with soft riffs, Ian Salmon's bass lines and Mick Pointer's drums bring the vocal line enters the music beautifully. In between lyrical parts, there are excellent guitar solos by John Mitchell. It's so rocking and so inspiring! In the middle of the track there are some short insertions of musical loop / sequencing with distant vocal of Rob Sowden - reminiscent of Immortal?'s Chosen. This track has become my favorite. Wonderful composition!

Smoke and Mirrors (4:42) [***]

It starts off with a simple guitar fills followed with a medium tempo music featuring guitar solo that brings the music into quieter passage. Vocal enters nicely during this quiet passage and flows increasingly into higher notes followed with the music. Guitar plays its solo at the back continued with nice keyboard solo. These two instruments play in alternate and fill in the music nicely. It's a good track even though does not stand-out firmly as excellent track, I would think. I tend to get bored with the repeated melody after couple of spins.

The Shattered Room (9:45) [*** ]

This track starts beautifully with soft keyboard work that features melodic singing part augmented with soft and howling guitar fills reminiscent of 70s prog music. Very nice opening part. The music flows in its full swing into a medium tempo / upbeat style with a guitar fills in the vein of early Marillion's style (something like The Torch Song of Clutching AT Straws album - in terms of guitar fills style). As typical Arena's song, this one also gives chance for keyboard and guitar plays in alternate nicely. I like the guitar solo, really. The music turns into a quieter and ambient style with some "ghost"(?) effects at background followed with stunning guitar work. At approx minute [6:08] the music turns into much faster tempo with more energy music, hard driving rhythm section and inventive keyboard solo. Wow man!!! It's rocking!!!

The Eyes Of Lara Moon (4:30) [***]

Nice acoustic guitar rhythm featuring vocal opens this track nicely, augmented by drums that give medium beats. During transition to the second lyrical part, guitar provides nice fills in between. It reminds me to early Marillion's music style. Guitar then provides soft riffs that accompany vocal to move into higher register notes followed with stunning guitar solo. The singing style and melody satisfy my personal taste.

Tantalus (6:51) [*** ]

Piano solo with beautiful notes open this track followed with vocal line in slow tempo and accentuated singing style. Piano follows the singing nicely accompanied with solid bass lines. The drum rolls bring the music into a more upbeat music maintaining the original rhythm and melody section. Guitar solo performs its role stunningly with sometime plays as rhythm section. Ian Salmon demonstrates his bass guitar in some transitions with obvious sounds. This song ends up with guitar solo.

Purgatory Road (7:25) [*** ]

It opens with ambient Floydian guitar solo followed with symphonic music in its full swing, dominated with the keyboard sounds. Vocal enters the music with guitar riffs at the back augmented with some effects produced from keyboards. The music moves into fast tempo at approx minute [4:05] with some variations of guitar solo, distant vocal line and truly stunning keyboard solo backed with riffs.

Opera Fanatica (13:06) [**** ]

This concluding track opens with an opera style, ambient nuance. Hard driving rhythm music in fast tempo suddenly enters, followed with long sustain keyboard work - well, it's something I can call it like a legato style. The music moves fast like power metal vein but without double pedal bass drum. Guitar solo continues to take the lead melody and ends up with the entrance of pondering vocal line. This song has some interesting intervals and transitions with catchy melodies. In some quiet passages, there are inventive bass lines that help accentuate the song. At approx min [6:01] the music turns into different style with dynamic percussion / drum in faster tempo. This song has frequent tempo changes throughout its thirteen-minute duration. An excellent track with great composition. "Set them free .!!!!"

SUMMARY

Definitely, this is not Arena's best album as when I've gone through track-by-track review, I can only find two tracks that really stand-out - at the beginning and at the end, like a "head and tail" structure. However, don't get me wrong - this is a good album that should be in any prog collection, especially if you are Arena's fans or neo prog fans. The Limited Edition package that is now in my hands contains full color comics representing the "7 Stories of Mystery & Imagination" as printed at the album cover. Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. As I mentioned, I'd rather have one GREAT Arena's album or one GREAT Kino's album. Unfortunately, these two albums do not qualify as excellent album. I'm not gonna recommend you whether to buy or not to buy this album as this is clearly up to you. I can only recommend you to .Keep on proggin' ..!!

Progressively yours,

GW

Gatot | 3/5 |

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