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Arena Pepper's Ghost album cover
3.66 | 482 ratings | 67 reviews | 18% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2005

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Bedlam Fayre (6:08)
2. Smoke and Mirrors (4:42)
3. The Shattered Room (9:45)
4. The Eyes of Lara Moon (4:30)
5. Tantalus (6:51)
6. Purgatory Road (7:25)
7. Opera Fanatica (13:06)

Total Time 52:27

Line-up / Musicians

- Rob Sowden / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars, backing vocals, engineer
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals, engineer & producer
- Ian Salmon / bass, acoustic guitar
- Mick Pointer / drums

Releases information

Artwork: Dave Wyatt with Tim Bisley (Comic Strips)

Recorded & Mixed at Thin Ice Studios, Surrey
Mastered at Abbey Road Studios by Chris Blair

CD Verglas Music ‎- VGCD028 (2005, Europe)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to NotAProghead for the last updates
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ARENA Pepper's Ghost ratings distribution

(482 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(18%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (27%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

ARENA Pepper's Ghost reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Menswear
4 stars I'll try to be fair towards Pepper's Ghost. Everything is in place and the whole work is superior quality.Some reviews are harsh and negative about it. That's okay, some people will not appreciate a change of season. But if you liked Contagion, and especially Immortal?, you will be pleased to know that the Immortal? format is back, and how. Basically, the biggest fault could be the change of masterplan, but mainly, this is for me the highest quality: this is not Immortal 2 or The Vistor Suite.

As I said the format of many songs not related, as showed on the Immortal? album is on. But on this one, Arena changed a tad their sound, making it less tragic and emotionnal, especially in the vocals. Rob Sowden's voice is more in retreat, not loud and upfront like before. Also many special effects are giving cool telephone distorded souds and more.

The songs are MUCH more dynamic, I'd even say faster, but still are the super catchy hooks choruses that made the reputation of Arena. Because a big part of Contagion was heavy but slowish songs based more on solos or Sowden's impressive vocal chords (bless those babies), some may find this album more 'commercial sounding'. I don't believe that, because the album is taking WAY more time to get into you than the Visitor or Contagion.

Now, many songs are quicker guitar riffs driving the melody, such as Bedlam Fayre, as great example of the new Arena's dynamics. Because even Mick Pointer is drumming much faster and even uses the double pedal to make his sound more metal! Whoo! He gets sooo much better with the time. Did you know he used to design kitchens before?

But the theatrical part is also present on Opera Fanatica. The whole songs rocks solid and carries a great Victorian feeling of tragedy at the theater. As the Victorian period being the concept of the whole thing, take the time to appreciate the innovative ideas showned in the (fantastic) booklet and jewel case. It's like a little comic book with the band represented as super heroes. They all have their particular powers and the way they acquired it is said. Great idea, reminding of the movie 'The Ligue of Extraordinary Gentlemen', that makes the enjoyment higher for fans of the band.

Any fan of Immortal? and Contagion will merry-dance on this album. It's the right amount of new and old. I mean come on, in 7 years, this line-up gave us only premium work. Pepper's Ghost is demanding more time to appreciate. The melodies are more hidden withing the songs, the choruses are taking more time to grow on you and Mitchell's solos are less present. But the core of the project is brillant, taking you to the old Britannia, when Sherlock Holmes and Watson were investigating in London.

You'll feel great about it if you put yourself in the mood of the album. Take the time to let it breathe and grow in you. It's a different approach but I still feel that the logistic of the band had grown and became more mature. A true fan will enjoy I'm sure!

I'm not saying that this record is a masterpiece, but for honest fans of rock music, this should be on your grocery list, and that deserves 4 stars.

"Everything in life is simple deduction! Elementary my dear Dr. Watson..."

Review by Tristan Mulders
4 stars Arena - Pepper's Ghost

"Pepper's Ghost" is the follow-up to Arena's 2003 release "Contagion," which I regarded as a great album.

The first thing I noticed about this release was the cool BOOKLET in which it came. The version I have is the Limited Edition, which comes in a digibook, think of the typical Inside-Out ones, with comics (!) printed next to the lyrics. Weird thing, though, is that I have never seen a not-limited edition. This features as a guideline for the album. Each short comic (one per song) features a sort of super hero, whom is visualised as a specific band member per song.

Looking at the music I have to admit that it is less interesting than Arena's previous studio release, mainly because the songs included here are leaning towards typical neo-prog stereotypes.

Album opener Beldam Fare start in the same vein as opening track Witch Hunt did on their 'Contagion' album. Hereby I mean that the track starts with samples talking people on a market square, before the band begins to play and the album really starts. Remarkable is that there's a whole section included in the song that features vocals that are sung using a vocoder. This song definitely is not an instant Arena classic, but it surely is enjoyable. This song and the next one are both in the same vein as most of the songs on Arena's "Contagion" album.

So what does come next? The semi-ballad Smoke and Mirrors. The song starts with very relaxed guitar playing, before the band starts to rock. Rob Sowden's vocals are at their best here. What I love most about his singing is the way he sings the very last line. simply stunning. He did that little thingy quite often on the "Contagion" album, which is perhaps one of the reasons why I liked that album so much. Now where would neo prog be without the guitar and keyboard solos? Just to make sure that Arena won't be forgotten there is one thrown in for each of those instruments about ¾ into the song. If you take a look at the album's title than this song is also the song that connects with the title the most, because it has to do with creating the illusion of making people disappear during performances by illusionists. this phenomenon was explained more thoroughly on the website of Inside-Out Records around the time of release.

Coming up next is the first epic track on the album and also the first one that breaks away from the type of songs that were so typical for the Contagion album. Eerie sounding keyboards present the introduction to The shattered Room. The introduction lasts an average 1.15 minutes which is quite long regarding the tracks length at 9.46 minutes.

Okay, Mick Pointer is not the best drummer I've come across, but his use of double bass drums gives Arena a quality that makes them sometimes borderline progressive metal. John Mitchell's guitar playing on some of the songs is also close to that genre, the second half of The shattered Room features constant metal guitar riffs. The guitar playing on the first verse in the song, after the introduction of course, reminds me of MARILLION's Steve Rothery.

About five minutes in, the song features a very weird ambient part, which is reminiscent of some of the interlude songs that PORCUPINE TREE used to do back in their "Signify"-era. This part works as a built-up for John Mitchell to start a manic riff backing up a great keyboard solo by Clive Nolan. Most of the time I'm not a fan of Nolan's way of playing the keyboards, because he tends to be a bit omnipresent in Arena's music. or actually on anything he plays on, but he keeps to himself quite often on this album, something I personally can really enjoy. He is using his keyboards more to back-up the other band members and to create a certain atmosphere, than to show-off.

Track number four, The Eyes of Lara Moon starts of pretty mellow, which is more or less the complete opposite of the way the previous song ended. The chorus in this song is not sung, but played. The verses are the mellow parts, but the chorus is an up-tempo instrumental part with nice guitar playing by Mr. Mitchell and some good keyboards by Mr. Nolan. About halfway through the song changes moods and from this point on the guitar is always playing some mean riffs. Overall this song is my least favourite on this album, mainly because it is the least interesting and most repetitive. There's a constant repetition of the lyrics and the instrumentation is not quite that original..

What follows is on of my favourite tracks by Arena: Tantalus. The song starts with Sowden singing in his usual way, being accompanied by Clive Nolan on piano. The further this progresses we encounter some warm synthesizer waves accompanying the piano and vocals. This works as a good introduction to the heavy part that follows. Typical for Arena is that most guitar parts are 'doubled,' hereby I mean that when Mitchell is soloing there's another riff playing along on the background. Most of the time this is a fairly aggressive riff. The ending of the song is the heaviest part of the whole album. The fact that the song ends with quite a long fade-out is for once a good thing, although the fade-out features a great guitar solo. Because the next song Purgatory Road starts with a very quiet introduction with some very aggressive though lonely guitar solo and I think that if the band decided to not end the previous track with a fade-out this would spoil the mood for the introduction of the next track.

This song is also the second song to feature vocals sang through a vocoder device. This song has some similarities of IQ in especially the guitar playing. Of course there's, yet again, a spot for Mitchell and Nolan to show that they can play a decent solo on their instrument. This is also the first song in which I tend to notice the bass guitar, especially near the ending of the song where Salmon has a small 'solo' segment in the mix.

The ending song on the album is also the longest (13 minutes!) track on the album. The epic piece Opera Fanatica starts of with very atmospheric keyboards accompanying a male and a female opera vocalist. This is by far my favourite introduction to any neo-prog song! This intro lasts for about one minute, before the band decides to yet again go metal. I like this change of direction. I know quite a few Arena albums, but none of them have this many heavy segments included. If they continue this way, I'll surely continue to follow and support them. The song has a very dramatic touch to it and although it is pretty heavy it really represents a operatic piece of art. There are several interlude parts in the song, which feature a guitar vs. keyboard duel which is the most operatic, leaving the introduction out of the picture, part of the whole song. Pointer's drumming on these parts is distinctive metal drumming. I do not know what artists are icons for the band members, but it surely seems they love heavy music. The first few times that the chorus is sang, the same opera vocalists that were noticeable in the intro are added to the mix. This gives the song just that little extra to lift it above the majority of neo-prog songs.

While listening to the album again, I couldn't help but reread the comics in the booklet and they are very well drawn out. I hope that the unlimited edition of the album does feature these comics because they're an integral part of the album.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A trick of the tales

I have recurring experiences with new Arena albums whereby, when I first hear them, I am slightly disappointed. This happened with both "Immortal?", and "Contagion", and indeed has happened again with "Pepper's Ghost". I have learned however, not to judge Arena albums by even the first half dozen listens, but to get to know the album well before forming an opinion. The two previous albums I mentioned have gone on to become firm favourites, ranking among the best albums in my collection. I have had "Pepper's ghost" for some weeks now, and sure enough each listen has been more pleasurable and rewarding than the last.

"Pepper's ghost", released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the band, is Arena's sixth studio album. It is a collection of seven tales which combine elements from Marvel comics, The Twilight zone, Sherlock Holmes, etc. The excellent digipak packaging includes cartoon strips which Clive Nolan dreamed up, but which were actually drawn by David Wyatt. Each strip is designed to illustrate a song, although I must admit I experienced some difficulty in matching the lyrics to the cartoons (probably just me though!). Apparently, each of the band members is one of the comic book heroes (rising from the pages perhaps?). The title 'Pepper's Ghost' comes from an illusion created in Victorian England by Henry Pepper whereby he was able to project a "ghost" onto a the stage during theatre shows.

While not a concept album as such , the general themes of the album are perception, wrong interpretation and insanity.

Musically, the album is heavier than Arena's previous output, being closer to "Immortal?" than "The visitor" or "Contagion". The fact that the songs are presented separately, with longer track lengths also supports the comparison with "Immortal?". The heavier sound is in part due to the fact that Karl Groom of Threshold co-produced the album with Clive Nolan. While "Pepper's ghost" still sits well in the neo-prog sub-genre, it finds the band nearer the prog metal end of that spectrum than their more traditional location towards the symphonic prog end. Clive Nolan himself acknowledges that "Pepper's Ghost" represents "another change of direction for the band", but such changes tend to be subtle rather than radical.

The opening track, "Bedlam fair" is a typical first track for the band, being an upbeat, full on piece along the lines of "Witch Hunt" ("Contagion") or a faster version of "Chosen" (Immortal?"). It actually reminded me quite a bit of Uriah Heep's early work, with echoes of the Kerslake/Thain partnership in the powerful rhythm, and Nolan's keyboards giving more than a passing nod to the great Ken Hensley. The song would have suited the vocal style of late David Byron perfectly.

At almost 10 minutes, "The shattered room" is one of Arena's longest tracks. The opening section is reminiscent of "The butterfly man" from "Immortal?", but the speed and power pick up later, Clive Nolan slipping in some excellent old fashioned synthesiser work. The only track here I feel is poor is the rather lifeless "The Eyes Of Lara Moon", which is over repetitive, and lacks any real distinguishing features. "Purgatory Road" more than redresses the balance though, being a melodic and imaginative more typical Arena track.

The feature track is the closing "Opera Fanatica" which runs to around 13 minutes. It has one of those definitive Arena hooks, as Rob Sowden declares "The king is dead, so worship me". This refrain is interspersed throughout the track, at first slow and majestic, with each rendition becoming louder and more powerful as the track progresses. The main guitar theme sounds a bit like a faster version of that on "Crack in the ice" ("The visitor") with a metal basis added. The whole track is slightly reminiscent of "Moviedrome" ("Immortal?"), but at the same time unique.

While this is an excellent Arena album, when judged against the extraordinarily high standards they have set themselves with previous albums, it does fall slightly short. There is a bit too much in the way of vocals, and too little in the way of John Mitchell's excellent guitar work and Clive Nolan's superb keyboards. With each listen though, the appeal of the album increases markedly, the full magnificence of individual tracks gradually opening up, like a reluctant flower on a sunny day.

The lesson is clear for all here. Do not judge any Arena album on the first, or even tenth listen. In common with many great prog pieces, their music demands that you get to know it well, before coming to any conclusions.

Review by Muzikman
4 stars ARENA's music has been a joy for me to listen to over the last few years and it continues with "Pepper's Ghost". This is another landmark recording in their career and to top it all off it goes in an entirely new direction than previous albums. This CD is jam packed with melodic hook filled riffs that rock, its still prog-rock, but probably more commercially accessible than anything I have ever heard from them.

This not intense and heavy musically, that aspect has shifted over to theatrical side of their music. Thematically this is very strong, with a great concept to drive it all along. They even include a comic book to illustrate the story. Too bad the font is small you cannot read it, I was not about to pull out a magnifying glass for it, the music served the purpose just fine thank you very much.

"The Eyes of Lara Moon" and "Purgatory Road" have unforgettable rhythms and patterns that will not get out of your head. That is the mark of a good album, when a song sticks with you. The band has reached their goals on this release. All seven tracks are excellent actually. The consistency of this album is very impressive. Rob Snowden sounds wonderful, so clear and strong, not to mention understandable, a huge plus. The rest of the band is as tight as ever, which came as no surprise to me. They simply are a group of fine musicians able to choose which direction they want to travel with the drop of a hat.

Well, were does ARENA go from here? They continue to satisfy and surprise with every album. That is their strong suite; they always satisfy and keep things fresh, a most difficult task to accomplish while maintaining your popularity. They pull it off with superiority again.

My rating: 9.5/10

Review by 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) [**** ½ ]

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) [*** ½]

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) [*** ½]

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) [*** ½ ]

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) [**** ½ ]

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 .!!!!"


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,


Review by Bob Greece
4 stars The first I heard about Arena was in Metal Hammer magazine! They're classed as a neo prog band but they're almost prog metal. I think they're better than most prog metal bands.

This album is very good - it's heavy and melodic. It's not that prog but then again there are many so-called prog metal bands that are not very prog. This is an excellent album if you're looking for melodic prog metal but of course it won't appeal to traditional prog fans.

Review by The Crow
4 stars Excellent Arena's last album!!!

Maybe not as good as their masterpiece Contagion or The Visitor, but it's still marvellous. In this CD, Arena left a little their Neo-Progressive's face to introduce themselves into prog metal! Songs like The Shattered Room and Purgatory Road show the most hard side of Arena, whereas other songs like Smoke And Mirrors, Tantalus and the dark The Eyes Of Lara Moon are in the way of their last releases, but in a little less adorned and very much guitar-oriented way. Clive Nolan's keyboard lost their habitual protagonism in this release to open the way to the strong Mitchell's riffs and the heavy rythm section. Pointer's drums sound killer in this record, better than ever... But on the contrary the Ian Salmon's bass sounds less brilliant than Contagion, like the Rob Sowden's vocals, a little less inspired and spectacular, although I'm still thinking he's a great singer.

But there is a song that should be heard by every progressive's lover: Opera Fanatica, one of the most epic and well made songs of the Arena's history. A must!!!

An excellent album full of good songs. Recommended.

Review by progaeopteryx
4 stars The first time I listened to this, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Certainly, Arena had a few songs that bordered on prog-metal, but their signature sound was clearly Clive Nolan's keyboards combined with John Mitchell's soaring guitar work. In the typical Arena mix, they equally shared the spotlight. Pepper's Ghost is different. It does indeed have the sound of classic Arena (I'm speaking of Pride through Contagion), however it now contains a pervasive heavy metal guitar all over most of the songs often overpowering the vocals and keys.

With that said, after several listens spread out over months, I'm beginning to see this album grow on me. Even more than the previous albums. It just took my little brain a good long time for this one for some reason. My favorites on this disc are The Shattered Room with it's beautiful and haunting sound, the short and catchy, almost radio-friendly The Eyes of Lara Moon, the epic Opera Fanatica and the powerful Purgatory Road. Purgatory Road really works well with this "new sound" Arena has forged. I think the only thing I miss are Nolan's keyboard solos. They are there, but they're mixed too low.

Because a lot of reviews have already been written for Pepper's Ghost at Prog Archives, I'm going to keep this short and warn listeners that this one may take some time to grow on you, but it is well worth the wait. An excellent addition to any prog music collection. Easily worth four stars.

Review by Melomaniac
4 stars This is the album with which I have discovered Arena (yes, I know... what a shame!!!) and, being totally green (unbiased by their earlier outings), I found myself really enjoying this one. Hooks and catchy melodies are abound on this album. The songwriting is excellent as is the musicianship (although I find Mick Pointer could be a bit more creative, but he gets the job done, and well). I was impressed with John Mitchell's guitar playing (he might as well be the present day David Gilmour in my opinion) and with Clive Nolan's skills, not only for his playing and songwriting, but also for his choice of sounds. My favorites on this album are Bedlam Fayre, The Shattered Room and, my #1 favorite has to be Smoke and Mirrors, in which I find everything to be in it's rightful place (and probably one of Arena's most catchy choruses). I bought most of their albums after discovering this one, and even then it stood it's ground. Note in the album credits that one of Threshold's guitarists is responsible for the mixing (I think, I don't have the album with me as I write), and the mix is excellent (though more heavy than any of their previous releases, which is fine by me !!!).

Definitely an excellent addition to any prog music collection.

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Arena's lastest studio effort is an interesting mixture of metal riffing and neo prog type overtones that mixes into a very hard rocking neo album. John Mitchell, Clive Nolan, Mick Pointer, Ian Salmon, and Rob Sowden create a very mythic and medieval feeling on this album, mainly from the lyics and the superb album cover. I don't really understand why this album is not very well regarded, but I do see where they fault it, and while I somewhat agree with them I enjoy most of this album. Unlike the past album, Contagion, Pepper's Ghost is not a true concept album, although they do seem to have a concept for every single song and the album does share a common theme overall. It may not be the best Arena album, but it's damn close to it.

The album opens with the marketplace noises of Bedlam Fayre. Soon enough, though, the band kicks in with strong 5/4 riffing and some interesting keyboard melodies from Nolan. In all, it has some cool soloing from Mitchell and a cool middle section. Smoke and Mirrors has some definite Alex Lifeson inspired riffing with ascending riffs and harmonics before becoming an epic sounding piece that doesn't really in the end do much for me. Sure the riffing is solid, but the song is terribly formulaic and there's no real invention to it. The Shattered Room has some great guitar from Mitchell and some solid underlying keyboards from Nolan. The 7/8 verses have a great sound to them. The song has a nice sense of evolution as well, changing in tempo and pace towards the middle and Clive Nolan's solo is just great (as well as the dynamic Mitchell solo towards the end). The Eyes of Lara Moon begins with some acoustic guitar that plays an odd chord progression (although it sounds cool) and the rest of the band pick up the pace soon after. It's not an excellent song, but it's effective and gets its point across quickly.

Tantalus has some melodic intertwining piano lines in the introduction, but as the song progresses, it becomes a heavy piece of music with some interesting 5/4 riffing alternating with a 3/4 vocal section. In the end, Tantalus is another strong piece on this album. Purgatory Road begins with a Floydian guitar solo over some keyboards becoming a heavy piece with a riff that has a similar lurch to that of Garden Party (maybe Pointer's influence?). It does tend to drag out too long and it really could have been a bit shorter. Opera Fanatica concludes the album on a very epic note. Although the introduction is a bit contived, with a male opera vocalist giving his vocal chords a run followed by a female opera vocalist doing the same. After that, though, there's a lot of good in the song, including a great chorus, some incredible soloing from Nolan and Mitchell as well as some complex riffing in 5/4. Truly the best piece on the album.

In the end, Pepper's Ghost may not be Arena's best album, but it still is in my eyes a fine effort that fans of Arena and the projects of Mick Pointer, Clive Nolan, and John Mitchell will enjoy. And to a lesser extent, fans of prog metal may find something to like about this album, with it's crunchy riffs and heavy middle sections as well as some definite metal soloing from John Mitchell. It's a good album, but it isn't essential for the casual listener. 3.5/5.

Review by evenless
4 stars Pepper's ghost is an illusionary technique used in theatre and in some magic tricks. Using a plate glass and special lighting techniques, it can make objects seem to appear or disappear, or make one object seem to "morph" into another. Often "Smoke and Mirrors" are used to make the trick work.

So ARENA continues to explore the somewhat "more heavier" sound. I read one review of someone comparing them to THRESHOLD. Maybe no coincidence, since "Pepper's Ghost" was also engineered and mixed by Clive Nolan together with Karl Groom, the guitar player and producer from THRESHOLD. Some people may not really like that "heavier sound" to them, but I think they are just pushing their boundaries a bit and progressing, rather than making "The Visitor Revisited".

So what about this album? I think it's true you really have to give this album more time to "sink in", than for example "The Visitor". But once you do you will notice that Rob Sowden's singing, John Mitchell's guitar solo's and Clive Nolan's keyboard playing is better than ever. Mick Pointer's drumming and Ian Salmon's bass playing are firm and steady and making the whole complete.

"Pepper's Ghost" is not really a concept album, but the 7 stories (tracks) are based on "Victorian comic strip characters" who are present in the liner notes, which is in fact a comic booklet! All fine artwork is done again by David Wyatt who also did the artwork on "Contagion". Each hero has his own specialty and his own story reminding us of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"

About the stories, err. tracks: all tracks are good, but my personal favorites would be "The Eyes Of Lara Moon" and "Tantalus" because of the many tempo changes and the strong melodies they have. Sometimes very delicate, then quite heavy. I love the contrast in one song! "Opera Fanatica" is a bit of an outsider on this album. In the 1st place of course because it's very operatic and in the 2nd place because this would be the only track written by Clive Nolan without support of the other band members. With just over 13 minutes it also is the longest track on "Pepper's Ghost".

Conclusion: "Pepper's Ghost" is somewhat heavier than their previous albums. This may be partially caused by Karl Groom (THRESHOLD), but is also due to the fact that Clive Nolan has been listening to many heavier albums himself lately wanting to express this in his own music as well. Therefore it might just take a bit longer to get into their latest studio album, but once you do, it's really worth it! 4 stars well deserved!

Review by Prog Leviathan
3 stars A heavy change of pace, "Pepper's Ghost" is well-played and smartly produced, but somewhat repetitive and without the impact of previous albums; there are few of the emotional or virtuosic highlights we've come to expect from Arena's songwriting.

To be fair, "Pepper's Ghost" does try to do something new, and I think that it largely succeeds. The band experiments with new song styles and instrumental sounds, but their impact is largely a measure of the listener's taste. The songs here feature lots of vocal phrasing and heavy riffing, neither of which in my opinion generate as much as excitement as the band's trademark sound. Moreover, they do not come across as creative or complex as previous works.

However, "Pepper's Ghost" is certainly still Arena, and will likely please fans as a fine addition to the group's library; whether or not it will be remembered as highlight in that catalogue seems doubtful.

Newcomers should try their previous three excellent albums first.

Songwriting: 3 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 3 Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars You have another example here of an Arena album that is borderline between neo progressive, progressive metal and sophisticated hard rock. Indeed, the guitar riffs are razor and aggressive enough to be considered metal, while the presence of some ear candy modern keyboards tend to classify the album into the neo prog subgenre. The lead vocals really sound arena rock of the 80's. I find Pepper's Ghost a bit less progressive and more straightforward than the Arena's previous albums; despite the compositions still remain relatively catchy, fresh and interesting, we feel a certain dilution of the compositions, especially on tracks like "Bedlam Fayre" and "Eyes of Lara Moon"; even the epic "Opera fanatica" could more explore the territories of progressive music. The short sentimental "in your face" solo on "Eyes of Lara Moon" is VERY pleasant to hear. The best moment of the album is the sustained progressive second part of "Purgatory Road", between 4:00 and the end, containing catchy airs, memorable rhythms and NASA voices. I must admit "Shattered Room" has quite interesting progressive moments. The only "bad" thing I found is the particularly annoying modified marginal voice on "Bedlam Fayre".
Review by ZowieZiggy
5 stars I am heading now to one of my last Arena review since I am now almost on track with their latest releases. I have always like this band since their early days of "Songs From The Lions Cage". I have never rated one album with the maximum amount of stars possible so far (but none of their original albums won't be ranked lower than the three stars level in my rating).

Their first two albums were great but these "Crying" little pieces did keep me away of the maximum rating. Both "The visitor" and "Contagion" were great albums deserving four stars in my scale of reviewing. Their live albums were always very good but there was always something that prevented me to allow one of their work with the absolute five stars rating.

At the time of this release, I was really enthusiastic when I saw that the band reverted to longer compositions and I was really thrilled to listen to their last studio effort. And there will be no disappointment. Only great songs all the way through.

If you like the almost metal-prog-rock from Arena, you will be extremely happy with this release. No compromise : each song will be extremely powerful, yet catchy. The opening number will set the pace but really it is difficult to name one track which would be better than the other one. The whole album is a true gem of rock music. Whether it is truely prog is a useless discussion. This is great music, period.

The listener will be brought from one great song to another till "Opera Fanatica". The highlights being "Bedlam Fayre", "The Shattered Room" and "Purgatory Road" (my second or third fave, well actually I do not know since there are so many...). But none of the other songs are fillers.

So, we are heading now "Opera Fanatica". This is the number that will definitely turned my rating to the max of the five stars. It is an extraordinary piece of music. So complex that they wouldn' t play it live (at least when I saw Arena during the supporting tour of this great album in October 2005 at the Spirit of 66, of course).

As the title indicates, it is almost an opera. A wonderful intro, extremely heavy keys and a fantastic beat. This instrumental introduction (around three minutes) is one of the most powerful I have ever heard. All genres, all periods. FABULOUS.

When Rob will be in charge, the feeling just gets higher. Emotion, power, fantasy, imagination. It is an incredible song. IMHHO (in my humble and honest opinion), it is Arena's best song ever. Even superior to the great "Solomon", "Valley Of The kings", "Fool's Gold" or "Sirens".

When you listen to this wonderful track, only one advice : put it real loud. Then, you'll get the max out of it.

Five stars (did you ever doubt about that ?).

Review by Flucktrot
3 stars Some of Arena's past work for me simply are slow tempo pieces with too much down time. That is not the case here--each song is catchy, well-arranged, and never boring. On the downside, there is nothing revolutionary here: Arena is still keyboard and guitar driven, with the vocals, drums and bass notching a lower level of quality.

Badlam Fayre, Smoke and Mirrors, The Eyes of Lara Moon, Tantalus. These are more-or-less the "singles" of the album, and I'm never tempted to skip these tracks for the longer pieces. Plenty of guitar wails, power chords, and tasteful (read: unobtrusive) keyboards from Nolan. I also like the fact that they utilize more harmonies for Snowden--I think the choruses sound MUCH better than previous albums (specifically Immortal) and help to cover some of his inadequacies.

The Shattered Room. I like this song more every time I hear it. The first five minutes are a nice, mid-tempo ride concluded by fine keyboard and guitar solos...then it kicks into double time, with killer licks and guitar harmonies from Mitchell. Probably my favorite performance by Snowden as well.

Purgatory Road. Another enjoyable listen, with a solid intro and chorus. The spacey guitar/keyboard sequence in the middle is especially well done.

Opera Fanatica. Here's a microcosm of why Arena can't quite come up with a prog masterpiece. We've got a cool operatic opening. Then we've got some metal-ish riffing in 5/4 time. Then we've got a earth-shaking pipe organ. Then we've got a crescendo of power chords and a guitar solo. AWESOME STUFF! Then what happens? The music dies down and proceeds to build up the EXACT SAME SEQUENCE for the finale. All the stuff in between is certainly good, but given the context it comes as a bit of a letdown. A very cool song, lots of good ideas, the intent is definitely in the right place, and it's obvious that a lot of work was put into this piece, but it just could have been execuated a bit better. Also, I think Snowden is a bit of a liability here--just because the song has some opera elements doesn't mean you have to sing that way yourself. The chorus is repetitive and could use some more emotional "juice".

In short, a good buy. I'm not much into comics, but that theme may be a kicker for you if that's up your alley. Arena may yet succeed, but a masterpiece has alluded them again. Here's hoping they keep trying to pull it off--I hear improvement, and it's only a matter of time!

Review by Matti
2 stars There seems to be a crowd of pleased fans, so (excuse me my cynicism) Arena must have known exactly how to act in the music biz. "Heavy sells, so let's be heavy. We could make much more sophisticated and progressive music too, but it has a smaller audience. That's settled, guys? OK, here's my idea: we'll make our new album look like a cartoon book, so the kids who spend their week money on Marvels and all that trash will more likely buy it. And the stories? Hell, you know, the usual s**t with sorcery, demons, the gloomy atmosphere of the nightly cobbled streets of the vanished London... Some Wellsian scientific horror... Why not some Western settings too. We could ask the cartoonist make the heroes look like us!"

Well, for starters, I didn't like Contagion, the heavier style Arena were taking, after being more clearly in the melodic Neo Prog category. But if this is now their essence for good, I won't bother the least anymore. Seven utterly naiive heavy rock tracks where only occasionally an acoustic guitar or a melodic keyboard tune raise its head over the thick wall of sound. Even the keyboards are being played in the Prog Metal style, not to mention the monotonously heavy electric guitar. The music could be "well-done" in that particular genre, dunno of that, but not a moment of clean listening pleasure was in sight for ME. "PEPPER's ghost"? Does it refer to the Beatles and Abbey Road studios where this was mastered? "Hulk's Ghost" would have been more appropriate album title.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. Up to this album "Immortal ?" had been my favourite ARENA record, now i'd have to say it's a tie, or a 1a and 1b sort of rating between "Pepper's Ghost" and "Immortal ?". The word that kept coming to mind as I listened to it all of last week was "powerful". This does seem to be more straight forward than any of their others, and it also seems to have far more guitar than the others as well. It's almost like Nolan has stepped back to allow Mitchell to have the spotlight.

"Bedlam Fayre" opens sounding like we're at a fair for 30 seconds before we get hit hard with pounding drums and a full sound. Nolan comes flying in before the vocals arrive. Blistering guitar 2 minutes in that comes and goes throughout the song. Mellotron is beautifully featured as well on this track. A rip roaring opening tune. "Smoke And Mirrors" opens with acoustic guitar from Salmon before a powerful melody arrives.The contrast between light and heavy continues. I love the guitar from Mitchell on this one, especially after 3 minutes. Great song ! "The Shattered Room" opens with the sounds of a music box as fragile vocals come in with synths. This pastoral soundscape is broken by the arrival of pounding drums, organ and guitar. The drumming of Mick Pointer is tremendous on this record. The lighter synths are so inviting along with Sowdens reserved vocals. The guitar 4 minutes in is great, as are the drums and organ that follow. We get a surprise haunting passage 5 1/2 minutes in. The drums are outstanding the rest of the way. Some ripping guitar after 9 minutes to end it.

"The Eyes Of Lara Moon" opens with strummed acoustic guitar as vocals and drums follow. Some heavy guitar before a minute. There is a beautiful section after 2 1/2 minutes. There are some powerful passages in this one. "Tantalus" features piano throughout. I love the guitar 2 1/2 minutes in(the same melody returns),it's so powerful. This contrast continues. Great build up to this as the vocals get passionate. An amazing sound 6 minutes in. "Purgatory Road" opens with very heavy guitar sounds, until it's screaming. A nice powerful sound with the organ leading the way before the vocals arrive. I like the line "I'm here to stay til they supersize the ozone layer." The song ends with an uptempo, feel good vibe. "Opera Fantasia" seems to divide the fans as to their like or dislike of the operatic male and female vocals. Mellotron on this one too. The drums come pounding in 1 1/2 minutes in,with scorching guitar melodies not far behind. Vocals before 3 minutes. The operatic vocals are back 4 1/2 minutes in. A powerful soundscape 6 minutes in with lots of organ.

It's been great listening to this band again, I like their sound. This of course come highly recommended to anyone wanting to check ARENA out. I would suggest to start from the beginning though, as it's all good.

Review by Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Arena are no doubt one of the better progressive rock bands to emerge from the UK in the last 2 decades. Of course most the band members had the opportunity to learn their trade in the likes of Pendragon and Marillion to name a couple, giving them an already professional edge from the start which has enabled them to produce a consistently solid back catalogue.

Pepper's Ghost is their sixth studio album and while it's not my favourite from the band it's certainly a very good, even excellent album. Arena's Neo Prog is solid as a rock held in place by drummer Mick Pointers simple and powerful no nonsense playing and bassist Ian Salmon. They hit you with slabs of powerful sound underpinned by Clive Nolans full and lush keyboards and then there's John Mitchell's excellent guitar work. On his solo's he soars and his rhythm work in the main is heavy powerful riffs, sometimes even venturing into metal territory like on the 13 minute Opera Fanatica.

Bedlam Fayre is a strong opener, fairground sounds give way to an up tempo powerful hook laden start before Rob Sowden's Shakespearian actor style vocals come in, which are perhaps an acquired taste. Fortunately I quite like them and it's a prog tradition of course to have a singer who adds a bit of drama to the proceedings. The song changes tack for a darker sounding and slower mid section before returning to an up tempo finale.

Smoke and Mirrors is a more laid back affair yet brimming with power. I love Nolan's church organ sounding keyboard work and the piece has one of the strongest melodies on the album and Nolan and Mitchell sharing some searing solo work. Great stuff!

At almost 10 minutes The Shattered Room is one of the longer tracks and a restrained intro gives way to a sombre verse which doesn't really grab me. After a few listens though it reveals it's secrets with a subtly melodic chorus and some enjoyable instrumental work, Mitchell's guitar venturing into metal territory in the latter stages as well as an excellent fluent solo. I can't think of another guitarist in the current British Prog scene who's playing I enjoy more at present.

The Eyes of Lara Moon is a more laid back, yet still powerful song. It has a melancholic melody that gets under the skin and another despite being short, excellent Mitchell guitar solo.

Tantalus starts with some dramatic piano and vocals with a slow build for the full band to come in. It wanders along lacking any real tension and excitement, pleasant enough but not really living up to the promise of the opening melody.

Purgatory Road's solo guitar intro gives way to a powerful keyboard dominated section. Another strong selling point of Arena's music for me is Nolan's choice of keyboard sounds, here again like on Smoke and Mirrors he simulates a church organ in places. The song really takes off with an up tempo extended instrumental section.

The thirteen minute Opera Fanatica closes the album. It starts with some sampled male and female operatic vocals before lunging into a metallic syncopated riff. Pointer's double bass drums and Salmon's bass following Mitchell's chugging guitar and overlaid with Nolan's soaring keyboard chords. It's a great start but then the track loses momentum for a while but regains its composure for some strong moments, mainly in the instrumental areas but the "set them free" vocal section does soar, overlaid with some tasty keyboard work and followed by another excellent Mitchell guitar solo. The track reverts to its riffing start for a dramatic close.

Having not played this album for a while before reviewing I had in mind a 3 ½ star rating but a couple of plays for the purpose of this review has reminded me what a strong release Pepper's Ghost is and deserving of a 4.

Review by aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Welcome to another Bedlam Fayre...

"Please come in and enjoy the show:

The curtains are open. The show has started. The same team that has successfully performed the acts "Immortal?" in 2000 and "Contagion'' in 2002 is back on stage three years later with a yet ambitious play: "Pepper's Ghost''.

In our Bedlam Fayre you might realise our preference for heavier (even prog metal) patterns that colour this gathering in which you are all invited. Melodic solos and warm theatrical vocals will accompany you throughout your stay. However, in the end you will discover that "you are only human, just a mortal to me...". Smoke and Mirrors will stand in your way with mellow electric guitars and mid tempos until you appreciate our efforts for this epic, lyrical composition which has intentionally paved the way for The Shattered Room. There you will be introduced to nostalgic sounds of bells that will take you back to your childhood. "Here in this darkest house'' you will evaluate the presence of a mini-epic that varies in emotions and speed between vocal lines with solid melodic keyboard passages. The extremely melodic guitar solos in the exit of the room will remain unforgettable to you...

It is uncertain that you will find the same quality in composition through The Eyes of Lara Moon, the slowest part of our play, however acoustic guitars and resemblances to Queensryche and Threshold will make your journey at least pleasant. Via majestic pianos and multiple voices you will be thrown in the halls of Tantalus, deeper in our mid-tempo theatrical approach that we intended to take you through at the first place. Our vocal performance will perfect at this point and our strongest melodies will appear in these 7 minutes. The path you need to follow then is Purgatory Road, the place to expiate your sins, through heavy prog and speedy prog metal riffs. This will virtually be a continuation to your journey from the previous act where the epic elements and the strong lyrical vocals dominate. If you are "here to stay", our last act, the epic Opera Fanatica will reward you with a 13 minute summary of prog metal, neo-progressive passages, classical and medieval music references.

To sum up the highlights of our play, the warm theatrical vocals and heavy neo-prog riffs have been rightfully established as the trademarks of our sound and will continue to do so. We are aware that you might not find the exact quality as in our highly-acclaimed trilogy (Visitor-Immortal?-Contagion) but we still believe this show will be an excellent addition to your lifetime experiences.

So "till the Martians land on London town...", farewell!!!"

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Oh dear, what went wrong here? That was my basic reaction after hearing Pepper's Ghost for the first time.

It took Arena a little bit longer to release this album making it their 6th studio release in a 10 year span and, up to this point, there seemed to be no decline in the quality of their output which in fact only grew with each consecutive recording. Even thought I loved Contagion I still didn't consider myself a huge Arena follower which meant that I only found out about this release by reading the February 2005 issue of Classic Rock Magazine. In that issue Pepper's Ghost was reviewed by Nick Shilton who gave it a solid 4 star rating while mentioning that the album deserves more attention than it is likely to receive due to his claim that Arena have so far been "largely unheralded and unfairly shunned in the UK".

Needless to say, when even a magazine like Classic Rock acknowledges a lesser known new release by a band that I've been following for a few years I just had to hear this so-called excellent Arena release. It didn't take me long to track down this album but once I did so and heard it for the first time my reaction was quite mixed. At first I thought that these compositions would grow on me but as it stands today my verdict still remains quite uncertain which quite frankly suggests that the album probably wasn't all I expected it to be. Surprisingly enough even The Visitor has managed to grow on me more than this album over the past few years.

What I basically lack are those great compositions that were featured on Immortal? and Contagion. It all gets to a decent start with Bedlam Fayre but what happens in between the opening number and Opera Fanatica is just not on par with the songwriting on previous releases. The album's biggest highlight comes towards the last minutes of Opera Fanatica where I once again can distinguish those mighty sparks of genius but unfortunately the album is over by the time and Arena never gets a proper chance to get back into the saddle.

This is quite a disappointment of an album that barely deserves the good, but non-essential rating that I'm giving it. My only hope is that the band will work things out on their next release.

**** star songs: Bedlam Fayre (6:08) The Eyes Of Lara Moon (4:30) Tantalus (6:51) Opera Fanatica (13:06)

*** star songs: Smoke And Mirrors (4:42) The Shattered Room (9:45) Purgatory Road (7:25)

Review by stefro
2 stars Great artwork, pity about the tunes. The sub-genre known as neo-prog has produced at least two classic prog albums that rival the works from the 1970's golden age, but it's a limited sub-genre filled with ersatz rock posing as progressive. Asides from the single 'Kayleigh' from Fish-fronted Marillion and the superb first two albums from IQ - 1983's 'Tales From The Lush Attic' and 1985's 'The Wake' - there has been precious little to bleat about since. Arena, led by sometime-Pendragon keyboardist Clive Nolan, have been peddling their brand of metallic prog for a while now, building up a small-but-loyal following in the process. 'Pepper's Ghost' is the 7th Arena album, and it seems like Nolan has been reading a lot of graphic-novelist Alan Moore's 'The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen' which the artwork, intricate comic-book story and overall feel of this album seems to have been taken from, such are the similarities. And the comic-booklet is a beautifully-drawn and well-written thing, quite unlike the cod-mystical, Iron Maiden-esq heavy prog that dominates this dull effort. 'The Eyes Of Laura Mars' aside, 'Pepper's Ghost' really is an unspired lump of modern prog that has very little to do with the genre's innovative heydey. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
Review by lazland
3 stars Pepper's Ghost is the last release by this British neo prog band, although a new release, with a new vocalist, is promised for 2011.

Now over five years old, the album can, in many ways, be considered as a natural progression from the excellent Immortal? and Contagion, certainly in the manner of heavy riffs and Sowden's almost prog metal like approach to the vocals. Unfortunately, I don't find it quite as interesting as its predecessors.

Bedlam Fayre opens with All The Fun Of The Fayre type effects, and is really a good old fashioned classic rock riff, aside from a brief slower section mid term. Enjoyable enough without being essential.

Smoke And mirrors is a shorter track, but with the same riffing intensity. It's all executed very well, but, again, has no progressive tendencies at all, just a rocker, which is fine if you like that sort of thing.

The Shattered Room is a longer track, at just under ten minutes long, and is a return to form for me. Some very good and decidedly understated vocals, which are, as always in his quieter moments, very Hamill like, and there is decidedly more structure and thought in this track than the two preceding ones. It's still, in the main riff, very heavy in places, but Nolan's trademark keyboards are given far more room to form the overview of the song, and, for the first time on the album, we are allowed to hear John Mitchell at his soloing best. Mid section we get an interesting choral and key led haunted house effect, somewhat reminiscent of Genesis on Home By The Sea. Come to think of it, the Nolan solo that follows this is very much akin to Banks' work on that album. The track has a lengthy closing section which returns to the heavier theme of what preceded, but with some interesting symphonic keys layering the riffs.

The Eyes Of Lara Moon is a very enjoyable track. Melodic and dark, featuring some lovely acoustic guitar work and a gorgeous electric solo mid section, make for a track of contrasting signatures.

Tantalus opens with a fine piano solo, and some more impressive theatrical vocals by Sowden, and this extended opening section is by far the most enjoyable and progressive on the album thus far. Mid section features some more heavy riffing, with pounding bass and drums together with some more fine guitar solos, with, all the while, Nolan providing a strong texture. A fine, almost rock anthem, guitar solo is the highpoint of the closing section, together with Pointer drumming as if his life depended upon it. This track is a highlight of the album.

Purgatory Road takes us back to classic rock/prog metal territory. Although Nolan's keyboard work on this track is very good, and provides some interesting layers and thoughts, much of it is, to these ears, rock by numbers, and the band is so much more capable than this.

The album closes with the main epic, Opera Fanatica, which clocks in at just over thirteen minutes. The album, by the way, is, naturally for Arena, a concept one and revolves around illusions created in a Victorian theatre transforming our heroes into superheroes, although the major storyline has always, to be frank, escaped me.

The track opens with very dark, and very brooding, operatic, choral, and keyboard effects, and create a fantastic impression of bedlam akin to a Victorian asylum. This soon, unfortunately, gives way to more very formulaic riff by numbers. There is a lot to commend prog metal, and I have recently began to listen to quite a lot of it, but I'm afraid that the result on much of this album is merely a riff without a great deal of imagination. The track is at its best in the operatic sections. Sowden sounds fantastic acting his heart out, and Nolan allows himself the space to breath and create.

This is not a bad album by any means, but I do feel that the three album sequence with Sowden had reached its natural conclusion by this time. Arena are not a prog metal band, and my main criticism of this is that, unlike its predecessors, too much of this is the riffing without the prog sensibilities that made them a great band. Nowhere near enough melody or, excepting the operatic sequences, dramatisation and thought.

Three stars for this. A good album, but by no means essential. It is to be hoped that the next release will take us back up to the usual four star territory.

Review by friso
4 stars Recently I've been reviewing quite a lot of modern progressive records. After listening Arena's most recent work (at the time of writing this review) 'Double Vision' a couple of times I was not impressed. One day my mp3 player automatically played the next album listed 'Pepper's Ghost' and I was actually quite surprised how strong these songs sound in comparison. How nice that sound was of progressive albums recorded between the slightly under-compressed late nineties and the totally over-compressed period of recent years. And most importantly, how Arena still had these imaginative songs that could match up to their genre-defining songs like 'Solomon', 'Butterfly Man' and 'Hanging Tree'. In addition to that, there were no endless middle of the road symphonic rock/metal songs that lacked that 'progressive feel' - that neo-prog magic.

On Pepper's Ghost Arena offers 'Opera Fanatica', arguably one of the strongest songs of the genre. With its grand opening in which the dramatic performance of Rob Sowden would be accompanied by real opera voices. This song really takes you to a mad operahouse and serves as a great expansion on themes introduced on the Marillion debut. Rob Sowden - who was initially heavily criticized - has proven to be a very strong singer for the group. With his performance he would really create the lively, engaging fantasies on which the neo-prog genre so much relies. Pepper Ghost might not have that rapid non-stop magical feel of predecessor 'Contagion', but in the end all songs have moments of greatness. 'Bedlam Fayre' is great opening song that really hits home with its killer bridge ("you're only human..."). 'Smoke and Mirrors' has imaginative lyrical verses, a catchy refrain and some nice outbreaks of Johh Mitchell's guitar. 'The Shattered Room' reminds us of the contagious riffing of the Contagion album. 'Purgatory Road' has that great guitar lead opening. Between the stronger moments the band sometimes sounds like it is searching and settling for slightly less perfect musical ideas. This becomes evidently on a song like 'The Eyes of Lara Moon', where after a promising start an out-of-nowhere lead-melodie (which starts sounding exactly like the melody from 'In the Court') disrupts the flow the song.

Comparing to what neo-progressive rock has to offer since 2005, this really is - in hindsight - a very strong release. Would buy a vinyl re-release without giving it a moment's thought. Furthermore, I hope Rob Sowden will return as a singer of progressive rock band, for he really is one of my favorite voices of the 21th century. Four and halve stars.

Review by Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Oh dear, thank god I decided not to write a review when I donĀ“t like some albums right away. Prog albums, as everyone knows (or should know), are complex affairs and sometimes you just not Ā“get itĀ“at the first few listens. But after some time, and in the right mood, you sudden see that abandoned CD on the shelf and decides to give it another try. And you discover that not only it was not nearly as half as bad as you remember it, but also that it is actually very good. ThatĀ“s exactly what happened with PepperĀ“s Ghost. When I first heard it at the time of its release I though it was a mediocre affair, way below Contagion, which came before this one. But now I can see the problem: it is just different. And I can finally give it a fair rating.

Arena started as a personal project of Clive Nolan (from Pendragon) and Mick Pointer (MarillionĀ“s original drummer). Eventually they evolved from a kind of Marillion derivative group to a very big Ā“properĀ“ band that carved their name into prog history. Some of their work are among the best prog CDs since the mid-90Ā“s (specially their masterpice The Visitor). PepperĀ“s Ghost is the third album to feature the same line up of Ian Salmon on bass, John Mitchell on guitar and Rob Sowden on vocals, plus the aforementioned founding members. And it is quite heavy: not to the point of a metal band, but heavy anyway. MitchellĀ“s guitar is always on the forefront and his work is a simply wonderful mixing of blistering power riffs and very melodic lines taken into perfection (just listen to his emotional guitar solo at the end of The Shattering Room for a sample of his talent). PointerĀ“s drumming is another highlight along with NolanĀ“s majestic (and often aggressive) keyboards. The perfect production only enhances the bandĀ“s best qualities, with a very clean and balanced sound.

There are no real highlights here. Like Contagion, all the songs are very good, inspired and played with lots of conviction and they work very well between them. ItĀ“s the kind of album you can hear from start to finish without skipping a single track. Of course I like some parts better than the others, but thatĀ“s just a matter of taste, since all of them are top rated. Ok, IĀ“ll agree with some of the other reviewers that claim this is not ArenaĀ“s best album. And yet it is an excellent addition to any prog collection. If you like prog music that is at the same time heavy and melodic, well written and perfomed by a powerful band you canĀ“t miss this one. But take my advice, give this record several spins before deciding you opinion about it. It is worth it. Four strong stars.

Review by Warthur
2 stars Pepper's Ghost seems to be a point where the writing team of Clive Nolan, John Mitchell and Mick Pointer, who as a trio had produced extremely effective compositions for the last few Arena albums, has found itself falling into a rut. The formula this time around is much the same as on Contagion - fairly straight ahead neo-prog with hard rock-bordering-on-heavy metal guitar work giving things a bit more muscle and grit - but the songwriting this time lacks the flair and sparkle which made the previous albums shine. There isn't, for instance, anything on the album to compare to the excellent one-two-three-four punch of Witch Hunt/An Angel Falls/Painted Man/This Way Madness Lies on Contagion. In fact, on the whole I'd say this is the least interesting Arena album to date (though I haven't heard their latest).
Review by siLLy puPPy
4 stars Although only formed in 1995, ARENA had became one of the great prog revival bands of the decade by imitating Fish-era Marillion and then quickly latching onto a veritable sound of their own as Clive Nolan found a new niche away from his other neo-prog bands Pendragon and Shadowland. A decade after the formation of ARENA, the band changed up their sound yet again on their sixth album PEPPER'S GHOST which after many lineup changes in their earlier years emerged as the third album in a row with the same cast members. At this point the collaborative songwriting efforts of Clive Nolan (keys), Mick Pointer (drums) and John Mitchell (guitars) was in full swing as they once again as they independently created their own parts and then adapted them to a band setting which surprisingly combines well into another album of thoughtful constructs that deliver another epic concept album.

The concept of PEPPER'S GHOST revolves around five different individuals who travel through time to defeat a demon all of which is narrated through a comic book included in the packaging. For a tale so tall it connotes a stylistic upgrade in sound and on PEPPER'S GHOST, the band ramped up their decibalage and tempo to the point this blurs into heavy rock territory for much of the time without ever feeling like a metal album so i guess it could be considered heavy neo-prog or something of the sort. The term PEPPER'S GHOST comes from a projection technique developed by John Henry Pepper, a 19th century inventor whose technique casts the illusion of ghostly objects fading into and out of existence in a room but can also "magically" transform certain objects into totally different ones. How this term and storyline weave together is beyond me but arcane enough to accept blindly without question.

Musically PEPPER'S GHOST carries on where "Contagion" left off. There is no significant deviation to the stylistic approach, the interplay or any sort of song structures as with other albums, ARENA craft seven tracks with the final "Opera Fanatica" being the most ambitious and lengthy at time run of of just over thirteen minutes. Despite the similarities, there are several differences as well. First is the abrupt heaviness that makes PEPPER'S GHOST the most hard rock leaning album up to then with crunchy guitar riffs and even more ambitious solos that occur from time to time however ARENA have lost none of their atmospheric prowess as Nolan conjures up beautifully powerful ambient backdrops to accompany the more aggressive guitar and bass. Ironically the drumming does not take on a more aggressive role as Mick Pointer creates more subtle drum rolls that add rhythmic contrasts. Rod Sowden delivers another brilliant vocal performance as always however this time around his lyrics seems submerged beneath the heavier production and guitar dominance.

Another difference is the type of melodic developments. The album begins with circus music that finds itself reprising throughout the album's musical development which adds a sort of gypsy jazz swing element dispersed throughout the album when least expected. For some reason PEPPER'S GHOST doesn't seem to be as well revered as previous ARENA albums and that's quite the shame because i find PEPPER'S GHOST to be just as compelling as any of the earlier albums minus the magnificence of the perfection of "Contagion," however ARENA doesn't shed their origins on this one, they merely augment them with a more diversified palette that allows more extreme dynamics, faster tempos and more ambitious lyrical themes in their concepts. Personally i find this one to be slightly more addictive in the melodic hooks in comparison with some of the earlier albums. For anyone avoiding PEPPER'S GHOST on account of the lower ratings, i have to say do check this out for it's on par with any of the other classic neo-prog albums of the era.

Review by VianaProghead
4 stars Review Nŗ 369

"Pepper's Ghost" is the sixth studio album of Arena and was released in 2005. Despite "Pepper's Ghost" isn't properly a conceptual album, Clive Nolan has remarked that there is a pronounced English feel to the album. I think he means that Arena's sound has obvious echoes of the English prog rock bands of the 70's and 80's, but he also wants to means that "Pepper's Ghost" is very much a Hollywood Victorian view. It tells us the story of five heroes in the 19th century, in London, who fight against the organized crime and, ultimately, they even defeat a demon. The characters on the story are an exorcist, a ninja, a scientist who travels through time, a count and a cowboy with Indian ways. Apparently, each of the band's members is one of the comic book heroes. The story is told in the booklet through a small comic book.

"Pepper's Ghost" is their second studio album to feature the same line up such as with their previous fifth studio album "Contagion". So, the line up of the album is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass and acoustic guitar) and Mick Pointer (drums).

"Pepper's Ghost" has seven tracks. All songs were written by Clive Nolan, John Mitchell and Mick Pointer except "Opera Fanatica" which was written by Clive Nolan. All lyrics were written by Clive Nolan. The first track "Bedlam Fayre" is an excellent opener to the album and appears in the same vein of many other great openers of Arena's studio albums. This is a typical first track for the band that reminds instantly "Witch Hunt" from "Contagion" and "Chosen" from "Immortal?". It's a track very nice and pleasant to hear that can be considered an almost an Arena's classic song, which is perfectly in the same vein as most of the songs on "Immortal?" and "Contagion" albums. The second track "Smoke And Mirrors" is a song that opens with Mitchell in acoustic mode, before the band turns on a mid tempo rock song with a very strong and catchy chorus which features some nice vocals from Sowden. The solo works from Nolan and Mitchell are wonderful and confirms perfectly well their skills as great performers. The third track "The Shattered Room" is one of Arena's lengthiest tracks and where we can hear some of the best and finest keyboard works by Nolan. This is a song that reminds me quite a bit "The Butterfly Man" from "Immortal?". The song moves through a series of different musical sections with a very intense and dramatic chorus. Once again the highlight goes to Nolan and Mitchell with their excellent work in the extended instrumental section. The fourth track "The Eyes Of Lara Moon" is in general considered the weakest of all but I like very much of it. Its name reminds me immediately the 70's film "The Eyes Of Laura Mars", what I really liked very much. It's a song built around a very simple yet effective and extremely catchy melody from John Mitchell. This is a song with good vocal chorus, nice guitar playing by Mitchell and some beautiful keyboards by Nolan. The fifth track "Tantalus" is a track that opens as a dramatic ballad with Nolan's piano being the dominant instrument. The song progresses with some nice keyboards and vocals works until the heavy parts that follow. The orchestrated backing vocals on the chorus are great and the end section, where there is a real edge to Sowden's vocals, is particularly strong. Moreover, the ending of the song is one of the heaviest parts of the album. The sixth track "Purgatory Road" is another excellent song with nice lyrics. It's a very powerful track with very fast changes, great singing, heavy guitars and great keyboard solos. Again the chorus is solid and there's also a good guitar work by Mitchell and a typical keyboard sound runs from Nolan. The song is in general excellent and became as one of the album's highlights and represents the heavy metal side of Arena's music. The seventh track "Opera Fanatica" reminds me "Moviedrome" from "Immortal?". It's one of the heaviest tracks on the album and opens with some beautiful operatic vocals, as its name indicates. For the most part we have the grandiose and bombastic pomp rock at its best, with several memorable sections with great chorus where Sowden shines. This is doubtless the great highlight of the album. Ccuriously and surprisingly it was the only track written solely by Nolan. It closes the album at a very high note.

Conclusion: "Pepper's Ghost" is a very strong release from Arena and remains as one of their best studio works. It's one of Arena's heaviest albums and we may say that it's very close to their fourth studio album "Immortal?". The heavier sound of the album is probably due to Karl Groom of Threshold who co-produced the album with Clive Nolan. The same thing would happen with the eighth studio album of Galahad, "Empires Never Last" which would be released in 2007, and that was also produced by Groom. So, the change on the musical direction of both bands isn't probably a simple coincidence. The album artwork deserves a special mention. It has an excellent digipack packaging that includes excellent cartoon strips drawn by David Wyatt, an English commercial artist. On it, each strip is designed to illustrate each song of the album. This is an excellent artwork that can only improve the magnificence of this album.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Latest members reviews

4 stars Pepper's Ghost is the 6th studio album by Arena and 3rd and final (unfortunately) with vocalist Rob Sowden... as per what I've read tells the story of five heroes in 19th century London, who fight crime and, ultimately, defeat a demon. They are an exorcist, a ninja, a scientist who travels throu ... (read more)

Report this review (#2594292) | Posted by ElChanclas | Monday, September 13, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Last of the really good and progressive Arena albums for a long time, as long as I am concerned. The band are still kicking alive and well with good twists, hooks and playing virtuosity. There are less melancholy and more dynamisn, as can be witness on the first track "Bedlam Fayre", led by great ... (read more)

Report this review (#2271282) | Posted by sgtpepper | Saturday, October 19, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 10 Years On: Arena's Pepper's Ghost Modern neo-prog has always been an interesting scene to talk about within progressive rock. Long mocked as a 'poor man's symphonic', neo never really got all too much credit in the 80's, and for good reason. Marillion, they were good, but that was about it ... (read more)

Report this review (#1347456) | Posted by Gallifrey | Sunday, January 18, 2015 | Review Permanlink

4 stars What do I love from this album? 1. The comic and the story of each song 2. Opera Fanatica 3. Smoke and Mirrors 4. The Shattered Room 5. The mix of neo prog and metal sound 6. The tour they made and the only time they came to Mexico City, and I was there. Maybe not at the level of its predec ... (read more)

Report this review (#1015357) | Posted by Memo_anathemo | Friday, August 9, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Some see "Pepper's Ghost" as the album's weakest Arena, but I consider him a worthy successor of the masterpiece "Contagion. " Succeed in your mix of neo-prog and heavy metal, this album deserves to be heard, and I think very underrated. I will not write about every track, but make it clear t ... (read more)

Report this review (#448227) | Posted by voliveira | Sunday, May 15, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars An album in which the Band Arena is focused more on Metal side style.. changing a bit the concept album .. the vocals on this album are more linear. musical style could be considered as linear, following a basic intro-chorus-melody-solo-final .. and this is practically the base in the rest of the ... (read more)

Report this review (#402600) | Posted by JgX 5 | Friday, February 18, 2011 | Review Permanlink

2 stars The equivalent of a hammer to the head. While I haven't heard all of Arena's output, I enjoyed The Visitor and Immortal? to some extent. After breaking this one out again, I have concluded this band just is not going to make it for me. Pepper's Ghost sees the band crank up their bombastic side ... (read more)

Report this review (#210867) | Posted by johnobvious | Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The latest of Arena's albums proves to be truly awesome. Not quite 5 stars, but at the top end of 4. The general sound is a heavy Arena, much like their more recent albums, but with the usual neo-prog keyboard solos, the artful guitar work, appealing drum sequences and subtle bass riffs. Down to t ... (read more)

Report this review (#191831) | Posted by Staker | Thursday, December 4, 2008 | Review Permanlink

3 stars A bit of a fall off after the last three albums, Pepper's ghost never reaches the heights that they did. Although Bedlam fayre (similar to Chosen), The eyes of lara moon (fantastically varied for its length), and Tantalus (a bit like the Butterfly man) are all praiseworthy, the real bulk here is ... (read more)

Report this review (#153011) | Posted by La fraisne | Wednesday, November 28, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Lots of ghosts and no pepper this time for the Arena. The great ideas shown in the preceding "Contagion" only peep round the door in this work of the Marillion clone group. It is clear that one more time the sound is widely inspired by Genesis at the first and Marillion subsequently. Neverthe ... (read more)

Report this review (#124775) | Posted by progpromoter | Tuesday, June 5, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Another fabulous album from a great band. The album bursts into action with Bedlam Fayre a punchy and catchy track. Smoke and Mirrors follows in a similar vain perhaps a little more subtle.The shattered room is more dark and moody, as is eyes of Lara Moon.Tantalas builds superbly from the acco ... (read more)

Report this review (#100188) | Posted by laghtnans | Friday, November 24, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A very strong cd with great structure and riffs. The last to tracks Purgatory Road and Opera Fanatica are easilly my favourites with very good melodys and a more epic feel than the others. The weak aspect of this album is that i feel that some parts sound a bit hollow, Lara Moon is the tr ... (read more)

Report this review (#80282) | Posted by Psychedelia | Sunday, June 4, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Arena's 2005 Pepper's Ghost is indeed a dark yet beautiful strange album, consists of 7 strange yet unique compositions. The cover of the album said it very clear with the tagline "7 Stories of Mystery & Imagination". I must admit that I had a very hard time to chew this latest effort from ARE ... (read more)

Report this review (#79693) | Posted by ydewata | Monday, May 29, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars From the first time I've heard Arena (I can't remember what song was first), I really love this band. Pepper's Ghost is also catching my heart. Powerful, hard guitars, and on the other hand we have very calm, beautiful Nolan's keyboards (beginning of "Shattered Room" is unbelievably beautiful! ... (read more)

Report this review (#79453) | Posted by Roman W. | Friday, May 26, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Arena is a five piece band, whose sound can be best described as neo-progressive rock, with progressive metal tendencies. their sixth studio album (not counting the various EP's), is again a great album, but not as good as the previous one's. It seems they've got their line-up straightened out ... (read more)

Report this review (#39879) | Posted by DeathRow | Thursday, July 21, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Arena's 2005 Pepper's Ghost is indeed a dark yet beautiful strange album, consists of 7 strange yet unique compositions. The cover of the album said it very clear with the tagline "7 Stories of Mystery & Imagination". I must admit that I had a very hard time to chew this latest effort from ARE ... (read more)

Report this review (#36929) | Posted by | Sunday, June 19, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars After being impressed by one of their previous records "The visitor" I must say that I like to listen to "Pepper's Ghost" but it is not on the same level. The first song "Bedlam Fayre" starts with some background noise wich reminds me to Marillion's "Garden Party" but maybe it's the influance ... (read more)

Report this review (#35294) | Posted by J@pie Mol | Sunday, June 5, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Great Album - Not as good as Contagion, but very solid effort. The standout tracks to me are Eyes of Lara Moon and Opera Fanatica. Opera Fanatic is one of the most original songs I have heard in a long while. The content is progressive, but accessible. Rob Snowden (the singer) has definite ... (read more)

Report this review (#33591) | Posted by Landon | Thursday, June 2, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars One of the best albums of Arena, all songs has a beautiful and dramatic parts as I hope, but the last track called Opera Fanatica isn't like I hope, she could have 4 minutes only. Solomon, Sirens and Moviedrome are the best suites of Arena. But Pepper's Ghost is a good album! ... (read more)

Report this review (#33590) | Posted by widowspeak | Thursday, June 2, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars As a huge fan of Arena and, fortunately, having in my possession all of their albums, this piece of work is just another masterpiece by a band that, in my opinion, are unequalled in their genre. It starts strongly and vibrantly and continues to grow ever stronger with every song until it reach ... (read more)

Report this review (#33589) | Posted by | Friday, May 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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