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Arena - Pepper's Ghost CD (album) cover





3.65 | 420 ratings

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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 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.

Nightfly | 4/5 |


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