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Arena - Immortal? CD (album) cover





3.94 | 483 ratings

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4 stars Arena entered the new decade, and millennium, with a new vocalist, Rob Sowden, and an altogether heavier sound, but still with their trademark neo prog roots.

As with all Arena albums, the sound is altogether grand, and it has to be said that Sowden's vocals very much suit the heavier direction displayed.

John Mitchell is as good as ever, whilst the bass playing, right from the off, by Ian Salmon is pulsating. Together, they provide an exceptional foil and support to the band's founders and guiding lights Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer.

The opener, Chosen, is quite simply a superb piece of prog metal. Relentless in its pace, and driven along by a strong rhythm section and Nolan's keys, it starts the album off in grand style.

Waiting For The Flood is more recognisably neo prog, with Sowden's vocals extremely reminiscent of Peter Hamill. It features some fantastic acoustic guitar work backing by Mitchell, and I would here also give a big mention to the exceptional production that is evident on this, and, indeed, the whole album. It's all as clear as a bell and a joy to listen to. A very good, powerful, acoustic track.

The Butterfly Man opens with some delicate keyboard work backing more Hamill-esque vocals by Sowden. He really is a dead ringer ? oh well, it is neo prog after all! This is a far more sinister and sombre affair that the two tracks which preceded it, and it is very well performed by all concerned, and you notice, in particular, just how good the musicians are at both creating and producing alternate moods, especially Mitchell in his guitar work. Very dark, and in places, very heavy, this nine minute epic never lets up and always holds the listener's interest.

Ghost In The Firewall has a very alien, almost industrial, feel and sound to it, and this is driven almost exclusively by Clive Nolan's work. It is a huge, grand, and loud piece of symphonic rock, and is executed very well. The chorus is, amongst the machinery, almost an anthemic sing-along.

Climbing the Net is a brighter affair, and is a massive nod to Genesis post Gabriel era around the time of Wind & Wuthering, although it should be pointed out that Sowden is no Collins (some might think that a good thing!), but Nolan's keys are clearly inspired by the Banks work of that period and Mitchell's short, but sweet, bursts by Hackett. Four and a half minutes of guilty pleasure, which, whilst not essential, is not exactly filler either. Simply very good neo prog, and that's why we brought it, right?

The epic on the album is Moviedrome, clocking in at just short of twenty minutes. The metal start to the track is actually a bit misleading, because this is a track of many moods and styles. Metal, pure neo, and symphonic, it features some stunning guitar work by Mitchell. The main driver here, though, as on the bulk of the album, is Nolan, and some of his work is very intricate, but never less than grandiose. Fans of melodic bass playing will enjoy Salmon's contribution immensely, particularly in the mid period quieter section, and this then gives way to the most incredible guitar solo by Mitchell, most clearly inspired by some of Gilmour's later work, and a bombastic keyboard led symphonic pastiche. It ends as it began, with a very heavy section, and it is a very enjoyable track.

The album closes with Friday's Dream, a very soft, uplifting, and pleasant acoustic number, which is the perfect comedown after what preceded it.

Arena are a very important neo prog band, and they entered the new millennium with another very strong album, in spite of yet more line up upheavals.

Four stars for this. An excellent addition to any prog rock collection, and I would also add almost essential for fans of neo prog.

lazland | 4/5 |


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