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5 stars Their best album :complex rythms and presence ,good melodies. these guys are pros ! They are however getting Harder in the last albums the guitar is more "metal" like at times than prog, but its not excessive. I hope they don't highten the metal sound in futur albums aztech
Report this review (#987)
Posted Friday, November 7, 2003 | Review Permalink
3 stars The drums have no dynamic and don't sound like they were played by a human, the vocalist tries too hard to sound dramatic and menacing which can be embarrassing, and the keyboards are unmistakably Clive Nolan which could be draw or a setback depending on your opinion of his playing, the songs are mostly enjoyable and the guitar playing saves the day. Good, but I imagine these songs to sound better live.
Report this review (#997)
Posted Sunday, December 28, 2003 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars A visitor every home should have

What a terrific album. Although made up of 14 tracks, these are really just sections making up the whole.

"A crack in the ice" kicks of the album with a killer intro, John Mitchell's guitar soaring above the driving synthesised backbeat. Paul Wrightson's crying vocals appear for the first time as he beseeches "I defy you to stand on the crack in the ice".

There are many highlights throughout the album,. "The Hanging tree" is particularly impressive being a slower, almost folk based song which gradually builds to a soaring conclusion.

Various themes intertwine throughout the album, cumulating in "Running from Damascus" which gathers everything together, leaping frantically from theme to theme, before reaching its dramatic climax. After a momentary pause for breath, the title track stands alone as an ethereal encore.

Just when you think the album has finished with a soft refrain of the final chorus, the drums introduce one of the most stunning guitar solos I have ever heard. Mitchell reprises the "Hanging tree" theme one last time during the solo, before the electronic intro to "A Crack in the ice" takes over to bring the album full cycle.

Quite simply, every home should have one.

Report this review (#1000)
Posted Tuesday, February 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars For those who feel that NeoProg is rubbish please sit down and get ready for a classic concept album which you will love. ARENA have certainly reached an all time high with "The Visitor". Loads of great pattented keyboard work from Mr Nolan and amazing song writing talent. "The Visitor" takes you into a new world which has never been explored before.
Report this review (#1002)
Posted Saturday, March 13, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars ARENA's latest album is a concept album that clocks in at 60+ minutes. ARENA's neo-prog has reminiscences to GENESIS, IQ, PINK FLOYD and YES, but most of all to FISH-era MARILLION. The keyboard player Clive Nolan (PENDRAGON, SHADOWLAND etc.) is the one who has most influence on the bands sound. Clive is one of the best keyboard players inside the progressive world today.

- The highlights on this album are the masterpiece "The Hanging Tree" with wonderful harmony vocals, beautiful acoustic guitar and many mood and tempo changes, "Enemy Without" with a catchy chorus and the closing "The Visitor".

- Once again the artwork is outstanding, and so are the musicianship. This is the best ARENA album I've heard so far. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#989)
Posted Saturday, March 13, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars WOW! I think I like this album more than ever!! First of all, this is neo progressive rock, sounding a bit like MARILLION, JADIS and PENDRAGON. But the guitar is definitely more metal.

There is this omnipresent distortion-free rythmic guitar like on MARILLION's "Clutching at Straws". The rythmic guitar is quite razor and clean, and there are many good melodic solos not very fast. Clive Nolan's keyboards are varied and often floating. He often plays moog solos a la MARILLION. His patterns are EXTREMELY VARIED!! Rarely seen that before. The lead vocals are very good, catchy and melodic. John Jowitt's bass (JADIS) can be very rythmic and elaborated. Some rythmic bits are very scattered: this is Nolan's intentions: just try to reproduce those scattered drums parts! Good luck! Clive Nolan is the king to produce extremely catchy, melodic and addictive songs. (e.g. "Hanging Tree, "In the Blink of an Eye", "The Visitor", etc..) The floating "Serenity" (eternal guitars notes + keyboards) is even FLOYD-esque (like on "The Division Bell" album).

Definitely recommended.

Report this review (#991)
Posted Wednesday, April 7, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars What more can I add to what Bob, James, Greger, Greenback and others have already said so well? This album is certainly ARENA's all-time classic. In all my years as a music lover, never have I heard such a clever and successful blend of lush, melodious songwriting with such solid, tight, gripping rock. As some critic once wrote, "each note, or sequence of notes, gives rise to an emotional, almost physical response".

With its bluesy, floydian choruses, its gorgeous melodies, the way each musical phrase (some of them simply to die for) blends into the next, right down to vocalist PAUL WRIGHTSON's awsome delivery, "The Visitor" is sublime from beginning to end. Describing each track individually won't even remotely do justice to this masterpiece. It comprises everything that is good about ARENA - and about prog, for that matter. It is perfect in every detail and a true progger's dream. The type of mind-blowing, shiver-inducing, spine-tingling thrill you hope for every time you tear up that plastic seal on a brand new CD. I'm really at a loss for words, here. Let me just say that it ranks second only to my all-time favourite, GENESIS' very own "Selling England by the Pound". Brilliant, with goosebumps guaranteed on every track!!!

Report this review (#992)
Posted Saturday, April 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars The album opens the soul to the challenge of existencial consciousness. Is a story of dreams and dying embers that are blown by the imagination to spark new life. Creation of human and humble genius, rising and falling with a power that shakes you and relaxes you intermittently like any great musical and theatrical composition. It can really open your eyes.
Report this review (#1004)
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars yes! - I have read the warning about how to rate albums... I think they don't have to give you a warning on this album - like many before already stated THIS IS a masterpiece of prog rock. many changes of speed and rhythm, not one dull moment in the whole recording, and the closing instrumental section of 'the visitor' is one of the most beautiful music I ever heard...

so if someone decides to have only one Arena album in his collection, choose this one!

Report this review (#1005)
Posted Monday, October 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you are a a Marillion Fish era fan , you have to get your hands on Aren's Albums - in my opinion the first 2 and this one which is the best as a whole. If you are not a Marillion fan - you have to give this one a chance and I'n sure it won't take more then a few minutes in the record store for you to anderstand that this one is a must have ! Consept albums are rarely made right'\, but when they do they are the best -merging emotions and good music together ( My favorites are The Wall and Misplaced Childhood). After having success with previous Arena's alboms - I've ordered this album without hearing anote from it and I must say that when I did, it was one of those moments when you pray to God you have ears and a powerfull Stereo system. I won't count all the tracks with their pros and cons, some are better then others but the bottom line is that the bad tracks are very good and the good ones are exellent. The albun is very colourfull - many of stiles and dinamics, Arena is one of those bands who doesn't afraid to go up to 11 when it needs to , yet supply inteligent ballads from time to time. Just buy this album - you'll like it if you have ears.
Report this review (#1007)
Posted Monday, December 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars THIS ALBUM KICKS SO MUCH [email protected], IT IS A CRIME THAT ARENA ARE NOT BIGGER IN THE U.S.!!! The productin is incredible; the keyboards and guitars are massive, the bass pulses through your heart...and the vocals are simply brilliant!!

Whether you like Neo-Prog or not...this album rocks. Neo-Prog is here to stay...thanks to bands like Arena. And they do it WELL!!

Report this review (#1008)
Posted Thursday, December 23, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars I don't know about you, but just by the cover I knew this was going to be good. I immediatly recognized the Hugh Syme signature. And what somptuous artwork! The cloudy, gloomy, creepy atmosphere is so very well represented, you could even feel the air getting heavier as the storm approaches. The cover is putting you right on place, close to the hanging tree, feeling the gentle breeze caressing your face, comtemplating the sky. The best artwork of the 90's.

The music is surprinsingly excellent, chosing a multiple set of moods fitting with the exquisite artwork. The keyboard being very present is in the (very) capable hands of Clive Nolan. Thank him because his signature is present in every great bits that I like. He has so much talent to make crazy catchy choruses, but not wrapping it up into a too poppy package. This album pleases your ears from A-Z, to me reaching climax in Crack in the Ice, Double Vision, Hanging Tree, A State of Grace and Don't Forget to Breathe.

Those a gems of light prog, but constructed in solid marble. The churchish, pastoral atmosphere of the mellotron 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' is perhaps what's dragging me close to Arena's work. It really does the trick for me!

A true easy listening prog gem. Very well constructed, logical, innovative in the concept, super catchy by moments but never compromising on the quality. I'd rather like to ear Rob Sowden sing but Wrightson's performance is less intense, so more digestible for many.

It's such a well constructed and it goes smoothly in your headphones this could easily be transformed as a flashy theatrical piece.

Give it a try when you have a chance and "walk with us into the fire, the fire, THE FIRE!!"

OoOhh mAn, fAnTasTIc...

Report this review (#1010)
Posted Wednesday, January 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A Masterpiece Neo Prog Album of all-time!

I'm writing this review to serve three purposes. First, to express my personal views and deep appreciation to the band that has created this masterpiece album in the vein of neo progressive. Second, I dedicate this review to my friend: Agung Surjoatmodjo - a Supply Chain Manager of a multinational fast moving consumer goods company based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Of course, this is nothing to do with his profession but I do believe, however, that the music of ARENA has in a way contributed (may be significantly) for him to do his professional work better. Why? Agung is, I would say, a die hard fan of the band (and also Fish-era Marillion) and has been consistently listening to the music of Arena and Marillion with great passion. He almost always sends me a short message at my mobile whenever he spins the CD of Arena. I still remember his message: "Gatot, I'm now enjoying The Visitor. When it reaches 'Too late! You waited too long. I stole the freedom you needed so much', I remember you .". (it's a part of lyrics under "In the Blink of an Eye" - track 8 of this album). What an intriguing and provoking prog SMS this one is! (Agung and I seldom meet because we live in distance even though in the same city). With that kind of passion, you can imagine how die hard he is with the band. In fact, I knew him because of prog also - he loved Marillion as I did so a friend of his that knew me introduced me to him approx five years ago. If sometimes we got together at our rendezvous in Bakmi Kelinci Jl Sabang near local CD store Duta Suara, I can feel his passion of Arena through his energetic gestures emulating the band; sometimes he sung along couple of excellent melodies of Arena. Interesting prog meeting, I would say.

Third, it is for you - the readers of this website - especially to guide your purchase decision. Sorry, I'm talking too much - like a novel hah? - about my personal experience with Agung. But I'm sure that some of you may have experienced as what I experienced with Agung. You may find your prog mate even crazier than Agung. That's the beauty of being in the prog circle - people can go mad with the music of particular band! Hope you can relate with what I mean .. If not, just ignore it!

The Music

It's a concept album and it opens with "A Crack In The Eyes" in an ambient sound that brings the music in crescendo with a continuous stream of beats: soft musical riffs and howling guitar solo combined with dynamic drumming. The music is getting complex, sound wise, and suddenly turns quieter with only drum, bass and symphonic keyboard at the back and the voice line starts to roll firmly: "Dead calm / Raining all over me .". A very nice opening part. The music flows in medium tempo with some quieter passages especially during transitions. Guitar sometimes fills the passage in acoustic style. Keyboard plays a very important to provide the symphonic atmosphere with excellent solo at the back. At the ending part, the music truly moves into a quiet passage, exploring the dark nature of keyboard sounds and effects. If you listen to this ending part using a decent sound system, you can find the beauty of various sounds produced. Excellent track!

It continues seamlessly to "Pins and Needles" through a nice guitar fills augmented with keyboard. When voice line enters, the keyboard plays nice melody at the back while guitar serves as rhythm section. This short track is positioned to set an atmosphere for the next uplifting "Double Vision" that starts with a stunning guitar work in an increasing tempo. The keyboard work by Clive Nolan is really serving its purpose to create excellent and melodic fills during transition. It is sometimes combined with an organ sound. It's an excellent track that has become the band's classic now!

"Elea" is a short instrumental piece with great guitar fills and solo that wonderfully sets the atmosphere of the next great track "The Hanging Tree" which begins with an acoustic guitar fills and vocal line "Walk along the waterfall ." ugh .. man .. what a great opening! The keyboard solo then follows augmented with acoustic guitar fills - it reminds me to Genesis' "Entangled" even though it's a different music. The music then blows with the mark of drum and combination of guitar solo and keyboard. I have to admit that the guitar solo that sounds at the background augmented with a keyboard work in symphonic style has enriched the textures of this song. This part is killing me, really! "Take me to the hanging tree. There is a boy in the light. And he's staring at me. Take me to the hanging tree. It's the place that I come from. Walk along the waterline. Reach across the salt and the sand. Moving deeper into the land. I'm falling ... Falling down again!". Oh my God . it's a great ending!

The music suddenly rises up with simple riffs combined with bass and sound effects in "A State of Grace". It's an uplifting track with excellent rhythm section and guitar solo and great keyboard. Paul Wrightson does his vocals excellently - filled with soaring guitar by John Mitchell. "Don't look for comfort in this house of mine .." .. it's a very melodic lyrical part! Thumbs up!

"Blood Red Room" is an atmospheric short track that serves as an introduction part of the next energetic and uplifting track "In The Blink of An Eye" that starts with heavy and complex music dominated by keyboard. It turns quieter with the entrance of vocal line and followed by wonderful piano sounds. This track has a powerful nuance and rich in compositions - it blends all instruments into a tight composition. The composition has made this album as a cohesive prog album that sets a high standard and makes others hard to emulate or follow.

"(Don't Forget to) Breathe" is another masterpiece with tight composition performed in a rocking style. The guitar melody at intro helps accentuate the vocal layer and both produce such a great harmony sound. The short guitar solo in the middle is truly stunning ..

"Serenity" is a John Mitchell's exploration in the vein of Gilmour. His guitar style is fantastic. Definitely, this track reminds me to Pink Floyd music. It flows to "Tears In The Rain" with a mellow intro exploring the piano sounds. The vocal line enters smoothly with "This is a clown's tale .". When the music reaches the part where the lyrical part says "Why do we all fail to see .." it demonstrates the band's genius in creating catchy and killing melody. But that's just the beginning. As the music turns into guitar solo in approx min 2:40, I can feel another killing melody created by the band. Then, it reaches its peak when the lyric says "Don't offer sympathy when you've just walked away ." ughhh . man . it's really killing me! (In fact, while I'm writing this review, Agung has just sent me an SMS emulating this lyrical part . Bingo!).

It flows seamlessly to "Enemy Without" with a mellow and ambient vocal opening. The music than enter in its full stream in an upbeat tempo. It's kind like a happy mood track. "No! Don't let this child die here!" is a memorable part. This track flows wonderfully with some transitions into quieter passage and it ends up with a rhythm section of "A Crack in The Ice" and shortly continues to next track.

"Running From Damascus" lends itself part of melodies and rhythm section from the album opener "A Crack In The Ice" but it is composed in more complex textures incorporating many sounds from various instruments. The music is performed in relatively fast tempo with a very tight composition. Musically, this track should be used as concluding tune as the end of this track closes nicely with "Open your eyes!".

Unfortunately, the album still continues with other ending track "The Visitor". Parts of "The Hanging Tree" is also incorporated in this track at ending part. To me, I find the concept has become "disjointed" with the change in nuance to this concluding track. Don't get me wrong, this track is wonderful though. But, it would be better if it's positioned before "Running From Damascus" (IMHO). That's just a thought from a listener. Overall, it's a an excellent album, musically.

My Recommendation

BUY THE CD! You won't regret it at all. After all, neo prog music is I think much more accessible compared to any other subgenre of prog rock. You don't need to understand what parog music is all about. Just enjoy the CD from start to end and experience yourself how the band will bring you. I find there are many great and memorable tracks in this album but I never repeat the track in the middle of my entire spin. Usually, I repeat only after I've listened to it its entirety first and after that repeat the favorite tracks. It's basically an album that you would enjoy from start to end continuously. Keep on progging!

Yours progressively,

GW - Indonesia

Notes: A Personal Reflection (It's my personal experience - you do not need to read it).

I find this album is contemplating. I think, prog music is the best media for contemplating our mind that sometimes (mostly!) at the end would produce innovative idea(s). This is not about meditation. It's about how the melodies, the sounds and nuances of prog music like this album can help elevate our emotions. I did experience it myself, that's why I'm sharing it with all of you. Sometime in 1999, when I was working in consumer banking sector, I was assigned a challenging job in two "Six Sigma" (it's a Quality type of things - for those of you who are not aware of it) projects. When the projects that I facilitated reached a stumbling block - the team had a lot of ideas but failed to formulate a robust recommendation to the business - the music of this album has helped me a lot to rediscover myself on reformulating the course of actions that I should take to "rejuvenate" the team. I listened to it during off-duty hours - in the evening - while sipping a cup of coffee. It's not only this album, sometimes Marillion first 4 albums. I don't know why, I always found new ideas while listening to this kind of music; and I brought it back to the team the next day. You know what? The two projects that I facilitated won the no. 1 and no. 2 prizes of that year project accomplishment. Hey, it's the team that made it happen, not me - because I was just a facilitator . But, the music of this kind had helped me a lot to regain my spirit to facilitate my team. It's a true story of how prog has created impacts to life .indirectly (of course).

Report this review (#1011)
Posted Saturday, February 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars By this album Arena has suddenly and concretely changed their style: after those very melodic, typically "Neo"-kind guitar and keyboard solos the band went into metallic vein of musical performance with sound occupation of distorted guitars, exploiting drum-bar and more accompaniment-sort (than soloing) keyboards. The themes of the bands lyrics were also a bit changed: after fantastic and pompous tales, Arena has performed more realistic and actual texts about dangers and problems of nowadays.

It's hard to say was THE VISITOR the improvement in musical sense or not. In one hand, you won't find so brilliant and luxury single tracks (like Valley Of The Kings, Solomon or Empire Of A Thousand Days) here one the album, melodies and arrangements has gone more hookless and not so pompously-nice, but in other hand, this is the conceptual album and (God Heavens!) there are any "Crying For Help No More"! This is the end of "Cryings"!

Though, once again, THE VISITOR album is not less without disappointed moments (fortunately, there's a minimum of them to compare with other Arena's records I've heard). In some tracks I have got annoying portions of absolutely usual average hard'n'heavy (but not Progressive!) - at first I mean A Crack In The Ice and Enemy Without - the kind of typical heavy-metal tracks with monotonous rhythms and primitive refrains - and may this be called Progressive? I guess NO. Some other moments are also too simple and usual for my own tastes and requests (Tears In The Rain, Running From Damascus and the title track, which is the last one on THE VISITOR album).

Well, at least the whole impression of the album is good. The record is very tight and adequate to its conception. Speaking about highlights I'd like to admit nice and fresh (with very good guitar work) Pins And Needles/Double Vision, also a more depressive The Hanging Tree and a short but diverse A State Of Grace.

After all I need to admit that THE VISITOR seems like the most quintessential album by Arena, containing as many elements typical for the debut album, as heavier and "colder" sound characterizing the later records by the band.

Report this review (#1015)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Great and magnificent album by my favourite band coming out of the 1990's. some alterations in the line-up, and probable a conscious change of style Arena set out to find a new sound, and with the atraction of a new guitarist they manage to do just that. Leaving behind the all too obvious Marillion sound (though that was a really great experience) and incorporating a more contemporary sound aswell as adding a 70's symphonic and atmospheric element to their sound (Camel, but mostly Pink Floyd springs to mind).

The visitor is a conceptual album, rich in textures, mood changes, haunting meandering keyboards, soaring guitars and great vocals.

work in progress: will be continued at a later date, need more inspiration sorry guy's and girls.

stay tuned to this site and discover the full meaning of the word bliss.

Just buy the album, listen it and conclude with me, this is the best thing since sliced bread. ABSOLUTELY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Report this review (#1012)
Posted Friday, February 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Just as it seemed that nothing really exciting could be expected from Arena, new guitarist John Mitchell lifts this band to a somewhat higher level. The overall playing generates far more suspense than on previous records. The songs are more developed and sound fresher this time. Suddenly, Arena goes professional. The first half of this conceptual record never looses its speed and has enough twists and turns to gain interest. The eponymous closing track, quite derivative from vintage Genesis, should however have come sooner since the second half threatens to become boring. Nonetheless it seems that The Visitor has saved Arena's day.
Report this review (#1013)
Posted Sunday, February 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I concur with many other reviewers and Arena connoisseurs on that "The Visitor" is the band's apex. With newcomer Mitchell as guitarist, Arena achieved a rockier sound without losing a single ounce of their neo-prog drive: Nolan restrains himself a bit regarding a less increased delivery of solos, but his synths are still the main nucleus of Arena's sound, since Nolan shows a special preoccupation for multiple layers, eerie effects, and massive orchestrations. Although the structure of the compositions tends to be less complex than on Arena's previous two efforts, the melodic richness is superior, and so is the cohesiveness of the instrumentalists' interplays - specially, Nolan, Jowitt and Nolan. Meanwhile, Wrightson - the best Arena vocalist ever - delivers his singing with genuine passion, fluidly combining his emotional timber (sometimes, even whispering or getting pretty close to whining. in a good way) with the ambiences and ideas conveyed by the melodies and harmonic bases. Musically, the band has developed their Genesis-like melodic approach and added a touch of "The Wall"-era Pink Floyd, particularly in the most dramatic moments. This is a concept-disc revolving around death, pain and redemption, with a religious twist and a (supposedly) serious moral concern regarding the value of self-knowledge as the ultimate goal of a human being: this certainly helps to make the lyrics crucially important in the album's general context. The accomplishment of a well-crafted internal connection in the repertoire is another major asset in a concept-album, and Arena does a great job at this, too. The explosive opener 'A Crack in the Ice' sets the mood and the main basic idea for the entire album to follow: the synth and bass 6/8 sequence that lies on the basis of the song's main motif will recurrently reappear throughout "The Visitor" - pay close attention to the final part of the closing namesake track, which feels quite solemn and creepy, at the same time. Other recurring motifs come and go and get revisited every now and then in order to reinforce the repertoire's internal integrity. The most up tempo numbers are usually the closest to the old Arena ('Double Vision', 'In the Blink of an Eye', 'Running from Damascus'), although you may also find some sort of indulgent AOR stuff cooking ('Tears in the Rain', 'Enemy Without'). On the other hand, Arena's epic side is delivered in a more dramatic fashion, splendorous and explosive, but not as exulting: 'The Hanging Tree' and 'The Visitor' are the finest examples of this factor, and I suspect, this is where the current near-prog metal status of Arena's sound was being born, and where Mitchell was obtaining a major role in the band's creativity. These two tracks are also, IMHO, the most notable ones in the album. The three instrumentals are interludes, that is, their relevance should be valued against the previous or following track: the Camel-esque candour of 'Elea' is a prelude to the emotional storm comprised in 'The hanging Tree'; the thriller-like synth effects of 'Blood Red Room' anticipate the massive display of energy delivered by 'In the Blink of an Eye'; the eerie guitar solo of 'Serenity' precedes the stylish sadness of 'Tears in the Rain'. I really love this album: I don't see it as a masterpiece, but definitely, this is an excellent item from the 90s prog scene.
Report this review (#1022)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Excellent album from Arena production, join together with "Contagion". I say that because both albums are full of passion, force, jamming and gorgeus instrumental compositions. "The Visitor" is a jewel from nineties. The beggining with "A crack in the ice" have a lot of dark projected by keyboards. Follow the entrance "Pins and needles" and "Double vision" emotional songs. To me "Elea" and "The hanging tree " are highlights join to "The visitor" (last song) strong songs and instrumentation very good..... the remain songs are good but never like the preview I told before. Amazing work of Nolan in keyboards, Jowitt in bass and Mitchell (as always) in guitars. Paul Wrightson take the power in armonious voices different tunes doing his task . The same to Pointer bassically drumming I think he could be better. Finally 4 stars!!!
Report this review (#47800)
Posted Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, now we can see the sound of Arena really mature. If we could not avoid to name Marillion each time we talked about the previous albums, this one is going away from that influence, but not loosing quality at all!!! Otherwise, the album is perfect, a concept record, full of darkness and sadness. The Pink Floyd influences are more clear here, in the acoustic moments or the solo guitars, but also I must say Arena begins to create their own style. The sounds are shorter than the previous albums (in fact, there is no an epic long song here) but all of them are joined like part of an unity. "The Hanging Tree" is probably the best song of the album, tragical in each one of their seven minutes. And "State of Grace" sounds like we are hearing to the Evil Himself. All the songs are good, but is important to say is very difficult appreciate them if we hear each one of them like an island. Each song has got sense into the album and that is the way they must be appreciated. John Mitchell appears for first time in the guitar player role, and honestly is the perfect one for Arena. He is not just a guitar player; he helps to build the Arena sound before just build by Pointer and Nolan.
Report this review (#51055)
Posted Monday, October 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars Hardly genre's milestone, but surprisingly popular among progheads. I guess it's all because of the concept nature of the album, but making a concept album is sometimes also a way to throw good and average songs together. Clive Nolan is known for releasing a lot of stuff of that kind, and though I like his SHADOWLAND material, I must admit that with years he has become more and more predictable. "The Visitor" was the first work from him which I really didn't like; I still tend to think this is some kind of "our own "Misplaced Childhood"!" from Pointer/Nolan, but it's definitely weaker (due to loads of filler). Not recommended, it can make you think the whole Neo-Prog genre is this way boring and plain
Report this review (#52303)
Posted Wednesday, October 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Arena's last studio album of the millennium has them treading into emotionally charged and conceptual territory. What you'll also find on this album is a new guitarist in John Mitchell (who had appeared on the live albums after Pride), who right from the get go shows a new style in the Arena sound. This album is a lot more guitar oriented, and the resulting sound is a lot heavier than the previous two albums (I haven't heard them yet, but from what I can gather they were more keyboard oriented). This isn't saying that the album doesn't have much keyboard presence; the keyboards are still ever prominent, with many dynamic and fitting performances from Nolan. This album also would mark the end of Paul Wrightson's stint with Arena, the next album would feature their current vocalist Rob Sowden, and Wrightson leaves with a bang, giving great performances overall.

The album opens with a bang in A Crack in the Ice, from the beginning you can hear the group going into heavier territory. Strong 3/4 riffing are complimented by soaring leads from Mitchell. It's a very strong opener that sets the tone and atmosphere for the entire album., although the ambient outro that takes up around two minutes could have been cut out. Pins and Needles has some strong Steve Rothery type riffing and majestic leads from both Nolan and Mitchell. Double Vision is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It has incredible 5/4 riffing and some great keyboard work from Nolan. But the best section comes with the 5/4 vocal part, "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide", add in some alternating 6/4 then 7/4 interludes and you have yourself another strong piece. Elea is a short, atmospheric instrumental with very Tony Banks-esque mellotrons and solid rhythmic work from Jowitt and Pointer. Add in some great leads from Mitchell and you have yourself a nice little interlude. The Hanging Tree, probably my favorite track on the album, has a nice sense of evolution and progression. Beginning as a folky, acoustic number with lush multi-harmony vocals, around the third minute it becomes a heavy piece with a very doomy, forbidding feel. Add some superb vocals from Wrightson and impeccable keyboard work from Nolan and this song is just perfection.

State of Grace begins with steady notes and Floydian esque sound effects. Overall, though, I think this song is more filler than anything else, despite some interesting melodies and arrangements. Blood Red Room is a short interlude that acts as more of an introduction to the next song, the more uplifting piece In the Blink of an Eye. In the Blink of an Eye has some very dynamic keyboard fills from Nolan and some steady rhythm work. This song has some great moving bass work from Jowitt and he really breaks away from the pack on this piece. (Don't Forget to) Breath begins with distorted drums and synthesizers coupled with a floating lead from Mitchell. The chorus is also pretty cool, with the words, "my friend" repeated many times within a short time span. Serenity is a short guitar solo from Mitchell with some great synthesizer chords from Nolan underneath it. It has that Shine On You Crazy Diamond feel, really Floydian and really spacey, but just pure magic. Tears in the Rain begins a majestic yet somber piano motif that breaks into a nice group riff after a nice vocal section. Enemy Without is one of the more simplistic pieces on the album with a catchy chorus and some nice harmony vocals as well as a nice overall chord progression with some nice hammered chords from the guitar. Running From Damascus repeats the Crack in the Ice theme and is mainly instrumental, with the droning beat that began the album being a prominent musical theme in the song. Then album ends with The Visitor with some dynamic leads from Mitchell and an overly epic feel that really ends the album on a high note. Also worth noting is the Floydian type ending in which the droning beat that began the album also ends the album.

In the end, The Visitor is a stellar album, that has it's faults, but on the whole is a pretty interesting piece. Arena would once again go into the concept territory with their 2002 album Contagion, but this marks their first album that really has a conceptual flow to it. Still, though, you can't go wrong with this albums. Fans of groups like Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, and Jadis will be right at home with this album, and even some prog metal fans may like this album as well. But for me, I think this is an excellent album, though is no masterpiece. 4/5.

Report this review (#84941)
Posted Thursday, July 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album rarely stays away from my CD player long enough to allow any dust to settle!!

The ingenuity and thought that has gone into this offering shows throughout the whole album. The only query comes from the start and end with the annoying effects growling, this is even more apperent at the end when THE VISITOR the albums title track bursts into a sublime soaring guitar solo only to be cut short by the reintroduction of this special effect!! And then to cap it we have an insistent unwavering note like that of a heart monitor when deceased.

However the rest of the album is absolutely superb, each of the tracks flow to the next with consumate ease, themes are revisted so that whole album has a continuity and as said earlier thought.

Well recomended - in fact from the neoprog aspect essential listening.

If it wasn't for the annoying start and finish this would deservedly been awarded 5 stars and as 4.5 is not available I'll have to settle for the 4 (Shame about that effect...)

Report this review (#91734)
Posted Sunday, September 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you want to hear this kind of prog at its very best then there can't be many better places to start. There really isn't a bad track but if I have to pick a highlight The hanging tree or Enemy without would be it. It is the kind of album I never get tired of listening to and can only suggest you give it a try to find out for yourself. A masterpiece.
Report this review (#100247)
Posted Friday, November 24, 2006 | Review Permalink

I must say, my experience with music, and the evolution of my musical tastes, has to be among the very weirdest. It all involves progressive rock in one form or another, but it's still, as I said, strange. I started out not liking music at all, until, one day, by completely random chance, I happened upon the Alan Parsons Project (classified here as prog related, though their closest link with prog is that Parsons was the engineer of Dark Side of the Moon. ever hear that name anywhere before?). Actually, it didn't happen quite like that. Shortly before I discovered the Alan Parsons Project, I found Tom Lehrer, a brilliant non-prog satirist that is, to this day, the only non-prog music I listen to. After discovering the Alan Parsons Project, I was led to Pink Floyd, who I initially found interesting but not nearly as good as my heroes (the Alan Parson Project). I was, at that point, an Alan Parsons Project completionist, and had nearly completed my Alan Parsons Project collection (and even started venturing into his post-project work). One day, Dark Side of the Moon just clicked. I had several hours to burn, and I spent them listening to Dark Side of the Moon four times in a row. I had a new favorite album. As I entered completionist mode for Pink Floyd (whose discography I actually did manage to complete), my interest in the Alan Parsons Project began to wane (and now I cannot bear to listen to them, even their proggy first three efforts). Pink Floyd was, for quite a while, the only band I would listen to. Through Echoes, however, I was turned onto the idea of epic songs, and from there I discovered Close to the Edge and 2112. Neither of them struck a chord, and I ignored them for a while. At some point along the line, I chanced upon the word progressive rock. Upon realizing that Pink Floyd fit under this designation (keep in mind that I was Obsessed with a capital O with Pink Floyd at the time), I knew I had to explore it further (to tell the truth, there are only so many times you can listen to Meddle and Wish You Were Here on repeat before they grow old). Through the magic of Wikipedia, I found Jethro Tull (Thick as a Brick became my favorite album for quite some time), King Crimson (their debut), Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (Tarkus), Genesis (Foxtrot and the Lamb), Yes (whose Close to the Edge I already owned, remember), Rush (same as Yes, but for 2112), Van Der Graaf Generator (Pawn Hearts), and Gentle Giant (Octopus).

And in this mess of discovering new and exciting bands, I discovered progarchives, a godsend of a site if there ever was one. From there, my tastes skyrocketed outwards as I discovered more of the bands I mentioned and plenty of new bands. I mostly stuck to the major bands of prog, nothing too adventurous, but this was a whole new world for me (a nod to all you Aladdin fans). I soon resolved to try every progressive rock sub-genre. Some succeeded in winning my favor, others didn't. Interestingly, both extreme ends of the spectrum, the "easy listening" of Neo and progressive electronic and the "hard listening" of Krautrock, Zeuhl, and RIO/avant prog were not to my taste. And then Tago Mago happened. My tastes started to hone in on music in the style of my new favorite album, leading me into Krautrock, Zeuhl, and RIO/avant prog. It became the main plus for music to challenge me, not to entertain me (though, at that time, the two were intertwined). Through Krautrock, I slowly got into progressive electronic (whose major artists: Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Klaus Schulze, were all Krautrock artists at the start of their careers).

Have I lost you yet? No? Good. Because here's where this all gets relevant. I assumed, after my tastes clearly had expanded into the "hard listening" areas of progressive music, that neo-prog was a lost cause. How wrong I was. Instead, it seemed that my tolerance for constant challenge in music ran out, and that I needed some great melodious music to combat overexposure to the overt "out there" traits of albums such as Tago Mago. Neo prog supplied this. I'm still no expert in the genre, as I only own four albums in it (Script for a Jester's Tear, The Masquerade Overture, Dark Matter, and, of course, The Visitor, though I hope to get more soon), but I either already enjoy or am starting to enjoy each one of them. Dark Matter is my favorite, approaching but not quite reaching masterpiece status, and running right behind it is The Visitor by Arena. Though this may (and probably will) change as my knowledge of neo-prog deepens, The Visitor is currently my second favorite neo-prog album.

Even from the time I didn't like neo-prog, I still had one major issue from its detractors. While early IQ music, and probably some others, too, was obviously derivative of Genesis, the key works of the genre simply are not. Script For a Jester's Tear, The Visitor, Dark Matter, and The Masquerade Overture are all vastly different from anything Genesis ever did. What we call their music is not derivative, what we call it is influenced. If you want music derivative of Genesis, Yes, and the other famous seventies progressive rock bands, you need look no further than Spock's Beard, The Flower Kings, and their kin. The neo-prog bands, however, have created a sound that is entirely their own, and that does not owe its existence to anyone but themselves.

Now that I've cleared up that little issue, I will finally get around to actually talking about the album in question, Arena's The Visitor. The obvious highlight of this album is the stellar guitar work. The solos are absolutely incredible every step of the way, and even when the guitar isn't soloing, it's still just as good and just as essential. Alongside this are the lyrics. While neo-prog lyrics generally aren't my favorite (I doubt I'll every truly understand why neo-prog bands feel the need to write obscure and impenetrable concept albums), I cannot deny that the lyricist here (Wrightson?) is very talented. This is most noticeable on tracks such as A Crack in the Ice and The Hanging Tree (which just happen to be my favorite two songs on the album). Also, one last thing before I discuss individual tracks; when I first rated this album, I tried to look at and analyze each song individually. What I now realize, however, is that the songs don't really stand up out of context of the album, and so songs like Pins and Needles, which I don't particularly like as a stand-alone song, sound perfectly fine and even good in context.

The album opens with A Crack in the Ice, one of the best two songs on the album. It begins with some ominous sounds before Mitchell blasts in with a killer guitar solo that really sets the tone for the album (it will end with a guitar solo, too). After two minutes, when the lyrics come in, we get to see just how good this song is. The lyrics are excellent, the melodies catchy and yet intelligent, and the chorus is even great (keep in mind that I generally hate choruses with all my heart). This is neo-prog near its very best (I say near because The Hanging Tree is much better). Pins and Needles is a rather mellower track with nice melodies, and, as I said, isn't anything special except in context. With Double Vision, however, things start to pick up significantly, opening with some great guitar work and nice lyrics. It's not perfect, but it works in context, much like Pins and Needles.

Elea is a very short, spacey track, opening with a minute of soft, mellow pleasantness before ending with another great guitar solo. Like the two songs before it, it really only stands up in context. What it does best is to introduce the next track, The Hanging Tree, which is up with Marillion and IQ's very best (Forgotten Sons for Marillion and anything off Dark Matter, except Red Dust Shadow, for IQ). The Hanging Tree features the greatest lyrics on the album, especially at the very beginning, though they never trail off in quality. The opening is acoustic and beautiful, in start contrast to the dark and somber lyrics, but this dichotomy work to perfection. The song builds perfectly, full of great melodies and guitar work, and it truly embodies the entire neo-prog subgenre of progressive rock. One thing I will note is that, for every neo-prog band I know, I have read reviews complaining about the vocals. I find no problem at all with any of the vocals (except for some of Nick Barrett's for Pendragon, but even then, he's a plenty good vocalist). Anyway, the vocals here are among the best on the album.. The ending of this song is emphatic and powerful, and this is a song that is truly amazing in every sense of the word.

A State of Grace is as good a follow-up to The Hanging Tree as anyone could hope, aggressive and with wonderful lyrics. It doesn't progress much, but fits perfectly in the context of the album. Blood Red Room is a soft track, much like Elea, but without the guitar solo. Instead, it features some spoken words that help to further the concept of the album (whatever that might be). Yet again, I have to say that, while it doesn't sound impressive, it works in the context of the album. In the Blink of an Eye is another highlight of the album, opening aggressively and featuring more great lyrics. It has great energy to go along with its great melodies. While it's not on the level of A Crack in the Ice or The Hanging Tree, it does keep up the quality of the album, and is a great song, only made better by the context of the album. (Don't Forget To) Breathe, apart from the appalling title, is actually a very good song, just below the level of In the Blink of an Eye. It has an industrial feel to it, and this, when combined with the melodies you expect from neo-prog, creates a very nice effect.

Serenity is another highlight of the album. It has a very Floydian guitar solo that starts it out, as the title would suggest, serenely, but still with energy and a life of its own, and then the song itself starts to build, causing it to stand out as one of the better tracks on the album. It is a guitar solo for all two minutes, but it's a great one. Tears in the Rain, which follows Serenity, is even better, and is the one track that comes closest to reaching A Crack in the Ice and The Hanging Tree (well, along with the title track). It's a soft song, keyboard dominated, and features what are, along with those of The Hanging Tree, the best lyrics on the album. There is a vintage symphonic sound here, and that impresses me, since it doesn't sound the least bit derivative. Like every other one on this album, the guitar solo is astounding, and it gives new life to this song that didn't really need it, but that used this energy to its own advantage. Enemy Without comes next, and is yet another great song. It features a great neo-prog instrumental bit that always grabs me, and the melodies are catchy and intelligent at the same time.

Running From Damascus opens energetically, building up to some excellent lyrics backed by nice singing, leading up to a reprise of the chorus from the opening song. If I could decipher the concept of the album, I'd guess that that it was starting to come around full circle. This song is great on its own, but it's even better as an intro to the closing title track. The Visitor is the only song on this album other than Tears in the Rain to stand up to The Hanging Tree and A Crack in the Ice. The soft opening and ensuing three minutes seem to take the album out with a whimper when, bang, in comes the greatest guitar solo on the album (giving meaning to the phrase "saving the best for last").

As I said, I'm still discovering neo-prog, but of what I know so far, this album is among the best. I strongly recommend this album as a possible intro to the genre (along with Dark Matter). If you don't like it, give it a short rest and come back to it, and maybe it will make more sense to you then. Allow your tastes to change some, or do whatever you need to do to get into an album. This is, as Easy Livin said, "a visitor every home should have." Highly recommended.

Report this review (#106082)
Posted Friday, January 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's not for nothing that "The Visitor" is ARENA's best rated album on Prog Archives. This is probably their finest piece of work! A masterpiece of (neo) progressive rock? I would say YES!

It is also the last ARENA studio album on which Paul Wrightson is singing as from "Immortal?" Rob Sowden took his place. I must admit Rob Sowden's voice fits ARENA's music quite well, but my personal favour goes out to Paul Wrightson. What a magnificent voice he has!

About this concept album: the 1st track "A Crack In The Ice" immediately is one of my ARENA favourites. The track starts with a pumping bass line dooming up out of nothing. Then the lead guitar kicks in and we already know that what we have here is going to be an interesting album! Especially when hearing Paul Wrightson sing: wow! Many tempo changes make this track very interesting and emotional. Great one!

"Pins and Needles" is a nice short track and "Double Vision" has some great drumming and weird double voices in it: hence "Double Vision"? "Elea" is a short instrumental track gently flowing over in the masterpiece of this album: "The Hanging Tree". Sung with so much emotion: simply beautiful!

The next track "A State Of Grace" is a more up-tempo one. The lyrics are really nice too: "Don't look for comfort in this house of mine, don't ask for mercy at my image or my shrine. Don't seek forgiveness at this house of mine, don't build a temple here and wait for me to walk into the fire, the fire, the fire, the fire!"

Next track is a short instrumental one followed by "In The Wink Of An Eye" another nice composition. Two other good tracks follow and after that another instrumental. After this comes "Tears In The Rain" about a clown crying in the rain. What an emotional track, especially the haunting almost crying guitar solo is beautiful!

I can continue describing the last few tracks of "The Visitor", but hey, what's the point? This entire album is gold and if you aren't familiar with ARENA or PENDRAGON yet, this is the way to start! Definitely a > 4.5 stars rating.

Report this review (#107616)
Posted Monday, January 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars IMO, for such a lyrically rich album and excellent guitarist, the only let down is the vocalist. Paul Wrightson sounds like he has come straight from a theatrical background and has not adapted his vocals to the genre. Very well constructed concept album (obvious dues paid to PF 'track 10 Serenity') with soaring guitar and excellent keyboard by Clive Nolan and a high production standard, I cannot help thinking that had they considered the type of vocalist they were going to use for the overall dynamic, this album could have reached a much wider audience because there are songs on this album that had the capacity to do that.
Report this review (#109402)
Posted Monday, January 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars I suppose i'm in the minority here as I prefer "Immortal ?" to this one. I was surprised at how many times I was reminded of PINK FLOYD.Thankyou Hibou for recommending this album to me, your reviews and opinions are held in high esteem by me as you know. 6 of the 14 tracks have mellotron on them and it's kind of funny to see them thank in the liner notes a couple of guys who restored the mellotron they bought off of Martin Orford (IQ). This is some sort of concept album about an angry (inside) guy who falls through the ice, and we hear his thoughts on his life and different things as he's drowning. Then his rescue by the visitor (read the lyrics in "Running From Damascus").

"A Crack In The Ice" is a great way to start the record, especially the drums and guitar melody 2 minutes in. "Pins And Needles" is a spacey, slower paced song that blends into "Double Vision" which is an uptempo song with lots of keys as the drums pound away. I like the guitar melody that comes and goes. "Elea" is one of my favourites on this record with waves of mellotron crashing the soundscape as the guitar soars over top. Nice. "The Hanging Tree" is my favourite. It opens with acoustic guitar and a haunting background. Fragile vocals come in and the synths sound like FLOYD, as do the guitar melodies later on. "A State Of Grace" is a bombastic song that rants against religious hypocrites (himself ?). "Blood Red Room" is a short spacey song with a monologue.

"In The Blink Of An Eye" bursts forth with keys and drums in a frenzy that slows down when vocals arrive. "(Don't Forget To) Breathe" is a catchy mid paced tune with some nice guitar solos throughout. "Serenity" is another great song with an atmospheric FLOYD-like song with some amazing guitar. "Tears In The Rain" is a ballad with piano and vocals and it ends with mellotron as it blends into "Enemy Without" with more mellotron. "Running From Damascus" is a great sounding, upbeat song with some more great guitar and fast paced drums. I'd like to know who is the visitor. And why is Damascus mentioned ? And is the guy who fell through the ice the religious hypocrite in "A State Of Grace"? In the Bible Paul (religious hypocrite) met Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus, and got saved. Any connection ? The final song "The Visitor" is a reflective song with mellotron and some beautiful soaring guitar. A good way to end the album.

This album and the next one ("Immortal ?") are both worth checking out.

Report this review (#111944)
Posted Tuesday, February 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars As with most Arena albums, "Visitor" is somewhat a guilty pleasure. It has all the pompous synth, extended solos, and mystical lyrics of prog from yester-year, and even though the band does very little that hasn't been done before-- they are sure fun to listen to!

"Visitor" features excellent playing and songs throughout, with more monstrous solos and emotive melodies than should be allowed in an hour of music. Although Wrightson's voice is more than a little extravagant (i.e. goofy), it probably won't stop you from singing along. The songs themselves show lost of variety and flow well into each other, building nicely to a grandiose finale which will leave art-rock fans smiling and eager for more.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 3 Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

Report this review (#119023)
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album is certainly one of the best to come out in the 90s. It's still got that "flawless recording" sound that I don't particularly care for that came from the late 80s and most of the 90s. The snare drum is tuned a bit too low for my taste. But it can be easily overlooked by the quality of the songwriting and song construction. It's not so bad here as it is in majority of albums that came from that era.

Paul Wrightson has the best sound of all the vocalists to come through Arena. Although Rob Sowden can sometimes give him a run for his money. You can't compare with vocals on The Hanging Tree, (Don't Forget to) Breathe, Tears in the Rain and Running from Damascus. However I do prefer the version of Enemy Without on ARENA's live album Breakfast in Biarritz because the one on The Visitor is pure cheese. I really like Enemy Without a lot on Breakfast in Biarritz and obviously the transition from Tears in the Rain to Enemy Without to Running from Damascus is much better on The Visitor, but I've replaced my Enemy Without with the live version just because I don't feel like I have to skip it and can instead enjoy it.

Guitar work is outstanding. Even though it took me a while to warm up to the tones of the guitar, I found the work here to be intense and beautiful. John Mitchell is a very thoughtful and musical guitarist and really lays out expression on this album. I very much like the tracks Elea and Serenity the guitar work here is of high quality really feeling the music instead of just showing off. John definitely doesn't hold back when it comes to The Hanging Tree , (Don't Forget to) Breathe and Running from Damascus. And he stays consistent throughout the entire album.

The keys could use a bit of help. The atmosphere they provide are bit hazy at times and this is where the 'Studio Sound' really gets the band. Later releases you see this getting better but here it just doesn't happen. The keys ruins Enemy Without :(. It's just not something I see me driving down the straight with my windows rolled down blaring out of my speakers and by blaring I mean at a decibel level where communication isn't strained. It really isn't all bad, he's got chops and sometimes he comes out with really excellent sounds. The beginning of In the Blink of an Eye is excellent. But soon we get into video game sounding synths and not the fun sounding ones that came from regular Nintendo. Clive Nolan shines the most with Blood Red Room and does a great job providing and atmosphere in The Hanging Tree and the lead he uses for (Don't Forget to) Breathe also is worth mentioning. Both tracks wouldn't have been as good if that extra sound wasn't there to back it up.

Really, most of my problems with this album should probably be blamed on the guy who mixed the album. The composition skills and musical ability from the members of the band are exceptional. If the studio sound they came out with was better I'd give it 4.5 stars rounding up to 5 stars. Instead I must go with 3.5 rounding up to 4 stars

Report this review (#120716)
Posted Friday, May 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arena is rather a prolific band. A studio album every year (and good ones) as well as a great live one clearly indicated that Arena is creative and a great performer on stage. "The Visitor" will not deceive the fans.

The opener has a weird and long intro, but has this powerful Arena sound combined with a very catchy melody. The choir used for the finale adds a special touch to it and makes the song end as it started : weird. But great.

"Pins & Needles" is somewhat light after this. One of the weak tracks of the album (but there will be very few of this type). Arena will rectify this immediately with "Double Vision" and a wonderful guitar play from John. No double feeling about this one : it is a great track with a frenetic finale.

The band has used us in their first two albums to integrate some interlude tracks with the "Help" theme. After "Pins & Needles", one might think that the same happens here, but after sixty-six seconds of aerial and spacey keys, John will again display a fantastic and emotional guitar solo in "Eloa". Just fabulous.

Lots of emotions as well with "The Hanging Tree". Mellowish and almost folkish for almost three minutes, it will turn into a brilliant echo of guitar and keyboards. I think that John has never been so great. Combined with Clive, Arena really has a fantastic pair of musicians. Vocals are very strong as well and one could have been doubtful for their future with Rob's departure after this album. Arena will overcome this, but this is another story..."The Hanging Tree" is a jewel of a song.

After the weak "Blood Red Room", Arena is back and in great shape with "In The Blink of an Eye". A typical Arena track : this band has a very specific sound far to imitate other bands. They have their own style dominated by great keys (I really like Clive, be it with Arena, Pendragon or some other side projects - with Wakeman). Their heavy sound is well highlighted with "The Blink". Another very efficient song.

I have again to come back on the fabulous guitar job during "Tears in the Rain". At times, it reminds me the so emotional play of Latimer (Camel). John really makes the difference here.

The poppy sound of "Enemy Without" is very fresh : catchy chorus, simple structure, great rhythm. As far as rhythm is concerned, "Running From Damascus" is probably the highlight. What a drumming frenzy, my friend. An orgy of keys as well will flank the "Crack in the Ice" theme in the midle of the song.

Although the title track is a good one, it can not compete with the closing numbers from the previous Arena's albums. Great bombastic finale though.

There won't be long epic songs as we are used to on "Visitor" (no "Solomon", no "Fool's Gold " nor "Sirens). But a lot of great songs. Still, the tendancy for these transition tracks (four of which one and a half are made of great guitar moments : "Serenity" and "Eloa") ...

It is a very good album almost all the way through (even if it lasts for about an hour) but not enough for me to justify the masterpiece status. Four stars.

Report this review (#122146)
Posted Monday, May 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
1 stars Most of "neo prog" music suffers of lack of ideas, they like to play the '70 genesis music en the '90.

this album is an excellent example: Arena, the band with the great "contagion" try to do what genesis did 20 years ago, but without inspirations, without feeling, a boring album made for genesis fans, or, what in most of the cases is the same, a "neo prog" fan; poor performance, poor work in the vocals part, the musical part is boring as hell.

Conclusion: a boring album, monotone, and without ideas, 20 years later.

why just 1 star?, because, for me, everything which is a copy, and a bad one, deserves 1 star, if is just a boring copy, 2 star, this case is even worse than boring

Report this review (#128520)
Posted Saturday, July 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arena sure can come close to producing a masterpiece, but they just can't quite get there. I agree with other reviewers that this is as close as they have come, though I'm not ready to say they actually accomplished it. Simply put, there is a lot of very high quality music, but there are also too many boring parts, overly emotional (and a bit cheesy) bits, and too much ambient and atmospheric effects. It's a shame, but I do find it a challenge to listen to this album all the way through, although there are many highlights.

Exhibit A: A Crack in the Ice. Great music, but unfortunately it's sandwiched between three minutes of sound effects that really add nothing in my opinion. Therefore only half of the 7 minute running time is actually interesting. Too bad, because this anthem could be as effective as The Wall's opening if it could keep up the intensity a bit more.

Exhibit B: The Hanging Tree, The Visitor. As many have noted, The Hanging Tree is the best song on the album...but they haven't noted something glaring. The awesome guitar solo that SHOULD have been at the end of this song is actually just thrown on at the end of The Visitor. Who's idea was this? A producer? The band's? Regardless, it's a bad decision, in my opinion. The Hanging Tree builds slowly, pensively, and then when it's finally worked up to a powerful finale, it dies down. It's wasted momentum, and it happens in other places on this album as well.

Highlights: the aforementioned songs, Enemy Without/Running from Damascus. With these last two, Arena show that they CAN make a great transition, but for whatever reason they usually choose not to. Running from Damascus is an absolute freight train, and just when your head has exploded from the previous melody, it hits you with a new one. AWESOME stuff!

Lowlights: A State of Grace, (Don't Forget to) Breathe, Tears in the Rain. Slow, melodramatic, and uninspired.

If this album was cut down about 20 minutes (leaving out the boring stuff), I think this would qualify as a masterpiece. It's definitely worth your money, because there is some great material, but just not 60 minutes of it. Also, I have to say that this album sounds quite fresh from being out in 1998--certainly not something you can say about all (or the majority) of neo-prog.

Report this review (#139426)
Posted Thursday, September 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Very polished neo-prog

Now I'll be the first person to admit that neo progressive is hardly my favourite genre but in ARENA's The Visitor we have a very well written and polished progressive album that demands respect and praise. The guitar is one of the things that really sealed the deal for me very melodic and triumphant although the cliche popular metal thug tone on the rhythm can be quite off-putting at times.

There are a lot of great songs here starting off with the ominous 'Crack in the Ice'. The guitar really comes to the fore in 'Double Vision' and pretty much makes the song as it does in a lot of others. 'The hanging tree' introduces us to what will become a recurring motif in the album, it's a good song but it goes on a bit long. Things end very strongly with the frenetic 'Running from Damascus' with some furious guitar and synth soloing and with the closing triumphant title track with a gut wrenching solo lasting 3 minutes to round out the album.

A great prog album and this is coming from someone who generally dislikes the genre and modern prog metal bands, this is an absolute must for any neo-prog fan although it might not quite be to the tastes of people who are wary of cheesier, simpler prog.

Report this review (#145903)
Posted Friday, October 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The 96' EP ''Edits'' and the upcoming tour marked Keith More's last contributions to Arena, as he wanted to continue only as a session member.Thus, the rest of the band recruited new guitarist John Mitchell, who immediately had the desired impact.A first taste of him was taped on the 97' EP ''The cry'' (mostly with reworked versions of the Crying For Help-collection from the first two albums), followed by the first Arena live release ''Welcome to the Stage'' from the same year.In 1998 Arena return with their third full-length album ''The visitor'' on Verglas.

Mitchell was the complementary piece Arena missed to eventually create a true masterpiece of modern Progressive Rock/Neo Prog.Having definitely a sound of their own, the five-piece group from the English grounds offered a monumental work, where 16 tracks deliver a fantastic concept album with only majestic moments.''The visitor'' proposed a more grandiose, slightly heavier and more cinematic version of Arena.And it is an album, that clearly indicates the turn of 80's rather safe Neo Prog into the 90's stronger and more powerful style.Wrightson is certainly the man, who could sing in this excellent album, his voice is passionate, expressive, dynamic but also warm and delicate when needed.The musicianship is brilliant and strikes the listener from the very first listen.Powerful symphonic instrumentals, dreamy and spacey synth-drenched soudscapes, heavy guitar riffing next to the ultra-emotional melodic solos, memorable choruses, endless keyboard acrobatics and deep lyrical intensity.All these elements can be found in ''The visitor'' and additionally this third effort by Arena is characterized by a crystalline production.

This album seems to have haunted me for years.It is among my personal references when talking about top-notch Progressive Rock and I consider it no less than a pure masteriece of all ages.Extremely highly recommended to the whole spectrum of rock/metal fans and not only the proggers.

Report this review (#146580)
Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Back somewhere in the mid-nineties I was anxiously following the steps of this band because they had made two good albums, then they started to show some lack of inspiration and released The Cry which was a drama for me. Then a bit of radio silence for over a year. I was fearing the worse for this favourite band of mine and almost had given up hope until my cousin came up with the releaving announcement: Arena made a new album and it's really great. Something completely different he added.

And how right he was. They had left their concept of the first two albums and made a real concept album instead, how about that ? After a few listens it really blew me away. I mean I was used to the former concept which I had mixed feelings about because I hated The Cry but thanks to that I was really ready for something else. Their new guitarist John Mitchell was doing a really great job on this album (The Visitortrack at the end is awesome) but also the short interlude tracks are magnificent. My great preference for epic tracks was not satisfied with this album but for a change I am not really bothered with that. Somehow it wouldn't even fit in with this album. It's perfect as it is.

I am usually strict with the 5 star appraisal. There have to be at least 3 superb tracks on the album or the overall performance has to be outstanding. This is an obvious case of the second possibility. And there is also the fact that many masterpieces actually "breath" the masterpiece status. This one does. I think you can't get around it if you're honest. It's also by far the best Arena has done so far and since I'm at least a bit of a fan I think 5 stars is appropriate for the bands best.

Report this review (#149503)
Posted Thursday, November 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars The visitor is a real heavyweight in Neo prog, a concept album that stands up beyond Marillion's best works. This is the final album of Arena's first phase, but some of the elements of the second phase are present: this is a far darker work than the previous two albums. The visitor works very well as a cohesive units, and at its high points, (A crack in the ice, The hanging tree, The visitor) it competes with 70's concepts like the Lamb. As good as it gets for traditional neo-prog, with all the melodic hooks and emotive lyrics that you would expect. A must have for anyone interested in the genre.
Report this review (#152995)
Posted Wednesday, November 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars Is this the best Arena's album? Not, In my humble opinion. But it's still a great piece of work...

The album opens in a magnificent way, with 5 great tracks in a queue... But in the middle of the album, the music loses a little of orientation and quality. Some songs in this section are just forgettable in my opinion... Like the mediocre A State of Grace and the tasteless In the Blink of an Eye. The ending of the disc retrieves a little of strength, with the dark Don't forget to Breathe, the marvellous Tears in The Rain, the 80's reminiscent Enemy Without and the poggy Scaping from Damascus... The Visitor is not a bad ending, but not too impressive.

But with its flaws, the final impression that this album leaves is good... Really good. But in my opinion, this album is far in quality from the masterpiece "Contagion", the best album Arena's made by far. Even their debut, "Songs from the Lions Cage" is better, with its splendid epics. But "The Visitor" is still a strongly recommended album for neo-prog lovers...

Best songs: A Crack in the Ice (I just love the middle section, with the acoustic guitar...), Pins and Needles (just makes me happy every time I hear it...), Double Vison (really catchy track...), The Hanging Tree (the epic of the album...), Don't Forget to Breathe (the "Contagion" sound is here yet!) and Scaping from Damascus (the best Nolan's playing of the album...).

Conclusion: not as dark as their upcoming "Immortal?", not so epic as "Songs from the Lions Cage", and not so impressive and well builded as "Contagion"... "The Visitor" is a diverse, funny and sometimes brilliant album. If you like Arena, you must hear it... If you are not in the music of this people, I recommend you to start with "Contagion"... Is just better and easier to listen to. And of course, Rob Sowden is by far a better singer than Paul Wrightson, who is very similar in style as the previous Arena's singer, John Carson... A little too "Fishy".

Report this review (#153248)
Posted Friday, November 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars One of the better ones in this style of music IMO. I think this one works better than much of the other 80's style symphonic rock albums for two main reasons; it's darker and heavier. I personally think that bands like Pendragon and IQ work so hard at trying to make emotional music that they overdo it and it comes off sounding way too contrived and sappy. And while you could say that The Visitor itself touches on similar introspective, woe-is-me type self empathy, it adds to this a certain sense of darkness and even doom which, to my ears, is a welcome addition to a genre which overdid the weepy, I trusted you and you broke my heart stuff. I hear Queensryche influence on this album. And of course David Gilmour plays guitar on this one - (Oh really, that's not him??) I don't think any of the songs are bad here. The Hanging Tree is an extremely powerful piece of music with more soaring Gilmour(esque) soloing and a foreboding atmosphere. Number 2 on my list of best 80's symphonic rock, behind only Misplaced Childhood from Marillion. 3.5 stars easily.
Report this review (#163276)
Posted Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is a good Marillion album......not as good as 'Script For a Jesters Tear' but probably better than 'Clutching at Straws'......ooooh....wait a minute....this isn't a Marillion album?? Sure sounds like one......

There are some extra musical bits that are not a total rip off of I can't give this two stars.....I actually don't mind listening to the album...when in the mood for something that is not too complex..... but it is too derivative for me to give a rating any higher than 3 stars.

If you are a Marillion fan.....and wish that Fish never will probably enjoy this....

Report this review (#165091)
Posted Wednesday, March 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Let's start from the beginning:

The visitor opens with: "A crack in the ice" which I found repetitive and boring.

Pins and needles starts with an acoustic guitar and an entertaining keyboard, but I don't like the voice here.

Double vision: ˇamazing guitar solo! At this point the keyboard begins to be an essential part of the disc.

Then comes "Elea" a transitional song with a good guitar solo

"The hanging tree" is a solid song and has incredible keyboard soloing.

"The Hanging tree" is followed for very emotional songs that flow very well one to another, (Don't Forget To) Breathe, seems to me the top point of the album. This cycle finishes with "Serenity" and "Tears in the rain" which are just beautiful songs.

"Enemy without" starts the closing being a very different song, here you start to hear again the electronic sound from a crack in the ice.

"Running from Damascus" is a good and very aggressive song.

"The visitor" has the best solo in the entire album it fits perfectly, a great closing for a great record.

Report this review (#186870)
Posted Saturday, October 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Great album. A pretty good one to start with from Arena - it's got more long-ish tracks, like Pepper's Ghost or the first two, but lots of short ones like Contagion.

So, track by track:

1. A Crack In The Ice (7:25) - A good booming intro. Quite varied, great riffs.

2. Pins And Needles (2:46) - Quite tranquil, a good follow. Much lighter than most of the album.

3. Double Vision (4:24) - Starts off with an interesting keyboard riff, which is joined by great guitar stuff. Great vocals too.

4. Elea (2:36) - Instrumental, follows nicely from Double Vision. The guitar is the main focus here, excellent solo.

5. The Hanging Tree (7:09) - The most epic track, similar to The Visitor at the end. The opening is quiet, and it is mainly vocal. The highlight is the ending, with excellent singing, beautifully mirrored by the guitar solo (a shorter version than the one in The Visitor).

6. A State Of Grace (3:26) - Slightly odd/with hints of pop, this track, but the vocals are great, along with keyboards.

7. Blood Red Room (1:47) - Atmospheric track, mainly silent. Provides a good intro to Blink.

8. In The Blink Of An Eye (5:29) - Good keyboard intro and solo. Quite upbeat, in parts, but darker towards the end. Fades out nicely.

9. (Don't Forget To) Breathe (3:40) - A popular live track, though some may disagree with the start. The singing is excellent here, especially the monumental finish and guitar at the end. Sadly, it fades out.

10. Serenity (2:10) - A slow guitar solo. Very good indeed.

11. Tears In The Rain (5:43) - A piano driven ballad with a guitar solo as the centerpiece. Truly awesome.

12. Enemy Without (5:05) - Quietly fades from Tears, with excellent riffs, and a great chorus. The keyboards are also very prominent, plus the drums feature highly.

13. Running From Damascus (3:44) - Seamlessly merging from Enemy Without, providing a good, retrospective view of the album so far. Quite varied with good guitar and a nice false finish.

14. The Visitor (6:13) - Awesome. The first 3 minutes are good enough, acoustic. The last 3? One of the best damn guitar solos ever. Much like the vocal part of The Hanging Tree. Words cannot describe it.

So, yeah, a great album from Arena. It would feel a lot more progressive if the tracks were together in longer epics, but this is personal preference. There aren't really weak points here - strong points are The Hanging Tree, Blink Of An Eye, Breathe, Tears In The Rain, Enemy Without and The Visitor. Perhaps less neo-pogressive, more of a metal edge - it's much heavier than the last two albums, which some listeners may dislike.

Just don't ask me to choose between Contagion and The Visitor...

Report this review (#191005)
Posted Saturday, November 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
5 stars One of prog's great records of the 90's and beyond. With The Visitor Arena became a 'real' band, not just a Clive Nolan (Pendragon) project with ex original Marillion drummer Mick Pointer. Now with their best ever line up that included John Mitchel on guitar, John Jowitt (IQ, Jadis) on bass and vocalist Paul Wrightson they produced one of prog's masterpieces of all time. It was my first Arena CD and I was very impressed by its qualities.

This concept album about a man facing a near death experience is really thrilling, both musically and lyrically. Contrary to his work on Pendragon, Nolan writes all the words here, and shows he is very good on that, even if his writing is quite darker and heavier then anything Pendragon ever done. The music is also has a bit of a metal edge thanks to Mitchel's style, but not really prog metal. It just had more edge on it than your typical neo prog record. Nolan's keyboards are also more aggressive and blunt, although he is first and above all a prog musician. He knows how to balance delicacy and power.

After two good, if a little derivative, albums you can really say Arena has found their own sound and style. The CD drips with inspiration and conviction. As one long suite the album brings you into a journey through the story and it is quite a ride! Unlike most prog bands Arena concentrates in smaller pieces of music put together according to the stories feelings, so it is hard to point a highlight. But if I had to chose, certainly it would be the incredible and climatic The Hanging Tree (a classic!). But this is surely a CD to hear from beginning to end, without skipping any tracks (and paying atention to the story line). Production is very good and the booklet is also fine.

Not much more to say. Just listen and see for yourself. It was only infortunate that this incarnation of the band would be so short lived. Still they left us with the live Welcome To The Show (their best live album) and this masterpice of prog music. And this is a must have for any prog lover.

Report this review (#194424)
Posted Friday, December 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a great, great album. Powerful, dark and melodic altogether - a non-stop, continuous show of flashes of genius one after another. In my book, a milestone.

The Visitor was a shift of sound for Arena, whose two previous albums were purely neo-prog. Those were actually excellent, but starting from The Visitor, this band has pulled off the way to perfectly blend metal prog with neo-prog, and the overall musical result is quite a few steps above most of what is being done in the prog world.

The Visitor's 'visiting card' - the cover artwork - sets the stage right from the start with a worrying and intriguing picture which tells you just enough about what you are going to witness. Dark, mysterious compositions, showcasing the best melodical songwriting that one can ask for. Then, as it goes, The Visitor explores a number of creative themes, which all come full circle by the end during the fantastic Running from Damassens, a short but jaw- dropping track managing to tie up several of the album's themes in an amazingly coherent sequence, before it ends with a powerful musical moment of pure magic.

This album flows seemlessly with no low moment. Its cutting-edge and innovative sound, compositions and overall atmosphere set the bar higher for everyting after its release, and it happens to still be very hard to match its standard even for the best bands around. There is no surprise in that I happen to revisit The Visitor quite often. A masterpiece and essential by all means.

Report this review (#243856)
Posted Friday, October 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arena - The Visitor (1998)

The Awakening of a neo-giant.

As Arena was the first progressive group I discovered I was exposed to this album quite early in my progressive search. What is a concept album? What makes music progressive? Why these strange theatrical vocals? I had never heard early Marillion or Genesis and didn't know why. What I did know was that tracks like A Crack in the Ice and The Hanging Tree continued to make me shiver after repeated listenings.

Nowadays my affinity with the neo-prog genre is very low since I got into the classic prog era of '69-'75 and I only listen to vinyl records. But once in a while (when my pick-up cartridge is broken) I listen to my golden oldies, which are in fact more modern then my current favourites. The Visitor is one of them, though I thing Immortal? and Contagion are better.

Highlights on the Visitor are the guitar- and vocalparts on Crack in the Ice, the perfect guitar solo on Elea, every single note played on the Hanging Tree, the emotional Tears in the Rain, the fast and serious Running from Damascus and the comeback of the solotheme of The Hanging Tree on the Visitor track. All other tracks are quite good too. The album also has some problems. The production of some tracks isn't that good, mainly in the moment their are quick changes in the music. Also some simple tracks on the album aren't that essential. The clear link between this record and early Marillion can also be interpreted as a lack of an own sound. Others might see this as a continuation of something that was good in the past. My point of view lies in the middle.

Conclusion. A great neo-prog record with a nice concept that isn't too original, but acceptable as it is. Some moments could have been recorded better in my opinion, so I will not give the four star rating. A very strong three stars it is then! A classic of the genre.

Report this review (#255048)
Posted Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Arena's The Visitor seems to be the most popular album from this Neo-Prog band but I honestly don't see the appeal here. It's not that I generally dislike Arena since both Immortal? and Contagion are pretty solid releases which paved the way for my unsuccessful exploration of this album.

I realize that my previous comparison might seem unjust since The Visitor features Paul Wrightson on his last studio recording with the band while the next few releases have Rob Sowden on vocal duties. Still it's hardly Wrightson's performance that makes this a lesser release since he does a magnificent job with the material he has at his disposal. I believe that it's the lack of memorable compositions that ultimately brings the overall quality of this release a notch especially when the next two albums showed us how this band can shine once they have the proper songs to back them up.

There are of course a few compositions that do get close to greatness. A Crack In The Ice is a nice opener which unfortunately falls short in comparison to both Chosen and Witch Hunt that are far more memorable. There is a nice transition, half way into the song, to a ballad section but the main melody is just not that good and even when it's repeated on Running From Damascus I get the feeling that Arena could have done a much stronger job with it.

The Hanging Tree is the composition that saves the album's first part from a disaster with its slow pace and nice vocal performance from Paul Wrightson. Remember this performance well because it's not until the album's concluding section that we will hear another composition of such magnitude. Fortunately the last 20 minutes starting with Tears In The Rain get The Visitor back on the right track. The compositions here are trying to play off the previous material as work their way into a strong concept album conclusion.

Even though I can agree with the thought that the climax towards the end is quite strong it just doesn't create the right feelings that I'm used to after hearing a great Neo-Prog concept album. I'm talking about great classics like Marillion's Misplaced Childhood where performances of Childhood End?/White Feather are elevated due to everything that proceeded them. There's just no such performance to talk about on The Visitor so what's left here is just another good, but non-essential album in my music collection.

**** star songs: A Crack In The Ice (7:24) Pins And Needles (2:45) The Hanging Tree (7:08) Blood Red Room (1:47) (Don't Forget To) Breathe (3:39) Tears In The Rain (5:42) Enemy Without (5:05) Running From Damascus (3:44) The Visitor (6:13)

*** star songs: Double Vision (4:24) Elea (2:36) A State Of Grace (3:25) In The Blink Of An Eye (5:28) Serenity (2:09)

Report this review (#273842)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars What an enormous potential this record have. We can imagine what all these songs could have become if their themes had been developed and if the musicians had allowed themselves more instrumental moments.

"Don't forget to breathe" says the splendid voice of Paul Wrightson in one of the best songs of the record. It seems ironical to me, because I don't find any possibility to fill my lungs during nearly one hour. The peaceful moments are insignificant ("Elea"). We stand under the pressure of this avalanche of words and this unbridled musical gallop all the time.

Happily, there's a jewell in this album : "The hanging tree" with the emotional beauty of Wrightson's voice and the magnificent gilmourian guitar of John Mitchell. I think it's one of the most beautiful prog rock song of all times, all simply...

Report this review (#274849)
Posted Sunday, March 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A superb slab of neo prog, and one of the genre's highlights of the 1990's. This is a concept album, apparently built around an incident on a trip to foreign parts witnessed by Clive Nolan, and, as with the best of such albums, the tracks move seamlessly into one whole part.

Musically, it is a triumph, and I should state that I regard Paul Wrightson as being a superb vocalist. Yes, very reminiscent of a certain Mr Dick from Marillion's early days, none more so on (Don't Forget To) Breathe and the title track, but, hey, I loved him as well! However, he is not a one trick pony, and on Tears In The Rain, especially, his melodic, feeling, and sympathetic vocals enhance a haunting lyric and musical piece.

Nolan's keyboard work is essential in creating the predominantly dark mood at play here, whilst the guitar work by John Mitchell, at times, is inspirational and moving, and definitely added a new dimension to the band. Both of them shine on the introduction to In The Blink of An Eye, and after the vocals start, Nolan's piano work is very deftly performed. The end of this track, by the way, turns into one of the best rockers around. Mitchell plays very moving acoustic guitar on the album's opener, A Crack In The Ice.

The two instrumentals, Elea and Serenity, are examples of just how good Mitchell is electrically, and the band as a whole absolutely shine on the highlight of the album, the seven minute plus epic The Hanging Tree. Haunting and dark, this is a great piece of music, and is a treat from start to finish.

However, to pick out individual tracks is perhaps a little unfair, as this is an album that you should not be selective about in listening to individual tracks, but listen to the work as a whole. It all builds up to quite a huge and moving climax in the closing three tracks. They are all stunning and epic in scope, and special mention should be made for John Jowitt's thunderous bass line on Running From Damascus and the title track closer.

This is neo prog at perhaps its finest in terms of knowing nods to the past, symphonic epic and conceptual rock, and, as such, is very highly recommended.

Four stars for this, but, in reality, 4.5.

Report this review (#308257)
Posted Thursday, November 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I tried to keep myself from writing a hasty review after only two days of listening to this Album, but I'm just so pleased to have discovered Arena, that I can't wait to share my thoughts on this one. Being a hardcore prog metal fan, whose heart was torn apart after hearing there wouldn't be any follow up album after Liquid Tension Experiment 2, I've got to say that there's something about Arena, that is so dramatically appealing. Wonderful musicianship, passion in the playing, the late 90's prog sound is very generous in melodies, the vocals are somewhat exaggerated, but doesn't keep me from singing along. Lots of influences; Marillion, Floyd, Genesis, but these guys have something of there own, the guitar sounds great, a beautiful Guilmour tribute on the Serenity track, which I happen to appreciate a lot. I have to admit that I wish they'd sound a bit heavier by times, but that's just my own influences and tastes that kick in. Overall this albums keeps me coming back for more, and that's why I am here. Now if this doesn't sound like a recommendation, just go get yourself a copy and enjoy it (if you haven't already). Peace.
Report this review (#388018)
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Great Album! Not so prog as Songs from the lion's cage, but great. Here we have not long tracks and not much instrumentals, but is a superb conceptual album. Mitchel's riffs are the true highlight of the album, just as his electric and acoustic solos. Nolan keys are ok, but in a small doses than in the first album. IMO the best tracks are:

The opening A CRACK IN THE ICE. Opens really powerful. A mixed of hard and melodyc tunes, even with some acoustic interlude. Excellent.

DOUBLE VISION is an amazing track. It starts with a superb counterpoint between guitars and keyboards. The keyboard motive is pure prog at its best.

HANGING TREE is a stunning ballad with a fantastic chorus. After the interlude the chorus returns with all its power. Great lyrics and an ending with a superb guitar solo.

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE is an old Arena style song. Here Nolan takes the first place with his keyboards solo work, A heavy piece mainly instrumental.

SERENITY is a little gem by Mitchel. This electric guitar solo (a la Gilmour) is incredible.

ENEMY WITHOUT is the catchy one. Over a moved rhythm the band developed an extraordinary guitar riff. The melody line by Wrightson is just amazing.

THE VISITOR. The album ends with a superb guitar solo in the Hanging tree motive, but much longer.

The rest are really good too.

Not 5 because is not so prog as Lion's Cage, but highly recomended

Report this review (#413049)
Posted Tuesday, March 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars "The Visitor"is the second album after I heard that Arena "Contagion". And while "Contagion" was an indisputable masterpiece, with a constant flow of great maturity and evidence of a original sound (i love the voice Snowden), the same can not be said of "The Visitor".

This is a good album, yes, but not the great masterpiece of neo-prog I thought was.Some reviewers commented that the influences of Marillion shown in the first two previous albums dissapears.I say that no.You not only is influenced by Marillion, but also there are echoes of Pendragon (The slow and melodic tracks.) so the sound is not original, unlike "Contagion" (which still had influences from heavy metal and Genesis, but the latter is present in every band of neo-prog).

There are positive aspects, of course.The three major tracks, "A crack in the ice, " "The Hanging Tree" and "The Visitor " is exceptional. "The hanging tree" is beautiful, with above-average vocals.Wrightson has a good voice and your tone is not very different from Snowden (actually I did not even realize they were two different singers).

3.5 stars.Good album, but could be better.

Report this review (#438514)
Posted Sunday, April 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars The Visitor to my music collection...

The third studio release from the band formed by Clive Nolan (Pendragon) and Mick Pointer (ex-Marillion).

The Good: Strong musicianship.

The Bad: Having really enjoyed Contagion I decided to check this out, but after countless failed attempts to appreciate it I've come to the conclusion that its just not that good. In comparison to Contagion which doesn't have a single weak track, some of the compositions found here are so unmemorable that I'd be hard pressed to reccomend any part of The Visitor over its latter day bretheren.

The Verdict: If you didn't like neo-prog before then this isn't going to change your mind.

Report this review (#453482)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars John Mitchell is a guitar god! No doubt a graduate of the Joe Satriani School of David Gilmour Guitar Playing. Despite many great guitar moments, this album mystifies me for its lack of proggy-ness. What here is fresh, new, or innovative? To my ears this sounds most like MARILLION--both Fish-era and Hogarth-era--with a very straightforward rock'n'roll sound to it. This is to progressive music as Triumph, Styx, Journey, Survivor, Boston, Alan Parsons Project, Ambrosia, Heart and even ABC, Psychedelic Furs, and Whitesnake were: creative, artful and melodic. I do, however, prefer the voice of Paul Wrightson to that of Rob Snowdon.

Highlights: the instrumentals, "Elea" (8/10) and "Serenity" (7/10), the Gilmour-esque "Hanging Tree" (8/10), and the Marillion-like "The Visitor" (9/10). A good, but not essential album for true progheads.

Report this review (#503129)
Posted Sunday, August 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Arena returns with this, their third album.

Arena does symphonic neo prog with quite a distinct 1980s sound on this album. The sound is as big as a cathedral with cascades of guitars and keyboards. The vocals are in the neo prog vein with a distinct new romantics pronounciations of the vocals.

All this relies on the case of good melodies or not. In this case, Arena has dropped their standards somewhat. There is only two great songs on this album and that is the title track and The Hanging Tree. The rest of the songs are really not quite there and no cascades of guitars and keyboards can rectify that. This is still a very good album, but just that. A bit of a let down, The Visitor.

3.5 stars

Report this review (#586628)
Posted Sunday, December 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arena took a more ambitious route this time around; though their previous two albums had been vaguely conceptual in the sense that the songs tended to deal with various recurring themes and used a lot of imagery from ancient cultures, for The Visitor they pulled out all the stops and went for a fully developed narrative concept album, complete with recurring musical motifs and whatnot.

New guitarist John Mitchell proves to be a very useful addition to the band, proving equally capable both of rocking out credibly on the one hand and playing in a gentler and more pastoral style when it's called for (as on the early sections of The Hanging Tree). Thematically, the album's all over the place and the story isn't really especially coherent, but when the music's this good that's very easy to forgive. Arena broaden their horizons a little bit here, with some sections reminding me of early Pallas (particularly the Atlantis Suite sections on The Sentinel) whilst other segments, such as album opener A Crack In the Ice, showcase a metal- tinged variety of melodic rock which the band would crank up to 11 on Contagion.

On the whole, it's another decent album from Arena, setting up the band to be almost as important to Clive Nolan's career as his main home in Pendragon, as well as making it clear Mick Pointer's return to the prog scene was no flash in the pan. Despite a few irritatingly cheesy parts here and there, on the whole it's a great success.

Report this review (#635056)
Posted Friday, February 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is certainly progressive *rock*, a concept album in the neo-prog tradition of Genesis and Marillion, but with strong echoes of mainstream rock.

The album starts quite slowly, the first few tracks are either a little melodramatic or somewhat unmemorable, but it really comes to life with the fifth track, The Hanging Tree, a masterpiece that evokes the mystery and magic of the places of our childhood and the sense of loss at having left those places and that childhood.

The Hanging True is followed by another stand-out track, A State of Grace, which sounds like a song Marillion would have made around this time if Fish had never left. Those two tracks are probably the album highlights, but there are other strong songs here, such as (Don't Forget to) Breath, Tears in the Rain and Enemy Without.

The story of the mysterious visitor adds an extra dimension and unity to the album, though many of the tracks (particularly the strongest) work perfectly well outside the context of the over-arching story.

Overall, an excellent addition to any prog rock collection; probably essential for neo-prog aficionados.

Report this review (#1112386)
Posted Saturday, January 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Continuing their rotisserie of cast members coming and going from their musical theater, ARENA really pulled it together on their third full album THE VISITOR. On this release we get John Mitchell replacing Keith More on the guitar but what really works about this album is it sounds like ARENA really came into their own sound, sufficiently distancing themselves from the Marillion inspired sound of their debut album and continuing some of the sounds of the second which didn't quite come together as well as i had liked.

On THE VISITOR we are treated to a full concept album (although a somewhat nebulous one) that is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end replete with only the most pleasant melodic progressions and outstanding musicianship to follow suit. Paul Wrightson also sounds like his voice has melded perfectly into the mix and above all the prepossessing prowess of the poetic lyrics are outstanding! With baleful lyrics such as those in "The Hanging Tree" so perfectly placed together to express themselves, it makes me wonder if poetry was Nolan's first love.

One thing that is more notable about this album the previous one is the slight toning down on the aggressive parts. There are still borderline metallic riffs that make their way into the seamless parade of moods and synth runs but nothing feels forced and enters the stage only when appropriate. The production values are impeccable with beautiful swirling synths providing the expected backbone around the vocal delivery and the rest of the band following their lead. I also want to mention how important the Pink Floydian space guitars are on this album. While Genesis rightfully gets the credit for inspiring the neo-prog sub genre, it is the brilliance of the guitars that meld the neo-prog approach well into the space rock world, only one approach ARENA utilizes effortlessly in their evolution of the sub genre.

This is about the point where Clive Nolan was proving himself to be one of the most vital forces in neo-prog as he was scoring big with both ARENA as well as Pendragon but also found time to have creative energy left over for yet one more band, Shadowland. Although the concept is nebulous and pretty much serves as an undefined heart strings tug for the most part, the murkiness of the meaning accompanied by the outstandingly beautiful music works well on my part. The continuation of a long string of high quality releases by one of my faves in the neo-prog world.

Report this review (#1380986)
Posted Wednesday, March 11, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another in a series of highly convincing Arena albums. Arena was the first neo-progband that I learnt to know as I am from the younger generation. IQ followed shortly afterwards.

This album,in comparison to the two previous ones, places more focus on composition and less on classic prog-rock arrangements or solos that were more typical before.

Melancholy compositions are represented, too, and these are Arena's strong weapon - for example "A crack in the ice".

"Double vision" has expressive synths and beautiful guitar solo, it is classic neo-prog traits and some similarities to Marillion.

"Elea" is one of numerous Arena fantastic instrumental pompous tracks with keyboard layers and guitar solo.

Genesis intimacy creeps in in "Hanging tree", acoustic guitar helps to identify it. One of the most memorable Arena moments comes in the middle: Absolutely doomy guitar part (sounds inspired by doom-metal) is decorated with slow synths. At least the end of the song is more optimistic. A great composition.

"In the blink of an eye" is quite an equilibristic composition with multiple keyboards including piano, so much going on in 5 minutes.

"Serenity" could be taken for a Brian May song because of the guitar style. "Tears in the rain" may please fans of symphonic ballads. The title track is another classic with excellent vocal and guitar melodies. It sounds like a recapitulation of the previous album moments.

Report this review (#2271266)
Posted Saturday, October 19, 2019 | Review Permalink

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