Arena - Pepper's Ghost
Progressive Hard Rock
7 songs (52'11)
Release year: 2005
Arena, Verglas
Reviewed by Marty
Although not as popular in North America, England's Arena are widely regarded as one of the premier progressive rock bands in existence. Albums such as The Visitor and The Lion's Cage are considered classics in the genre by many. Arena's previous album Contagion, released in 2003, saw a dramatic departure from the pure progressive rock of past albums to a heavier edged and even prog metal flavored sound. An outstanding album, it was met with mixed reaction by their fans. Although many welcomed the newer and harder sound, the purists felt that Arena were becoming just another prog metal band and had lost the uniqueness and character that was such a staple of their music. With 2005 being Arena's 10th anniversary, they decided to do a special album to mark the occasion. Clive Nolan and company have come up with a collection of 7 tales of mystery and imagination using themes ranging from the Sherlock Holmes saga to more Marvel comics flavored stories. Their new album Pepper's Ghost takes it's title from a legendary Victorian era English illusionist who could allegedly "project" a ghostly figure onto the stage during his performances. The whole comic book theme comes full circle with cartoon strips inside the booklet used to help illustrate the story behind each of the songs and once again, all lyrics and stories are penned by keyboard wizard Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Nolan and Wakeman). Musically speaking, Pepper's Ghost still maintains the heavier edge to the guitars and the riffs as heard on the Contagion album but they've taken a step back and incorporated elements of their classic sound of previous albums like The Visitor.

Bedlam Fayre gets things underway with it's big booming riffs and Clive Nolan's keyboards are perfectly blended with the guitars to produce a great thick sound. The guitar riffs and harmonized vocal lines by Rob Sowder really reminds me of the classic Canadian prog band Saga, especially the music on their 70's albums such as Images At Twilight and Silent Knight. Smoke And Mirrors continues with the heavier edge and more prominent guitar in the mix but the track is more mid tempo with big slicing riffs and Clive Nolan provides some nice synthesizer arpeggios. A great atmospheric track, the Saga sound can be heard again especially with the vocals and chorus sections. The Shattered Room is a 9 minute epic that features lots of tempo changes and instrumental passages with some great lead solo breaks by guitarist John Mitchell. The heavy guitar edge is still present but it's more of a "pure" progressive rock song which also features some Fish-era Marillion style vocals over clean guitar arpeggios. The Eyes Of Lara Moon is another solid atmospheric track that mixes quieter with heavier sections and has a more defined chorus than most tracks on the album. Tantalus also mixes quieter and heavier sections and takes on a very Fates Warning like quality with the guitar riffing style. Purgatory Road features a great thick Uriah Heep style of heavy guitar riffs blended with swirling organ sounds that sees many different tempo changes. The album ends with a 13 minute opus entitled Opera Fanatica. The big booming guitar riffs are front and center again and the use of chunky and heavy riffs gives Arena an unusual prog metal flavor and a heaviness that's quite rare for their music. Using quiet reflective interludes and recurring themes, this one pretty much covers all the bases of the Arena sound.

Arena has delivered another fine album that although falls a bit short compared to Contagion and several others from their past as far as I'm concerned, still measures up to the quality that we have come to expect from them. Overall, Pepper's Ghost has more melodic hooks and riffs than on previous efforts yet the songs are still very "deep" and intense. I even sense a more commercial edge to some tracks which may be an effort to make Arena's music more attractive to a wider audience. Although John Mitchell's guitar is very prominent in the mix, there are not as many soaring and melodic lead solos as with previous efforts. Rob Sowder's vocals don't play a prominent role with most of the album as well. This one's a real "grower" and requires many listens to fully grasp as early listens gave me the impression that this album was "front heavy" with all the best tracks on the first half of the album. Using comic strip themes and great a great atmosphere throughout, Arena has proven once again that there's still room for the classic progressive rock sound in this day and age and that experimentation and change is sometimes necessary to keep their music relevant in today's modern music scene. Along with bands like Spock's Beard and Porcupine Tree, Arena is one of the few continuing the legacy built by such progressive rock greats as Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, E.L.P and Marillion. The torch has been passed into very capable hands......

Killing Songs :
Bedlam Fayre, Smoke And Mirrors, The Shattered Room, Purgatory Road and Opera Fanatica
Marty quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Arena that we have reviewed:
Arena - Live & Life reviewed by Nathanael and quoted no quote
Arena - Contagion reviewed by Marty and quoted 90 / 100
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