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ARENA
Immortal?
( ©VERGLAS Music / INSIDEOUT Music 2000 )
 
are u immortal?
Chosen  6:22  Waiting for the Flood  5:55  The Butterfly Man  8:57  Ghost in the Firewall  4:55 
Climbing the Net  4:40 Moviedrome  19:47  Friday's Dream  4:44
 
ARENA is one of those bands that I have always been familiar with, at least with the '95 album release Songs from the Lion's Cage, but have later on lost track of their following releases mainly due to the over-crowded progressive market. Yet the band survived my own ignorance and all those wanna-be bands and proudly presents its fourth long-play album which is their sixth release all-together. So, for the time being, I'll only give you the review of Immortal?. A more thorough presentation and overall review of all other releases follows in the near future. Shortly, the current line-up consists of the two creators of the band, drummer Mick Pointer and keyboard player Clive Nolan, new vocalist Rob Sowden, guitar player John Mitchell, and Ian Salmon on the bass guitar. The later is mostly known for his work in SHADOWLAND, Clive Nolan's other band project.
Immortal? bursts opens with a heavy puncher, Chosen, which can be easily sold as the hit-single as it incorporates all the trade-mark qualities of the band: memorable and impressive vocals, well played guitars, intricate and beautiful keyboards, solid rhythm section functioning as the back-bone, all together wrapped in a powerful and elaborate arrangement. This song is reminiscent of the days gone-by, the days when progressive heavy rock ( or metal, if you will ) still had what it takes. The following one, Waiting for the Flood, is already a 100% neo prog-rock, as many people have so easily chosen a label for this music, when it really is a beautiful semi-acoustic ballad with haunting keyboard lines, Rob's mesmerising vocals, and captivating guitar melody. A remarkable piece of music, full of emotions and strong imagery. Definitely one of the best songs on this album! The Butterfly Man is somewhere in the middle of the two mentioned songs as it opens with a vocal and keyboard foreplay that quite soon explodes into a powerful heavy rock with great backing vocals that are in addition backed by almost orchestral keyboards. Guitar solo is worth paying attention to while the rest of the band shows all of its musical talents. This means, plenty of time changes here. Ghost in the Firewall is the most surprising song on the album. It first sounds almost like slow dark-rock techno but the main chorus is typical ARENA sound! Interesting and very, very innovative. Climbing the Net is a happy one, a real treat for true prog-rock connoisseurs. The most progressive song on the album is filled with powerful and intricate bass lines, catchy keyboards, great guitar chords and melodies, and a real groovy solo changing between guitar and keyboards. That's how it is done, lads. ARENA set standards in the past that are still valid to this very day. If you seek unbound pleasure and pure musical satisfaction, you've got to hear this one! Moviedrome is a twenty-minute voyage through soundscape of ARENA. In short, it is all in here. In one long piece of music. Time consuming yet worth it. The album closes with Friday's Dream, another semi-acoustic ballad.
Well, I was a bit sceptic about the new vocalist at the beginning but now I can conclude that Rob is a great vocalist with a vast range easily covering the ballads and the rockers. A few can do that with such beauty and persuasion as Rob does it. Though lyrically and musically, a bit on the dark side, Immortal? is surely one of the better progressive album releases this year. I will end with the band's own philosophy behind their music
"Our aim has always been to write songs, and not a just set of complex time changes lacking melody or structure; we write music, not exercises"
 
ARENA
The Visitor
( ©VERGLAS Music / INSIDEOUT Music 1998 )
A Crack in the Ice  7:26  Pins and Needles  2:46  Double Vision  4:25  Elea ( inst. )  2:36  The Hanging Tree  7:10 A State of Grace  3:26 
Blood Red Room ( inst. )  1:48  In the Blink of an Eye  5:29   ( Don't Forget to ) Breathe  3:40  Serenity ( inst. )  2:10   Tears in the Rain  5:44 
Enemy Without  5:05  Running from Damascus  3:45  The Visitor  6:14
 
This album release features two former band members, John Howitt on bass/backing vocals and Paul Wrightson on main vocals. The Visitor differs from the new album in two distinct ways. First of all, Paul's vocals are much more English, in other words, he sounds really English ( that long accent on every sung word! ) and he sounds like FISH on the first MARILLION albums. Which is quite okay, if you are into retro. But for me, the overall effect, well, it is passť. I prefer the new vocalist with his really powerful and emotional impact. Secondly, the production is a curious thing. Here we have the same team, Clive Nolan and Simon Hanhart, but the final product is not quite there as is the case with Immortal?. The main difference is in the drums which sound so plastic, no real, live power. Everything else is great, up to the band's standards: excellent keyboards, Clive really burns on this album, the punctuality of the rhythm section and impressive guitars. This overrated album sounds almost pompous, so grand, and is interrupted by occasional outburst of real mellow mood which is rather a minus than a plus. I am sure The Visitor sounded great back in 1998 but now, after the new album is well under my skin, I am not impressed.
Bear in mind, however, that The Visitor is despite all the bashing on my account, a very good album with some really groovy songs like A State of Grace, fast-pacer In the Blink of an Eye and the opener, A Crack in the Ice, which is the best song on the album.
 
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