The British progressive rock band Arena was formed in 1993 as Avalon. Mick Pointer had been the drummer for Marillion before getting back into the world of rock music through Arena alongside Clive Nolan. Guitarist Jeff Ward would soon join the band. Nolan and Pointer would recruit singer John Carson and guitarist Keith More and record an album for their own Verglas imprint.
Pride featured singer Paul Wrightson and bassist John Jowitt of Ark and IQ. The Visitor was a concept album with a stunning cover photograph. Next up was the Welcome To The Stage - Live album which was recorded in Canada in 1997. Next in were guitarist John Mitchell, singer Rob Sowden and bassist Ian Salmon. Another live album, this time called Breakfast In Biarritz, was issued in 2001. Clive Nolan would spend time contributing lyrics to Edge Of Sanity's return album. The band also made used of leftover material to issue two EPs during this period. The band toured with Canada's Saga at this juncture. Pepper's Ghost was issued in late 2004 and was billed as 7 Stories Of Mystery & Imagination. The album was produced by Clive Nolan and featured the members as comic book characters on the cover. John Jowitt would return to the line-up for a US festival as a temporary replacement for Ian Salmon. A compilation called Ten Years On 1995-2005 was issued next. The compilation followed a tour of twenty countries. A DVD called Smokes And Mirror and more touring followed. On the 10th of November, 2011 Silesian Theatre in Katowice, Poland, hosted special concerts played by three bands representing progressive rock. The concerts were special because Arena, Believe and Osada Vida were recording their live DVDs. Their release was planned for the Spring/Summer of 2012 on Metal Mind Productions. Arena’s Rapture live DVD was released by Metal Mind Productions on March, 25th, 2013.
ARENA - PEPPER'S GHOST - VERGLAS
What Pepper's Ghost is or refers to will not be explained in this review seeing how it is all a mystery to me as well. Still, Arena's new album is evidently a collection of songs about madness and insanity (how Dark Side Of The Moon-ish!) and relishes in delightfully melodic progressive rock. Rob Sowden's voice is alternately understated and soaring and occasionally reminiscent of Threshold's backing vocals, the melodic riches are prevalent, the bass work of Ian Salmon is subtle and yet encompasses amazing runs and the overall effect is one of accessible material relevance.
In a world weighed down by blatant formulae of the lowest common denominators and redundant icon worship Arena puts some independent cogitation into a music built upon several layers. Amazingly, the band manages it all within the context of smooth and reachable hooks and melodies. Certainly songs lasting 13 minutes are not the apex of commercialism in the world of attention deficit artwork, but nothing on Pepper's ghost is salted with soulless instrumentation or musical extremism one way or the other.
The Shattered Room reminds one of Threshold by going back and forth between driving segments and trippy and mellow parts. The song has a fantastic guitar solo. The Eyes Of Lara Moon has a folk feel to it. The intriguing story comes with accessible and hook-laden music. Purgatory Road starts off with a grand melody not unlike what one would expect from Pink Floyd, while Opera Fanatica does in fact incorporate operatic vocals, as well as general progressive parts. In contrast, Tantalus is poppier and probably easier to digest for the average listener despite its dark disposition.
Pepper's Ghost is probably heavier than most prog rock fans would like and lighter than most metal fan would demand. The result, nonetheless, is stellar. - Ali "The Metallian"
ARENA - TEN YEARS ON 1995 - 2005 - VERGLAS
If a compilation is meant to truly represent a band’s music, views and its vibe then Ten Years On not only does that, but also embodies the group’s story comfortably with a biography in the booklet not to mention this disc’s artwork.
The album begins with the wonderful Smoke & Mirrors from 2005’s Pepper’s Ghost which of course has a good deal of Threshold mannerisms in it. No surprise that the said album was partly recorded by Threshold’s Karl Groom. The poppy Crack In The Ice from 1998’s The Visitor is here reminding us of Arena’s Yes influences, the quintessentially progressive rock of Solomon with its Dream Theater and Pink Floyd soundscapes makes an appearance as does the impressive Bedlam Fayre again from Pepper’s Ghost.
Long time followers of Arena though will pay special attention to the live version of Chosen originally recorded for 2000’s Immortal? Album as well as a rerecorded version of Empire Of A Thousand Days which features Rob Sowden on vocals here. Arena is underutilized and underappreciated in the progressive rock scene, although releases like this will probably go some way towards addressing that challenge. - Ali “The Metallian”