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Arena - The Visitor CD (album) cover





4.05 | 627 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars The Visitor was crying for me to come back!

This is a review I have re-written many times. The reason each time has been that my perspective and evaluation of the album had changed since I last revised my review. What still stands after probably hundreds of listens (!) is that The Visitor is one of the most captivating and enduring albums I have ever heard. I wasn't immediately convinced, however. Indeed, I almost dismissed it at first! But I have found myself coming back to The Visitor again and again and again. This album will just not release me from its grip and it probably never will.

I have never been a very big fan Neo-Prog, but Arena is one of my favourite bands of all time and definitely my favourite Neo-Prog band. The dark and brooding The Visitor is Arena's third studio album and the truth is that the members all have musical careers going further back than Arena's debut from 1995. Personnel connections can be found to bands like Marillion, Pendragon and some other bands. Clive Nolan is the principle composer and lyricist and this album convinced me that Nolan is a genius! Both the music and the lyrics are simply brilliant and the album clearly deserves repeated listens. The mysterious, haunting and sometimes disturbing lyrics are open to many different interpretations and thus allows for some serious reflection. Also the dark cover art, like the music itself, has something about it that somehow simply draws me to it.

The sometimes theatrical vocalist Paul Wrightson, sounds a bit like a bastard son of Marillion's Fish and Queensryche's Geoff Tate, but he also has a very appealing, warmer quality that especially can be felt on the softer songs and passages. The guitarist, John Mitchell, is really excellent which is clear from the very start of the first song. There are many passages on this album that makes me want to play air guitar. I previously knew Mitchell from having been a member of John Wetton's solo band where he played songs by King Crimson, UK and Asia live with ease. Mitchell also played guitar for the Wetton/Downes collaboration, Icon. Mick Pointer (drums) and Clive Nolan (keyboards) are previously known from Marillion and Pendragon (and other bands) respectively. Nolan is a prolific keyboard wizard with his own style and identity.

What I really like about this album is how every vocal line and every guitar and keyboard part are performed with so much emotion and passion, it is apparent that they really mean every single note they play and every single word sung (or spoken)! It is such a convincing work! The melodies are all very strong, the musicianship is excellent and the arrangements and production are simply flawless. Every song is a part of a larger whole and it is very hard to pick out favourites since there are absolutely no weak moments.

The Visitor is a song cycle and it really hangs together fantastically well. Many songs flow into each other and some themes return in several of the songs. This is a perfect example of an organic whole, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is on this album a perfect balance between vocal numbers and instrumentals and also between softer and more intense moments, constantly working as effective counterpoints to each other. The are some dark ambient moments, some mellow acoustic moments, some heavy, bombastic moments and some quite intense moments.

But even if it is hard to pick out favourites, The Hanging Tree must be mentioned. It has a really haunting melody and the lyrics are very captivating. Also the opener Crack In The Ice with its excellent acoustic guitar solo is a great moment for me. Yet another special moment is towards the end of the album (in the three last tracks) when earlier themes (Crack In The Ice, The Hanging Tree, etc.) are repeated to great effect. The title track is a great finale.

Arena's The Visitor is an absolute masterpiece that has managed to appropriate a very special place in my heart. Extremely recommended!

SouthSideoftheSky | 5/5 |


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