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Arena - Pepper's Ghost CD (album) cover





3.62 | 400 ratings

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3 stars Pepper's Ghost is the last release by this British neo prog band, although a new release, with a new vocalist, is promised for 2011.

Now over five years old, the album can, in many ways, be considered as a natural progression from the excellent Immortal? and Contagion, certainly in the manner of heavy riffs and Sowden's almost prog metal like approach to the vocals. Unfortunately, I don't find it quite as interesting as its predecessors.

Bedlam Fayre opens with All The Fun Of The Fayre type effects, and is really a good old fashioned classic rock riff, aside from a brief slower section mid term. Enjoyable enough without being essential.

Smoke And mirrors is a shorter track, but with the same riffing intensity. It's all executed very well, but, again, has no progressive tendencies at all, just a rocker, which is fine if you like that sort of thing.

The Shattered Room is a longer track, at just under ten minutes long, and is a return to form for me. Some very good and decidedly understated vocals, which are, as always in his quieter moments, very Hamill like, and there is decidedly more structure and thought in this track than the two preceding ones. It's still, in the main riff, very heavy in places, but Nolan's trademark keyboards are given far more room to form the overview of the song, and, for the first time on the album, we are allowed to hear John Mitchell at his soloing best. Mid section we get an interesting choral and key led haunted house effect, somewhat reminiscent of Genesis on Home By The Sea. Come to think of it, the Nolan solo that follows this is very much akin to Banks' work on that album. The track has a lengthy closing section which returns to the heavier theme of what preceded, but with some interesting symphonic keys layering the riffs.

The Eyes Of Lara Moon is a very enjoyable track. Melodic and dark, featuring some lovely acoustic guitar work and a gorgeous electric solo mid section, make for a track of contrasting signatures.

Tantalus opens with a fine piano solo, and some more impressive theatrical vocals by Sowden, and this extended opening section is by far the most enjoyable and progressive on the album thus far. Mid section features some more heavy riffing, with pounding bass and drums together with some more fine guitar solos, with, all the while, Nolan providing a strong texture. A fine, almost rock anthem, guitar solo is the highpoint of the closing section, together with Pointer drumming as if his life depended upon it. This track is a highlight of the album.

Purgatory Road takes us back to classic rock/prog metal territory. Although Nolan's keyboard work on this track is very good, and provides some interesting layers and thoughts, much of it is, to these ears, rock by numbers, and the band is so much more capable than this.

The album closes with the main epic, Opera Fanatica, which clocks in at just over thirteen minutes. The album, by the way, is, naturally for Arena, a concept one and revolves around illusions created in a Victorian theatre transforming our heroes into superheroes, although the major storyline has always, to be frank, escaped me.

The track opens with very dark, and very brooding, operatic, choral, and keyboard effects, and create a fantastic impression of bedlam akin to a Victorian asylum. This soon, unfortunately, gives way to more very formulaic riff by numbers. There is a lot to commend prog metal, and I have recently began to listen to quite a lot of it, but I'm afraid that the result on much of this album is merely a riff without a great deal of imagination. The track is at its best in the operatic sections. Sowden sounds fantastic acting his heart out, and Nolan allows himself the space to breath and create.

This is not a bad album by any means, but I do feel that the three album sequence with Sowden had reached its natural conclusion by this time. Arena are not a prog metal band, and my main criticism of this is that, unlike its predecessors, too much of this is the riffing without the prog sensibilities that made them a great band. Nowhere near enough melody or, excepting the operatic sequences, dramatisation and thought.

Three stars for this. A good album, but by no means essential. It is to be hoped that the next release will take us back up to the usual four star territory.

lazland | 3/5 |


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