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3.39 | 10 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 2005

Filed under Metal Related


1. Bedlam Fayre (6:08)
2. Smoke and Mirrors (4:42)
3. The Shattered Room (9:45
4. The Eyes Of Lara Moon (4:30)
5. Tantalus (6:51)
6. Purgatory Road (7:25)
7. Opera Fanatica (13:06)

Total Time: 52:27


- Clive Nolan / keyboards
- Mick Pointer / drums
- Rob Sowden / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars
- Ian Salmon / bass

About this release

Released by Verglas Music in 2005.

Thanks to Unitron for the addition and adg211288 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

siLLy puPPy
Although only formed in 1995, ARENA had became one of the great prog revival bands of the decade by imitating Fish-era Marillion and then quickly latching onto a veritable sound of their own as Clive Nolan found a new niche away from his other neo-prog bands Pendragon and Shadowland. A decade after the formation of ARENA, the band changed up their sound yet again on their sixth album PEPPER’S GHOST which after many lineup changes in their earlier years emerged as the third album in a row with the same cast members. At this point the collaborative songwriting efforts of Clive Nolan (keys), Mick Pointer (drums) and John Mitchell (guitars) was in full swing as they once again as they independently created their own parts and then adapted them to a band setting which surprisingly combines well into another album of thoughtful constructs that deliver another epic concept album.

The concept of PEPPER’S GHOST revolves around five different individuals who travel through time to defeat a demon all of which is narrated through a comic book included in the packaging. For a tale so tall it connotes a stylistic upgrade in sound and on PEPPER’S GHOST, the band ramped up their decibalage and tempo to the point this blurs into heavy rock territory for much of the time without ever feeling like a metal album so i guess it could be considered heavy neo-prog or something of the sort. The term PEPPER’S GHOST comes from a projection technique developed by John Henry Pepper, a 19th century inventor whose technique casts the illusion of ghostly objects fading into and out of existence in a room but can also “magically” transform certain objects into totally different ones. How this term and storyline weave together is beyond me but arcane enough to accept blindly without question.

Musically PEPPER’S GHOST carries on where “Contagion” left off. There is no significant deviation to the stylistic approach, the interplay or any sort of song structures as with other albums, ARENA craft seven tracks with the final “Opera Fanatica” being the most ambitious and lengthy at time run of of just over thirteen minutes. Despite the similarities, there are several differences as well. First is the abrupt heaviness that makes PEPPER’S GHOST the most hard rock leaning album up to then with crunchy guitar riffs and even more ambitious solos that occur from time to time however ARENA have lost none of their atmospheric prowess as Nolan conjures up beautifully powerful ambient backdrops to accompany the more aggressive guitar and bass. Ironically the drumming does not take on a more aggressive role as Mick Pointer creates more subtle drum rolls that add rhythmic contrasts. Rod Sowden delivers another brilliant vocal performance as always however this time around his lyrics seems submerged beneath the heavier production and guitar dominance.

Another difference is the type of melodic developments. The album begins with circus music that finds itself reprising throughout the album’s musical development which adds a sort of gypsy jazz swing element dispersed throughout the album when least expected. For some reason PEPPER’S GHOST doesn’t seem to be as well revered as previous ARENA albums and that’s quite the shame because i find PEPPER’S GHOST to be just as compelling as any of the earlier albums minus the magnificence of the perfection of “Contagion,” however ARENA doesn’t shed their origins on this one, they merely augment them with a more diversified palette that allows more extreme dynamics, faster tempos and more ambitious lyrical themes in their concepts. Personally i find this one to be slightly more addictive in the melodic hooks in comparison with some of the earlier albums. For anyone avoiding PEPPER’S GHOST on account of the lower ratings, i have to say do check this out for it’s on par with any of the other classic neo-prog albums of the era.
Pepper's Ghost seems to be a point where the writing team of Clive Nolan, John Mitchell and Mick Pointer, who as a trio had produced extremely effective compositions for the last few Arena albums, has found itself falling into a rut. The formula this time around is much the same as on Contagion - fairly straight ahead neo-prog with hard rock-bordering-on-heavy metal guitar work giving things a bit more muscle and grit - but the songwriting this time lacks the flair and sparkle which made the previous albums shine. There isn't, for instance, anything on the album to compare to the excellent one-two-three-four punch of Witch Hunt/An Angel Falls/Painted Man/This Way Madness Lies on Contagion. In fact, on the whole I'd say this is the least interesting Arena album to date (though I haven't heard their latest).

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