ARENA – Pepper’s Ghost

ARENA - Pepper's Ghost


Release date: January 17, 2005

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Arena celebrates 10 years with the release of Pepper’s Ghost, a conceptual album subtitled 7 Stories of Mystery & Imagination. With this being their 7th full length studio album, and with a large and devoted group of fans awaiting every move they make, it’s fair to expect something extraordinary.

Pepper’s Ghost has been given a theatrical touch, such as the unique EcolBook cover design, the fairground soundscapes at the beginning of opening track “Bedlam Fayre,” and the near magnificent closing track “Opera Fanatica.” The sound and production are Arena indeed, and so too are the musical and lyrical arrangements. There are no surprises for anyone familiar with the band.

As usual with Arena albums, this one might also need some time to settle in with you. You see, this is no fast food junk. This is a seven course meal, which requires you to actually sit down and digest each dish before the next one is served. In return, satisfaction is guaranteed. Or is it?

One important force behind Arena’s sound is keyboard player Clive Nolan. Apart from forming the band and Verglas Music (in order to release their debut album), he has always had his fingers on nearly every piece of the big puzzle. Pepper’s Ghost is no exception, as he is credited for both words and music (in collaboration with Mick Pointer and John Mitchell), as well as for engineering and production. Undoubtedly, he is a crucial factor, but sometimes it seems as if he is in it too deep, and this album suffers a bit from that. Some of the musical themes and phrases bear an almost striking resemblance to other rather well-known pieces. Also, the keyboards are sometimes so dominant, one is left with a feeling of suffocation… and music needs air! “Smoke And Mirrors,” “Tantalus,” and “Purgatory Road” are all compositions that would benefit from a more strict and tight production.

All this aside, Nolan and Arena have created some truly beautiful music. The harmonies and ambient mood in “The Shattered Room” are brilliant, and “Opera Fanatica” is a solid piece of work from start finish, and features some breath-taking choral parts! Even “Smoke And Mirrors” is among the best songs, with a smart guitar theme flavoring this second dish of the set. The only really disappointing piece is “The Eyes of Lara Moon,” which is carried forward by an innovative guitar chord progression repeated just too many times.

A little disappointing also is singer Rob Sowden. He has been with Arena for five years now, and this is his 3rd studio album with them. He fits nicely into the Arena sound, however, he and his melody line are surprisingly anonymous in “The Shattered Room,” and parts of “Tantalus” show that his high register performance has not improved much over the years. Actually, this is not a big issue compared to the vocoder choral parts of “Purgatory Road,” which sound terribly synthetic. With reference to the aforementioned occasional over-emphasis on keyboards, this leaves a bittersweet taste to this specific dish.

In spite of a few drawbacks, Pepper’s Ghost is a worthy Arena album, and likely to be well received around the world. However, it is also fair to say that the expectations of something “extraordinary” being served up by the band were not met.


  • Frode Leirvik

    Frode was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Norway. His headbanging experience started when his brother-in-law gave him Deep Purple’s Fireball at the age of ten. Since then, he has also been a fan of and active in several other musical genres, resulting in a deep and profound interest in music. Some of his favorites, among all of those who have somehow managed to tap into the universal force of Progressive Music are (in no particular order): Thule, Dream Theater, King Crimson,Pink Floyd, Rush, Spock’s Beard, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman, Ekseption, Focus, The Beatles, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa.

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