DARK ARENA – Alien Factor

DARK ARENA - Alien Factor
  • 9/10
    DARK ARENA - Alien Factor - 9/10


Pure Steel Records
Release date: May 29, 2020

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

Pure Steel Records is reissuing Alien Factor,  the 2006 debut from Cleveland, Ohio Progressive Metal band Dark Arena. Anyone who missed the initial release would be well advised to give this shining, powerful disc a spin. Built around the Tate-ian vocal prowess of Juan Ricardo (Ritual, Sunless Sky, Wretch) and the precise fretwork of Paul Konjicija (Antithesis), Dark Arena’s Progressive approach is more an assault than the noodle fest many practitioners of the genre go for. Alien Factor’s songs are built around riffs rather than the solos. Instead of endless arpeggios and spiraling explorations on the frets, individual songs are broken up by tempo shifts that enhance their energy. “Freedom”, the first cut of the album, features several of those shifts (including some classic Maiden before the solo at the end) alongside a stunning performance from Ricardo. “Fear of the Night” begins quietly before dropping a hefty blast of percussion and staccato guitar line. Short bursts of Thrash pepper many of the songs; the title track, “Subterranean Man” and critical cut “The Sight” benefit greatly from pit-worthy change-ups.

The exception to the “light on the solos” rule would be “Somewhere”, which features solos not only from Konjicija but from bassist Chris Thomas and also keyboard player Rhiannon Wisnewski. Rhiannon’s playing is restrained throughout the album; she adds texture without dominating. Dark Arena avoids the tendency of many modern Progressive Metal bands to put the keyboards at the forefront of the mix, preferring to let the guitar and rhythm drive the train. For what was originally a DIY self-released album–a debut, no less–Alien Factor is remarkably polished, with exceptional production values. Poor, thin production has sunk many a Prog release, but the mix here is steady and even-handed. Ricardo is layered on a few tracks and his vocal channeled sparingly, but the music speaks for itself predominantly without a great deal of studio trickery.

Overall, Alien Factor is reminiscent of the Fates Warning classic Awaken the Guardian, featuring a top-shelf vocalist and riff-rich songs that aren’t content to stay in one place. Fans of Fates, early Queensrÿche and Leviathan will find a lot to like about Dark Arena. And unlike some of the more airy Progressive Metal, the album rocks hard enough to pull in listeners who don’t normally seek out the genre.

An exciting debut release that deserved more ears on it’s initial release, Alien Factor showcases a highly talented band and exceptional, well-crafted songs brimming with promise. Sadly, guitarist Konjicija passed away at the age of 46 last year, lending a note of tragic poignancy to his acoustic instrumental track “Dark Sorrow”.


  • Daniel Waters

    Daniel was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. Iron Maiden’s Piece Of Mind wasn’t the first Metal album he owned, but it was the one that lifted the lid off his soul when he received the record as a gift on his 15th birthday. He's been a Metal fan ever since. He's probably best known as the author of various Young Adult novels such as the Generation Dead series and the ghost story Break My Heart 1,000 Times, now also a major motion picture entitled I Still See You, starring Bella Thorne. Writing and music, especially Heavy Metal music, has always been inextricably linked in his mind and career. His first paid gig doing any type of writing was for Cemetery Dance, where he wrote a horror-themed music column called Dead Beats, and when he was writing the first Generation Dead novel he had a ritual where he started his writing day with a Metal playlist that kicked off with “Crushing Belial” by Shadows Fall.

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