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Arena were formed from Pendragon keyboardist Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer, who played drums on Marillion's first album. Thus they surprised nobody by making traditional bombastic prog rock in the vein of early Marillion and Pendragon. Singer John Carson does his best to imitate the vocal mannerisms of Fish in the most unsubtle way. Listen to the way he sings "innocence.. influence..." in the first song - even attempting Fish-style word-play. Nolan plays plenty of Moog, and the guitarist and rhythm section bash out a lot of stiff, plodding pomp rock. The podgy extended songs are interspersed with short instrumentals. These are mostly throwaway noodling - another reviewer aptly compared these to the music from adventure computer games such as Final Fantasy.
While derivative and backward-looking in its style, it does have its moments. "Out of the Wilderness" is a strong punchy rocker with a jagged rhythm guitar theme. It reminds us that Marillion were once labelled as a metal band. "Jericho" is well written, beginning with a soft echoing melody which follows into a catchy anthemic chorus. But the other long songs have few moments of inspiration among their stodge. Recommended only to Marillion nostalgists and neo-prog collectors.
November 24, 2003