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Review series: "The Visitor"

Started by PH, Mon, 2011-11-07, 10:01:23

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Today, the 7th of November, we start part three in the review series. This week we focus on "The Visitor".

For rules and conditions I refer to the "Songs From The Lions Cage" thread.

24 October - 30 October: "Songs From The Lions Cage"
31 October - 6 November "Pride"
7 November - 13 November "The Visitor"
14 November - 20 November "Immortal?"
21 November - 27 November "Contagion"
28 November - 4 December "Pepper's Ghost"
5 December - 11 December "The Seventh Degree Of Seperation"

"The Visitor"

From today (7 November) till Sunday (13 November) we will review Arena's legendary album: The Visitor! *horns*


After two solid, similar albums Arena makes a quantum leap forward with their third album, a concept album with a shift to a more concise song format and more personal, immediate lyrics, Again, the Marillion analogy holds. Songs like Script is a classic debut, Pride and Fugazi were solid, a bit more raw and agressive follow ups that didn't break any real new ground, The Visitor like Misplaced Childhood is a concept album masterpiece, a real classic, timeless. All the pieces - music, lyrics and artwork - fit together perfectly and the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

The Visitor has a lot of memories attached to it for me. It marks my start, having been a member from the beginning, as an active volunteer for The Cage and it's the first album I got to hear ahead of the release, at Cage HQ with Clive and John Mitchell present. Then there's the intimate acoustic session at Stairway To Heaven in Utrecht (March) where we get to hear a few new songs in a stripped format. April 10th the album lands on my doormat and I can really delve into its music and lyrics. Then of course the October/November tour. I saw three gigs, the first in October (also did my first interview there, with Mick) and another two in November in the same weekend, the second in Germany. Great times.

The album musically is sheer bliss from start to finish, there's not a weak moment on there, all great stuff with a perfect flow. The Hanging Tree is still the best track Arena have ever done and the guitar solo reprise at the end of the title track is marvellous. I'm not going to do a track-by-track review but make a special mention of Enemy Without. I just have a soft spot for that song, that manages to be uplifting and melancholic at the same time. Also, the instrumental middle part of In The Blink Of An Eye is superb.

I've written extensively about the lyrics elsewhere so I'll just refer to that article with my interpretations and reflections:

To conclude: to this day still one of the most memorable Arena albums, a close second to my very favourite that we get to discuss later!
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..


Erik's comparison with Marillion's first three albums is very relevant.

I really took a lot of pleasure listening again to The Visitor for the purpose of this thread. Actually, I played it at least ten times within the last week. !!! And I can understand why it is the best Arena album for many fans and only second to Contagion in ratings on Progarchives.

The band spent a lot of time, energy and money recording it but the result was worth it (at least for us). John Mitchell's debuts are stunning, he shines on most of the songs and not only the two instrumentals. I am also VERY impressed by Paul's voice, especially on Tears In The Rain and consequently I can conceive that many fans were angry when learning of his replacement.

Unlike Erik and most fans, and despite its symbolic impact on the band's image, I am not so found of The Hanging Tree but it is all relative : the song is indeed very good.

On a more personal note, I was surprised again by having forgotten so much some songs, and great ones, like Tears ... or the title track  :-[

I have many best moments that I could mention but I will pick three. The middle passage of A Crack In The Ice (the voice, the choirs, the acoustic guitar solo ... everything), maybe by favorite Arena moment. Tears In The Rain, an incredibly graceful ballad. And finally the moment when the main riff of The Enemy Within comes in : so uplifting !

This week, The Visitor might have become my favorite Arena album. I'll confirm ... or not soon.

The Butterfly Man

The Visitor. Ahhh, memories! I remember liking Songs From The Lions Cage (which belonged to my father) in the summer of 2000. It were the early days of the internet and I would always browse the internet for an hour or so on Sundays. On one of those Sundays I landed on the Arena-website and there I heard a sample of this beautiful song 'Tears In The Rain' and decided that I had to get a hold of the album it was on. This is where my love for Arena began. I attended my first Arena-gig on September the 29th in Rijssen that year, joined The Cage that very evening and the rest is history.

Anyway, here are my highlights of the album.

A Crack In The Ice. The guitar-theme (still) is musical bliss to my ears. I do however like the live-version better because it's less polished and more heavy and 'in your face'.

Elea. As a guitarplayer, how could I not like it? ;) It's melodic, it's soaring, it's beautiful. And it serves as the perfect intro to...

The Hanging Tree. Great song all the way with a great guitarsolo at the end.

A State Of Grace. Thinly veiled, a cruel disguise... Slow staccato riffing starts this great song, one of my all-time Arena favourites. We will be as one forever! *horns*

Serenity. Heavenly. John Mitchell is a genius. I wish I could play the guitar like he does in this song.

Tears In The Rain. Like I said, it all started with this song and it's still special to me. It's a great ballad and I think Paul Wrightson really shines here. Then there's another brilliant melodic guitarsolo and (again) some great singing by Paul until it ends with moody piano where you can hear someone crying in the background. Nice touch.

Running From Damascus. I don't particularly like Enemy Without but the transition to Running From Damascus is one of my favourite bits of this album. Then there's the sudden return of the Crack In The Ice-theme. Again Paul shines in this song. I can hear the Visitor!

Of course a special mention must go to the grand finale of The Visitor, a continuation of the guitarsolo from The Hanging Tree that keeps on going until the solo slowly fades away and the album musically ends where it began. This finale is my highlight of all highlights of this album.

There you have it! :)

There will be white clouds beyond the hills...

Draco chimera

I won't do a complete review, rather an overview: a fantastic album. I can't find any weak point. Very melodic, with The Hanging Tree, Serenity, Tears in the Rain probably the most harmonious tracks - along with The Visitor. Also contains very tonic tracks, like A Crack in the Ice, A State of Grace, Don't Forget to Breathe...
Though the album is really like one long piece of music and contains themes one can find there and there, diversity is not absent - far from that, it is omnipresent. And, most of all, no track feels out of place, everything belongs together. A highlight of Arena's discography, in my opinion one of their best albums.
Let your conscience decide !


So you've come of age
And so you want to meet God
Sure you can
He's right here next to me


The Visitor definitely is my favourite album with Paul Wrightson on vocals. The order of songs is just brilliant, I would never play this album randomly or skip a track. Serenity is probably my favourite instrumental Arena song, John Mitchell really shines on this one. And I've always got a weak spot for 'Tears In The Rain', emotional song, love the mood of this track 8). I can't find a weak track on the album, they all .
'I will surrender my heart to the sky
Oh, our love doesn't end here, it lives forever on the wings of time'
Toto - Wings of time (Kingdom of Desire)

Draco chimera

Quote from: Nicky007 on Fri, 2011-11-11, 14:25:34
What do you mean, Draco ?

Sorry, I'm mixing french and english  ;D
I meant that these tracks are a bit heavier, with a certain pace compared to some other songs.
Let your conscience decide !


The Visitor

So, Arena had released two studio albums so far: "Songs From The Lions Cage" and "Pride". Both albums had a typical Neo-Prog sound to it and similarities with Marillion were present more than once. Keith More, who has proved himself a fantastic guitarist(!), had left the Arena and John Mitchell enters the Cage. In 1997 the band released an EP called "The Cry" which features alternate and rearranged versions of the Crying For Help songs, along with a few new ones. It becomes apparent that this new guy knows how to play the guitar. Bring on the next studio album: "The Visitor"!

By this time some peculiar people still call Arena a Marillion clone, but this is simply not true. "The Visitor" marks a new step for Arena and defines their sound. It's also the first real concept album. And it's a very interesting one at that, about near-death experience.

A Crack In The Ice
The first song starts with a distant pulse which changes in a guitar riff and solo. It is one of the many recurring musical themes present on the album. This theme and song is about defiance. There's lots of keyboards and synths on this album, sometimes on the forefront, sometimes very well constructed as a back-up for the vocals or guitar. In the quiet middle section we hear a very beautiful acoustic guitar. At the end of the song the protagonist falls through the ice and the music becomes ambient as if we are underwater.

Pins And Needles
The second song is a very laid-back song. Nothing really special, just a necessary piece of the puzzle and a transition to the next song.

Double Vision
An exciting piece of music. Floating keyboards and swirling guitar solos. Actually, I once called it "a guitar solo with breaks of vocal parts in it" and I think that sums it up quite nicely.

Talking about guitar solos! This one was written by John Mitchell and is a showcase of his talent. Especially considering he was 24 years old at the time.

The Hanging Tree
If I had to choose one song out of this album, it would be The Hanging Tree. It's symphonic character works really well for me. There's a part that reminds me of Genesis' Entangled, there are harmony vocals, beautiful and recognizable melodies, and the guitar and synth combo solo at the end is amazing.

A State Of Grace
I was never really sure about this song. This song is quite aggressive (except for the small "we will be as one forever" bit) and it initially put me off, but it is a song where Paul Wrightson really shines. The protagonist's anger can be felt. I've come to like this song more and more.

Blood Red Room
This 'song' (or rather a musical backdrop for the spoken words) is building such tension and an expectation along with it, which will be met in the next song:

In The Blink Of An Eye
One of Clive's trademark keyboard solos can be found here. This is a highly energetic song. I love the piano parts.

(Don't Forget To) Breathe
I always wondered why most of the title is between brackets. In any case, I'm sure it has nothing to do with Pink Floyd's Breathe (In The Air)!

Like Elea, again a guitar instrumental.

Tears In The Rain
A personal favourite of mine. It's so emotional. Fantastic guitar solo as well. Mr. Mitchell certainly is an asset to the band!

Enemy Without
The song starts with someone either crying or maniacally laughing in the background. The fact that it remains so unclear adds to the mysteriosity of the intro. But then it becomes one of the most uplifting songs on the album. I always want to jump when I listen to it and sing along to it: "No! Don't let the child die here!". ;D

Running From Damascus
In a way it is a reprise of A Crack In The Ice. The part right after "I can feel my heart begin to burn!" gives me goosebumps everytime! "Open your eyes!". This song is the last 'convulsion' before it really ends with...

The Visitor
There he is, the Visitor. The last song doesn't answer the questions asked in the album, it even starts asking even more questions. It ends with a reprise of the Hanging Tree theme. What a beautiful way to end an album!

Looking back at this review I must admit that I don't have much to say about the individual songs. And let's be honest, there's no 'Solomon' on this album. But it doesn't need to. When you take these songs out of context it probably won't make much sense (although there are a few exceptions). But "The Visitor" is more than just the sum of its parts. It is an experience. An experience I want to repeat over and over. Up to this point in their career, this is truly Arena's best album! Can they top it?


Great review Paco! I totally agree with you and Draco that the album is an experience, it's a journey both musically and lyrically.

Also great to see Tears In The Rain mentioned a lot in this thread, love that track.
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..


Quote from: erik on Sat, 2011-11-19, 11:41:36
Great review Paco!

Thanks! ;D As I said, I love to write about the things I love.

Quote from: erik on Sat, 2011-11-19, 11:41:36
Also great to see Tears In The Rain mentioned a lot in this thread, love that track.

Yes me too! It's a very underrated track but it's surely one of my favourites on the album!