Review Summary: Some bands or albums have disappeared into oblivion, not always for no reason. I can certainly argue that Arabia has vanished unfairly off metal's map. It has almost everything on offer for music lovers stretching from blues fans to glam metal addicts.
One of the main issues when reviewing an album is to find the balance between autonomy of the music and the amount of context necessary. Can a piece of music (or art) speak for itself, or is contextual, historical and biographical information essential to really understand and appreciate it" Through experience I have become convinced of the advantage of framing an art work in the specific setting, so the horizon broadens, prejudices vanish - or will be confirmed - and doors open to another, unsuspected world. Take this album as an example. You can skip the contextual information and just appreciate the music offhanded. You can still admire the singer's forceful and emotionallly thrilling voice, enjoy the varied and well composed rock anthems or savour the beautiful interplay of the guitar tandem. But there is so much more to figure out and discover.
As there is: The album was launched in 1989 in Holland by the ambitious band by the name of Vengeance. They were very promising, but never received the recognition (read: record contract) they were longing for. One of the founders being Arjen Lucassen, the multi instrumental mastermind of Ayreon, a man of many talents. He learned his lessons well, as he proves on this album, blending Blackmore-inspired neo classical magic with groovy blues riffing, powerful hardrock tunes, crowning his eclectic style with expeditious Van Halen trickery. His playing style is always melodious, inventive and powerful, full of references and nods to his admired models (Blackmore, Young, Van Halen).
Also crucial to the sound on this album is Leon Goewie's voice and singing style, combining a higher pitched David Coverdale/Bon Scott hoarseness with energetic, intense swipes in the vain of Bruce Dickinson. His range is of course less extensive, his scope restricted but nonetheless impressive. Lucassen and Goewie both had concepts and ideas about the direction of the band in the near future, inevitably leading to friction. Goewie had to leave Vengeance in 1990, Lucassen left two years later by own decision. Although the band still exists.
John Snels on drums and Jan Bijlsma on bass are doing fine without excelling. Noteworthy however is the interplay between guitar players Jan Somers (who passed away unexpectedly in 2011) and Lucassen. Somers' style is groovy, bluesy, swinging and at lightning speed when needed. Together with the more neo classical approach of Lucassen this tandem guarantees pyrotechnics on a high level, very exciting, albeit not sounding original or ground breaking. But this is exactly the character of this album: it's aim is not to experiment, deviate or to challenge existing formulae. Arabia is an exciting, entertaining and compelling quality album, full of memorable riffs and sing along choruses alluding to the American audience. The production is crystal clear and sounds very professional. The atmospheric, surrealist cover art by Dutch realist painter Ben Verkaaik reminds of Salvador Dali's 'The Elephants'. (Yes, I even think that album cover art, band logo style etc. adds to the appreciation of the music, and this again is context).
So, how about the songs" There are no less than four 5/5 songs, some interesting ones and of course some fillers. The album's title track Arabia
transcends all expectations one might have. It's a powerful, epic track with -naturally- oriental melody lines, betraying Deep Purple and Rainbow (Stargazer!) influences. The guitar solo particularly is very Blackmoresque. The sound is thick, heavy and controlled, keeping the right balance between commerciality and honesty. Cry of the Sirens
starts with the sound of waves, before developing into a fantasy oriented epic. They even borrowed the sound of creaking ship's masts from 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' to reinforce the ambiance.
Despite of the generic title, If Lovin' You Is Wrong
is a killer ballad, played with passion and decorated with delicious twin guitar work. Just listen to the arpeggiated chords in the first part and the melody introducing the chorus, the subtle and controlled solos and you realize this could have been a smashing hit in the hands of a more famous band (for instance: Guns 'n' Roses).
The intro of Castles in the Air
consists of a beautiful harpsichord harmony. This up tempo song with catchy melodies and sturdy, fluid guitar solos is one of the genuine metal anthems on this album. Although the Vengeance type of metal verges on AOR, LA Glam Metal and good old hardrock, the vigorous, energetic and pushing quality is evidently rooted in modern heavy metal.
Worth mentioning for different reasons is The Best Gunfighter In Town
, a Southern hardrock/boogie song spiced up with harmonica and slide guitar. Funny and uncomplicated, but very well performed closer is the parody Western song How About Tonight
with Lucassen on banjo and jazzy interludes. A worthy end to an album chock-full of proficient, enchanting and entertaining light-footed metal which dived under the radar, but will surely satisfy lovers of eighties metal with a huge bent towards metal's history and heroes.