Arena – The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance (2022)


How do you start a review of your favourite band's new album? Well apparently with this question. Right after the release of Arena's debutalbum Songs from the Lions Cage I became an absolute fan of the work of this fantastic band. With Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer at the helm, they have made nine studio albums prior to the new album, The Theory of Molecular Inheritance, which are all very good. After switching from guitarist Keith Moore to John Mitchell, the influence of the latter has increased and that is a good thing. After the release of The Visitor, my all-time favourite album, it was clear that Mitchell adds a lot to Arena's sound. There is, however, a clear trend towards increasingly heavier songs with less chance of extended solos. The previous album, Double Vision, is a fine album but my least favourite in the oeuvre of these Brits. So I was very curious, almost tense, about newcomer The Theory of Molecular Inheritance, partly because of the already published reviews, which were all very positive.

Do I also think it's a top album? Yes, I do.

How come?

Well here we go.

First of all we have to name the umpteenth new singer. With the magnificent Damian Wilson, we have a reason right away. This man has an incredibly beautiful and diverse voice and conveys emotions in an exceptionally clever way. If all the previous singers were just really good, Wilson is the icing on the cake for Arena, the singer they deserve.

What's also a reason for me lies in the fact that it is a concept album and that has produced the best albums so far and I think this album is as good as Contagion and The unquiet Sky and those also are classy albums. The songs fit together very well and there is a lot of dynamics in songs like Time Capsule and  The Equation and they slowdown in the right places. Especially in these pieces Wilson shows how easily he switches from full power to wonderful melancholy. Too bad the songs don't really flow into eachother. However, the breaks between the songs are minimal so you still get the feeling of a flowing whole.

On to the next point, Pointer's drumming. There is often quite a bit of criticism on this, from non-enthusiasts, and this was not entirely unjustified, although not for me. I said was and not is because Mick has started to play much better and his influence on the music has always been considerable . On The Theory of Molecular Inheritance the drums sound better than ever and although he will probably never be chosen as the best drummer ever, he plays excellent parts and provides a lot of drive. And to complete the story of the rhythm section, bassist Kylan Amos does what he always does, laying a solid foundation without too much fuss. Listen to the haunting intro of twenty-one Grams , but sometimes I secretly miss the frivolity of John Jowitt though.

And then, Nolan and Mitchell, what a perfect combination these two make. As a keyboardist and composer, Nolan is the undisputed engine of Arena and he has once again created a wonderful range of beautiful sounds and parts with a few shorter solos but also a very long one. Super guitarist Mitchell has also become a very important link within the band and his playing is so diverse and so tasteful. He certainly gets room for a few of those mighty solos that have it all and really get under your skin, but mostly plays in the service of the songs.

The eleven songs form a whole, but can also be listened to separately. Still, I will listen to the album in its entirety in the future. As said before, it's all pretty heavy and that's why the quieter songs stand out so much and Under the Microscope in particular is the highlight of the album for me. Here Mitchell is at his best. But really weaker songs are just not on it and that's a great accomplishment.

Is everything only positive then?

I do have a few minor comments with an emphasis on minor. For me, Mitchell's role should be just as big as on The Visitor, especially when it comes to solos. Or those tasty intermezzos like Elea and Serenity. You can hear this in his solo project Lonely Robot. (But that's where the music appeals to me a bit less) For me the music could also be a bit less heavy, but I realize that this is a process that has already started on the previous albums. Just a choice and we as fans will have to accept that.

There are three versions available, a standard cd, a luxurious ear book or vinyl. There is a very big difference in prize and although I always order a more luxurious version I did not this time. After looking at the extras on the bonus disk I decided it was not enough to spend way more than two times the amount compared to the standard edition. Maybe I’m wrong about this, I heard there is a great song on it. (see below) There will also be a vinyl version but I personally don’t understand that revival let alone the fact that it is also very expensive. Crazy world (read my view on this on the columns page)

I stand corrected! I went to see the guys live in Hengelo (review on concertreviews page) and decided to buy the deluxe earbook for €40,00 and I have to say, I'm glad I did. Vindication is a great song and especially the instrumental version of some of the songs reveal extra beauty and one can hear Mitchell playing great solo's in these songs, better than on the album I dare say. Maybe it's in the mix?

It would be a surprise if this album is not to be at the very top of my annual list this year and that despite of the beautiful An Hour before it's Dark by Pointer's former mates. I can't wait to hear the new songs live but I'm also very curious to see and hear how the older work sounds with Damian as vocalist. It can hardly be otherwise than that it must be an added value. I understand he's already rehearsing Solomon.

A special mention goes to the beautiful artwork bij David Wyat, another link with Contagion.