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Arena - The Seventh Degree of Separation CD (album) cover





3.47 | 346 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars A great degree of inspiration

It astonishes me to think that it is some six years since we last had a new album from Arena, 2005's "Pepper's ghost" still seeming like a new album. Since that time, vocalist Rob Sowden and bass player Ian Salmon have left the line up, to be replaced by Paul Manzi and the great John Jowitt respectively. Despite these changes, it still takes considerable effort on the part of all concerned to come together in the studio, such are the demands on their time from the various other projects the band members participate in.

In the months leading up to the release of "Seventh degree of separation", Clive Nolan teased us with talk of this album being "darker" than anything which had gone before, and the sleeve image certainly has a menacing quality.

I have learned over the years not to judge an Arena album after a couple of listens. It takes time for each release to reveal itself, initial impressions inevitably proving misguided as familiarity replaces novelty. Albums such as "Contagion" and "The visitor" still continue to offer new and exciting dimensions whenever they are played, even after all these years.

So it is with "Seventh degree of separation". Here we have an album whose structure has more in common with the aforementioned albums than with others such as "Immortal" or "Pepper's ghost". The tracks here are generally shorter but designed to flow together to create a greater whole. This perhaps makes it logical that it is a concept album, the basic theme being set in the last hours of life and the first hours of the afterlife.

Manzi's arrival is nothing if not dramatic, his unaccompanied introductory call of "Can anybody hear me" clearly having live performance in mind. The song, "The great escape", is similar in style to "Immortal's" opener "Chosen", the heavy guitar riffs driving a song which features a fine vocal performance by Manzi's. "Rapture" is really a continuation of "The great escape" as it retains a similar style and pace (plus the "..hear me" reference), but is even more bitter, including a superfluous wee sweary.

"One Last Au Revoir" has the feel of "The visitor", the up-beat, positive vibes allowing John Mitchell to add some of his delicious flowing lead guitar runs. It contrasts completely with the troubling doom of "The Ghost Walks", perhaps the heaviest track ever recorded by Arena. Even here though, Mitchell and Clive Nolan combine to create a wonderfully atmospheric wall of sound. "Thief Of Souls" is one of the album's more straightforward songs, as is the brief "Close your eyes", either of which might at one time been potential singles.

"Echoes Of The Fall" is something of an out and out rocker, with a bit of a (dare I say) Queen feel. Nothing wrong with that in my book, indeed the song oozes enthusiasm and excitement. "Bed of nails" is reminiscent of "Ascension" from "Contagion", the song featuring similar majestic vocals against a regal backdrop. On "What If?", Paul Manzi displays a different dimension to his voice, the quasi-rock ballad sound of the song suiting his style well. This is probably the most melodic of the songs on the album, and therefore the most instantly accessible.

"Trebuchet" opens with the trademark Arena sound as the main character moves from life to death. The music though is anything but downbeat, Nolan's epic keyboards and Mitchell's soaring guitar being driven by the powerful rhythm section. "Burning Down" is one of those typically Arena tracks which misleads those who jump in too quickly into thinking they know it after one or two listens. There are subtle musical cross-references afoot here, as there are in many Arena songs.

"Catching The Bullet" is the longest track (or section) on the album, but that is of little relevance really. The track has a decidedly progressive arrangement, with John Mitchell displaying various aspects of his prowess on guitar, while Clive Nolan creates a superbly symphonic bed of keyboard sounds. We close with "The Tinder Box", a song with echoes of "Friday's dream", the song which closed the "Immortal" album. The song brings everything together, lyrically and melodically, setting up a magnificent conclusion to this captivating album.

In short, a magnificent album from a fine band. The line up changes have proved inspirational in music terms, the result being an album which flows superbly while offering a diversity of moods and styles. To those who were quick to judge upon the album's release, I can only suggest that you revisit the album, get to know it, and discover the magic of Arena once more. This is one of the band's best ever albums.

Easy Livin | 5/5 |


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