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THE UNQUIET SKY

Arena

Neo-Prog


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3 stars This review is based on 3 listens on receipt this week of the new album - and I'm sure my feelings may change with time and more familiarity, however, I have to say that this (to me) sounds just the same as Seventh Degree, very formulaic. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this album as I enjoyed the previous, it just is not quite up there for me. The guitar and drums are so similar to previous albums, and I'm still not convinced that Paul Manzi (great vocalist that he is) suits Arena's sound. And where oh where is Nolan's keyboards, which used to be one of the joys of great Arena albums, very memorable hooks and catchy noodlings...ha ha. Now, I search but cannot find. I will endeavour to find something in this album for me, but my initial instincts are, good, but not great and could've been brilliant. Is it time to say RIP Arena (along with Pallas & Pendragon), I sincerely hope not, but....... Sorry guys.
Report this review (#1389048)
Posted Saturday, March 28, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arena are back on form! I've had this album since their gig in London recently (a couple of weeks ago) and I've had it virtually on repeat. I won't make too much of an extensive review here but I will make a few bullet points.

* Anyone who had issues with Paul Manzi's voice on the last album should give him another chance on this one. Rob Sowden is obviously the best singer they've had. I personally liked the job Manzi did on the last album, yet it did take a bit of getting used to. But I can say that, on this album, he does an even better job and his voice is recorded and mixed in a way that suits him better.

* This is the catchiest Arena album ever, in my opinion! There are such great melodies throughout the album and I'm already singing the songs in my mind or out loud throughout the day.

* This album is not a Contagious beater. That album is so good and really hard to beat but I really feel it's one of Arena's best and I do think most people won't see it as that straight away. It is an improvement upon The Seventh Degree Of Seperation, but is also a departure from the sound of that album. One might think that 7th Degree was an indication of the sound and style they were heading in but the sound changes again for this album. It has elements of the last album but also contains some of the classic sounds of early Arena, which I think was done on purpose as this album was written to celebrate their anniversary. And with that said, this album is impressive for the time scale in which it was made. Apparently, it's the first album where Clive has opened up to let the whole band have a hand in writing.

* Track 2 (How Did It Come To This?) is one of the best songs they've ever written. Such a haunting, sober reflection on what we've come to in this world.

* Lyrically, this album is beautiful. As usual, the lyrics are very poetic and seem to roll off the singers tongue.

Summary: Make sure you give this album a chance, with repeated listens, no matter what your first impression tells you and no matter how much you want to hold onto past Arena styles. I place it in the top three albums by the band, potentially giving it the number two spot. I'm rating it 4 stars but if it were to be rated as an Arena album alone, I'd give it 5.

Report this review (#1390549)
Posted Monday, March 30, 2015 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars * Please note - this review is based on the pre-order CD sold directly from the band, one month before the worldwide general release *

Clive Nolan and his Neo-hard rocking companions return for the eighth Arena album in twenty years, `The Unquiet Sky', taking inspiration from (without being a direct interpretation of) M.R James' short story `Casting the Runes'. It's easy to see why the ghostly tale of supernatural intrigue and occult mystery from 1911 would appeal to Mr Nolan, and the album reveals plenty of the sleek and heavy symphonic rock with poetic lyrics that the British band is known for. The previous disc `The Seventh Degree of Separation' was a divisive and somewhat controversial release for a new line-up of the group that now included vocalist Paul Manzi, a transitional album that saw them adopting a more streamlined hard rock/metal sound. But long-time fans of the group will be pleased to know that, while there are still similarities to that previous album here and there, the much-loved symphonic atmospheres the band was known for are given more focus again, meaning a better balance of these two qualities together to create a truly sublime Arena work.

Some of the twelve tracks on offer still retain a hard-rock flavour, but everything an Arena fan could hope to discover is all present and accounted for here. After a more low-key performance on the previous album, virtuoso keyboardist/composer Clive Nolan is center stage again over the entire disc. Not only are his exquisite synths constant and upfront, but the artist has also implemented plenty of theatrical and orchestral symphonic textures into the group this time around, his recent work with the `Alchemy' musical being obvious right from the start, and these theatrical flourishes are a perfect fit for the group. Vocalist Manzi made a promising and reliable debut as singer for the group on `...Separation', but here he lifts his game considerably and offers endless more vocal variety. Better worked into the group, he is equally at home with heartfelt ballads, theatre flair and chest-beating rockers, and he has really become a perfect frontman for the band. Kylan Amos from Nolan's own `Alchemy' production replaces bass player and IQ member John Jowitt and makes an impressive debut here, ex-Marillion drummer perfectly drives the music forwards and It Bites/Kino/Lonely Robot guitarist John Mitchell delivers his usual tasteful and commanding guitar flair.

Of several of the highlights, listen out for the gleefully wicked and wondrous orchestral pomp that opens the album that could easily be an outtake from Mr Nolan's `Alchemy' show, the infernal and overwhelming church organ intimidation of `The Demon Strikes' and especially the shimmering dark reggae (yes, really!) chimes and sleek electronics of the thrashing `No Chance Encounter', where Kylan's bass really glides. `The Bishop of Lufford' perfectly mixes ghostly gothic mystery with soaring symphonic prog and muscular hard rock (and wait for that hair-tearing heavy finale!). `Oblivious to the Night' is a fragile little piano interlude with whimsical synths and a thoughtful vocal, `Markings on a Parchment' is an eerie dream-like introspective instrumental, and Mitchell's extended guitar solo in the classy title track even brings to mind Nolan's other band Pendragon.

Cascading classical piano spirals with snarling brooding guitars in `What Happened Before', and Clive delivers an overload of delirious synth soloing goodness on both `Time is Running Out' and `Returning the Curse' in the best Nolan tradition that his fans always love to hear! `Unexpected Dawn' is a strong ballad with warm Hammond organ and soothing acoustic guitar, and the ambitious seven minute closer `Traveller Beware' finds time for plenty of ghostly gothic tension, punchy plodding heavy riffs, creeping piano and a stirring repeated chorus with a dark lyric.

But special mention has to go to glorious power balled entitled `How Did It Come To This?'. It's a glorious emotional tune with a sombre piano melody, delicate orchestration and dreamy lyrics, carried by a perfectly controlled yet soaring vocal from Manzi. A restrained unfolding guitar solo from Mitchell in the middle ensures it may be one of the truly most heartfelt pieces ever to appear on an Arena album, and it's certainly one of their most purely romantic musical statements to date.

Along with typically fascinating and surreal proggy cover artwork and a lavish CD booklet (but what a shame there doesn't seem to be a vinyl version in the works so far), `The Unquiet Sky' is one of the most lavish, sophisticated and varied Arena albums to date, and certainly one of their most endlessly melodic. It's a fine return to form for the Neo prog institution, and it really shows what this latest line-up is capable of, so hopefully even more impressive music is to come from the mighty Arena!

Four stars.

Report this review (#1392457)
Posted Friday, April 3, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars I picked this album up when I went to the first gig on Arena's 2015 tour. I had enjoyed "The 7th Degree of Separation", but I didn't think it matched the rich vein of form the band struck starting with "The Visitor" and ending with "Contagion". "The 7th Degree of Separation" brought the guitars to the front of the band's sound, which I think resulted in a loss of balance - I am pleased to report that "The Unquiet Sky" has brought things back. The opening track "The Demon Strkes" starts with an orchestral type of riff that sounds a bit like the soundtrack to "Night of the Demon", the movie the album takes much of its concept from, and breaks into a great track that sets the scene very well for the album with threatening ghostly sounds floating around the track. The second track, "How Did It Come to This?" is for me the stand-out track on the album. It is quite simply gorgeous, with an excellent almost longing vocal from Paul Manzi and a superb solo from John Mitchell. The album then dips a little as it continues the story; "The Bishop of Lufford" has a nice hook, but I found the next 3 tracks atmospheric but not particularly exciting. However, the album then kicks up a gear as it enters the second half, with "The Unquiet Sky" leading a great sequence of tracks that gradually build towards the end of the story - I get the impression that Clive Nolan really enjoyed writing this, and his keyboards certainly jump out a lot more, with sterling service in "What Happened Before" and "Time Runs Out" and a great keyboard/guitar combo on "Returning the Curse". The last 2 tracks finish off the album in fine style, with "The Unexpected Dawn" reflecting wistfully on the story, and "Traveller Beware!" bursting into a sharp, driving rhythm with a ripping guitar solo, a quieter middle section and a great crescendo to complete a very good album.

Definitely worth buying this one when it is released - just be careful not to accept a strange piece of paper with seven mysterious symbols written on it.....

Report this review (#1394301)
Posted Sunday, April 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Oh well, another disappointing release from what used to be one of the best neo prog bands around. What happened to the progressive Arena, anyway? The band that made GREAT albums like The Visitor and Immortal? I had assumed that Seventh Degree of Separation was just an aberration, but apparently I was mistaken. The transformation from prog band to AOR(rock) band is now complete.

OK, I must admit that the musicianship and production are top notch, and there are some good melodies here. And, as a straight rock album, this is pretty good. But it's just not what I've come to expect from Arena. The singer, Paul Manzi, is not bad, although his style matches the new style of band. I think Rob Sowden was far better, and I miss him.

Now apparently this is a concept album, and Arena has done concept albums before. The difference here is there are no recurring themes, at least that I've recognized yet. This just sounds like a bunch of rock and/or hard rock songs strung together. So I will be generous and give this 3 stars, because it's still pretty good as a straight rock album. But, unfortunately, it cannot hold a candle to Arena's string of great prog albums of the 1990's and 2000's.

Report this review (#1397697)
Posted Sunday, April 12, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Arena has gotten lazy, selling us English Victorian fantasies (hence the talk of bishops and the parchments) all over again. I've heard this album described as a return to form after the relatively simplified Seventh Degree of Separation, but neither Degree was that bad nor the new one is that good. I view them both as continuing on the largely similar path - vocal-dominated plodding gothic hard rock with that typical Arena production that sounds as if crashing down on your ears unquietly from the sky. But whereas Seventh Degree had several hit-sounding tracks on it, memorable hooks or surprising passages are simply missing on Unquiet Sky. It's just a big lump of hard rock with loud synths.
Report this review (#1408826)
Posted Tuesday, May 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
rdtprog
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars The album concept is from a short horror story by Mr. James called "Casting the Runes". The atmosphere of this film is illustrated in the opening song. If the last Arena's album didn't convince all critics, this one could bring back some of those who didn't like the direct approach of this last album. This new album is not radically different from the others, but you can hear how much Clive Nolan's work on keyboards and piano has succeed to create some new sounds which give to the music a more atmospheric sound. You just have to listen to the track "Returning the Curse" to hear some nice atmospheric sounds from the keys that could find similarity with the band IQ. Also on this song, it's easy to get hooked on the chorus : "You look at me, but you failed to see me". Usually I am not the biggest fan of ballads, but here, the two ballads "How did it come to this" and "Oblivious to the Night" have enough quality to keep my attention throughout the album. The confident voice of Paul Manzi must help me enjoy those songs, but also the nice melody. There is also some semi-ballad type of songs that are not as captivating as most of the songs, but we get enough strong compositions to make for it. I was under the impression on the last song of the album "Traveller Beware", the way the song was building up, that it was going to be a epic like they did in the past, but this time the band keep their songs not too long. I don't want to finish this review without talking about the but the guitar work of John Mitchell who's sensible touch is tangible through this album .
Report this review (#1409905)
Posted Thursday, May 7, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Arena Use The Yin And Yang Approach By Balancing Old And New Sounds To Create A Filthy Gorgeous album.

I Have been an Arena fan for quite some time now and it's so nice to hear and see this band really coming to the forefront of displaying so much quality both in sound and conceptual storytelling. I believe Arena have now become masters or superior tradesmen in creating music that has so much progressive might without having to have a song surpass an 8min marking. This, to me, is nothing short of remarkable.

From the moment" The Demon Strikes " hits my ears I am captivated in all that wonderful Arena flare and glory, both conceptually and musically. This is a track that has 5 massively different transitions with in 5:38min song span! I bring this point up because their have been many that have said and felt, Arena have lost their progressive edge. This I tell you isn't true. Not in the slightest. If one really listens to this album with his or her full attention I would hopefully think that one would grasp all the lovely sophistication and production arrangement Arena have put forth in, " The Unquiet Sky." Clive Nolan's sweeping keyboards and generated orchestrations alone should have any progressive music enthusiast chomping at the bit. John Mitchell's guitar still shines boldly and deeply emotional, similar to that of his approach in the "Peppers Ghost" album. New comer, Kylan Amos has a massively thick bass. some of the strongest low end I have heard on just about any Arena album, except Immortal? Amos's bass peddle work perfectly suits the album's overall conceptual theme. It's a strong and brooding sound that will vibrate you from here to kingdom come. Lastly, Mr. Mick Pointer's drums are still the same. A very straight forward style that isn't overly technical, but more of groove style that still pounds and hits your ears like a fright train. All the skills of each band member are accentuated beautifully throughout the entire "Unquiet Sky" album. A ton of progressive might with a good amount of accessible melody, which will surely hook you in.

Presently, I have a hard time picking a favourite or stand out track that would sit above the rest mostly because each song on the album flows so beautifully one after the other, but if I had to list some key highlights I feel, as mentioned earlier, "The Demon Strikes" because of its unbelievable transitions and gorgeous musicianship makes for a real gem of a tune. The track also shows vocalist, Paul Manzi really coming into his own and really, above all, fitting in with the band completely. Manzi is more natural sounding and you can really feel the sense of urgency in his voice. He has toppled and crushed his performance in his debut album "The Seventh Degree of Separation." Just listen to his voice command on "The Demon Strikes" and "time Is Running Out." The way he treats the main choruses in those 2 songs is above and beyond. Another track highlight is the ballad " How Did It Come To This? " Now I've heard a lot of great ballads in my time and this one is no exception. It is perfect. I get goosebumps every time I hear it. "How Did Come To This" is pure and utter sonic joy. The emotion put forth by each band member is off the charts and is enough to put just about any listener on their knees thanking the heavens that they got to treat their ears to such a blissful song.

The last major notable album Highlight would be " The Traveler Beware." Now this is a track that I like to call, A Micro epic. It has so much rocket sauce crammed into 7:39min. I absolutely love this track because I feel this is the song that best exemplifies what Arena are doing so well and where they have become the most innovative. "Traveller Beware embodies that Yin and Yang balance whereby Arena fuse old and new styles together to an extremely beautiful and calculating level. I hear wisps of the "Contagion" and "Peppers Ghost" albums combined tactfully with their new artful heavy rock style in the present. It's really a perfect blend. Arena are riding a pretty impressive creative tide right now. I've embraced it and I hope most listeners can as well.

Audio mixing and Production. Briefly, "The Unquiet Sky" from a sound engineering/sonic level definitely has quite a few legs up from that of the previous album " The Seventh Degree Of Separation." Even with the most modest sound equipment I could still hear just how frighteningly bright and loud the "Seventh Degree of Separation" was and is sound wise. Well, to be fair, it wasn't Metallica's: Death Magnetic loud, but I found every instrument on "The Seventh Degree" was pushed too far forward. Even the vocals were way too bright, and I'm not sure if this was done purposely to showcase the new arrival of Manzi's chops but you will notice how exceptionally louder he sounds on that album as opposed to the current, "The Unquiet Sky." I tip my Top Hat to Simon HanHart for doing a great job album mixing wise because everything musically is far more balanced including the vocals. Overall, sonically "The Unquiet Sky" is a better produced/engineered album than many other previous Arena albums. It's nice to have the "loudness" wars put to an armistice.

In conclusion, I couldn't have asked for a better Arena album output, especially for what they are trying to do by reinventing their overall sound, but still keeping that old trademark flare to balance out the band's overall character and image. My feelings towards "The Unquiet Sky", everything from the gorgeous cover art, the album's production, conceptual storyline and of course the music itself is surely that of a masterpiece. This is my most favored album of 2015 thus far. My ears couldn't be happier.

All 5's. All smiles.

Report this review (#1424243)
Posted Saturday, June 6, 2015 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars After the rather weak and very disappointing 7th Degree of Separation, Arena (or more specific leader Clive Nolan) seems to realize that that record was not up to their fans expectations and quickly released (for Arena´s standards) The Unquiet Sky. And I must say they really did an excellent job. This new CD has everything you should expect from this great group and was lacking from the previous album: a dark concept, terrific melodies, intelligent and tasteful arrangements, symphonic keyboards and heavy guitar interplay and a very fine singer. That last aspect surprised me the most. I was not really bought by new vocalist Paul Manzi on 7th Degree... Technically he was great, but his delivering up to then was too nice and soft for Arena´s themes. Here he seems to understand how to deliver the dramatic lyrics with passion and menace that makes his vocal lines much more convincing.

Instrumentally the album is also much more varied and interesting, helped by the renewed, inspired songwriting (based around the M.R James' short horror story `Casting the Runes'). Nolan´s elegant keyboards lines are back on the forefront along with the emotional, creative guitar solos of John Mitchell. Bassist John Jowitt has left the ship again, but you´ll hardly notice it for newcomer Kylan Amos has a similar style of playing and does a fine job throughout the whole CD. As usual the Mick Pointer´s drumming is fantastic. Production is also top notch, balancing vocals and instruments in a much better way than on 7th Degree... (where the vocals were too loud). There are no real lows on this album, the flowing of the tracks is very smooth and pleasant, making it one of Arena´s best works in a long time. I always listen to The Unquiet Sky form start to finish with the same pleasure and that tells it all.

Conclusion: if you´re thinking Arena was going downhill after 7th Degree Of Separation, think it over. They came back with an album that is as strong as anything they have released before that CD. I wish other bands could come back after a dud with such powerful and inspired follow up!

Rating: 4,5 stars. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1450772)
Posted Sunday, August 9, 2015 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Arena - The unquiet sky (2015)

After the mediocre Peppers ghost and the somewhat flat progressive metal album The seventh degree of seperation (with new vocalist Paul Manzi), Arena returns with a classic neoprogressive record that can live up to the 'Visitor', 'Immortal?' and 'Contagion' era of their career.

Most songs are either dark progressive tracks or emotional ballads. All songs have a part that really sticks and some instrumental passages remind me of the best of what my all-time favorite Contagion had to offer. Moreover, vocalist Paul Manzi now seems to add to the Arena-style, instead of diminishing it like on their previous effort 'Seventh degree of seperation' - though I would still prefer Rob Sowden any day.

The opener 'The demon strikes' sets the atmosphere that is actually quite dark. 'How did it come to this?' and 'Unexpected dawn' are both good examples of how a symphonic ballad can work really fine. On the last track 'Traveller beware' Arena gives an almost eight minute long treat of their extended progressive rock songwriting, perhaps a bit like 'The butterfly man'. My favorite part of the album is the string of songs that starts with the atmospheric 'Markings on a parchment' (with a nice bass lead), continues with the exciting dark piano parts of 'What happened before' and the classic Arena 'Time runs out'.

The production of the album is fine, with especially the bass guitar well in the mix and impressive symphonic sounds. I am always amazed by the guitar-playing of John Mitchell and his leads sound really well on this album, though I must admit I sometimes get the feeling 'I got to know his list of tricks'. The vocals are a often dubbed and a more natural vocal sound would not have hurt, though I know it is a part of the genre.

Conclusion. A much appriciated return to form from my first progressive rock love. Had it been a bit more inventive I could have given it five stars, but it will have to do with four. Recommended to listeners of the neo-prog and symphonic prog genres, and perhaps to those who like their prog with a dark atmosphere.

Perhaps this record deserves a bit more anticipation around here?

Report this review (#1455918)
Posted Monday, August 24, 2015 | Review Permalink
lazland
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The Unquiet Sky is a welcome return to form by Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer's pomp prog vehicle, Arena, and it certainly is a huge improvement on Seventh Degree of Separation, an album generally regarded as being a massive disappointment.

The key, really, is a return to what the band do well. Take a story, preferably, as in this case, one revolving around the supernatural and ghostly world, add layer upon layer of huge sounds, until an atmospheric masterpiece is created. Simple, eh?

I have to say that one of the pleasures of this album is just how much of a great performance Paul Manzi puts in. Massive vocals, atmospheric, and reflecting the quality of the material he works with. I was not overly impressed on the last album, and this, I have to say, really sounds as if it was the material, rather than the bloke himself to blame. Manzi is very well suited to the overblown post-neo pomp of Arena, rather than the ill advised crashing metal he was on previously.

John Mitchell is as good as he has ever sounded, meaning we are treated to some fantastic licks. Clive Nolan has, especially, returned to that layered sound. His effects on the title track (think the prog version of Enya) are a joy to listen to, whilst the rhythm section of Amos and Pointer are extremely efficient in keeping matters moving along nicely.

This album is, for me, in the top five prog releases of 2015, and it has been played many times now, and, if anything, gets more enjoyable with each listen. Beholding such a return to form has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year musically.

This is up there with the best of Arena, and gets an easy four stars, in reality four and a half, if we had such a rating. An excellent addition to any prog collection, and those unfamiliar with the band's work, or this type of bombastic prog, could do a lot worst that starting here. Hugely enjoyable.

Report this review (#1499449)
Posted Tuesday, December 15, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Neo-prog standouts Arena return with their powerful blend of hard hitting, pomp-filled, highly melodic, and well performed rock with The Unquiet Sky, a concept album that, despite seeming to check every item on the "Prog Rock" checklist, comes across as a bland and ultimately unmemorable experience.

I decided to pick up this album after revisiting the band's excellent catalog (including Contagion, probably my favorite album in the neo-prog sub-genre here on the Archives). I was happy to hear the band roar to life within the first two minutes, smashing out a heavy blast of guitar and walls of keyboards in the great introductory track, "The Demon Strikes." One thing that can never be taken away from Arena is the band's excellent musicianship; they're simply great at creating this style of music, and know how to put the pieces together to make for outstanding instrumental moments. Paul Manzi, who returns to handle vocal duties, is serviceable, fitting in well with the tone established by the band's preceding vocalists. Personally, I prefer Sowden, who has stronger timbre and phrasing, but Manzi can belt out passionately and has a powerful sustain.

My issue is mostly in the songwriting and overall feel of the album. It's not because The Unquiet Sky is basically a by-the-books prog-rock concept album; we can easily forgive this because there are so many great examples out there that are, when you get down to it, derivative. It's more a malaise of mid-tempo blandness which pervades the majority of the album's running time. The highs aren't high enough; ballads not subtle enough; up tempo moments not exciting enough... you get the picture. I can totally groove to a single track or two on this album, but when taken as a single listen I am totally bored by the end. The music doesn't capture me, and the story doesn't inspire me; in fact, the lyrics are encumbered by their sheer number and need to tell a story, often literally, rather than through creative rhymes or poetic verse.

So sort of a mixed bag in the end. You won't regret listening to The Unquiet Sky, but it won't get nearly as much play as other albums in the genre. Fans should definitely check it out, but others should stick to the group's more diverse and exciting library.

Songwriting: 2 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

Report this review (#1573946)
Posted Thursday, June 2, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars I heard great things about this album and being relatively new to Arena but having really liked Contagion I thought it would be the ideal next thing to listen to. I was quite disappointed at first ? for reasons I can't remember ? but it didn't last. This album is superb and Paul Manzi really shines as the new (to me) vocalist here.

The material is a tighter story, almost more towards Clive Nolan's musicals in form, though not stylistically and obviously with a single vocalist.

I should probably put Contagion on again sometime and remind myself of it, but these days every time I want to listen to Arena this is the album I pull out.

Five stars, no ifs and buts.

Report this review (#1779154)
Posted Monday, September 4, 2017 | Review Permalink
The Crow
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After the boring, uninspired and dry The Seventh Degree of Separation, Arena came back four years later with The Unquiet Sky!!!

And despite the scheme of the album is similar, having a long list of short songs unlike the band's classic albums, this time Arena tried to retrieve a bit their classic sound but without achieving this task completely. The album is heavy, dark and more guitar oriented in comparison to previous works, much in the vein of The Seventh Degree of Separation, but this time the songwriting is better and there is also more place to pure neo-prog elements in songs like Returning the Curse.

Sadly, Paul Manzi is still not the adequate singer for this band in my opinion. He uses a tone which is not so high pitched this time, but his style is too heavy metal oriented, and he lacks the dramatism and great interpretation of the lyrics that the other Arena singers like Paul Wrightson or the very missed Rob Sowden had.

Nevertheless, we must see the bright side of life, so let's say that The Unquiet Sky was still an improvement!

Best Tracks: The Bishop of Lufford (dramatic and powerful), Time Runs Out (simple, but effective), Returning the Curse (the most neo-prog song and where Clive Nolan shines the most) and Unexpected Dawn (and unexpectedly good acoustic track)

Conclusion: The Unquiet Sky was not the comeback album that the Arena fans were waiting for. It's too repetitive, with too many insipid guitar riffs and it lacks the dramatism and great keyboards of older albums. And Paul Manzi is not the adequate singer for this music, despite having a very good voice.

But like I said, the album was at least better than The Seventh Degree of Separation being an enjoyable experience in general terms, giving us a glimpse of hope for the future of this once great neo-prog band.

My rating: ***

Report this review (#2082944)
Posted Wednesday, December 5, 2018 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars After the six year gap between 2005's "Pepper Ghost" and the 2011 return with "The Seventh Degree Of Separation," ARENA debuted a new lead vocalist in the form of Paul Manzi after the departure of long time frontman Rob Sowden. Also rejoining the cast was bassist Jon Jowitt who had left the band way back after 1998's "The Visitor." While ARENA enjoyed a brief period of stability around the turn of the millennium, the band's eighth album THE UNQUIET SKY found yet another lineup change. While band founders Clive Nolan (keyboards) and Mick Pointer (drums) were still at the helm directing the band's every move as well as long time guitarist John Mitchell, THE UNQUIET SKY found yet another bassist with Kylan Amos after Jon Jowitt left the band once again. While the band didn't take six years to release a new album, they were in no hurry either and THE UNQUIET SKY wouldn't emerge for a full four years after the predecessor.

THE UNQUIET SKY pretty much continues the exact format as "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" which found the band ramping up the heavy rock aspects to make the updated version of the band with Manzi as the vocalist a louder more rockin' affair. The album starts off with an elaborate cinematic soundtrack type of intro which gives a clue to the inspiration behind the album's content. While the overall themes are multifaceted, the story is based on a short horror story by M.R. James titled "Casting The Runes" and the 1957 film version titled "Night Of The Demon." The timeline is in the Victorian times and the album also nods to the rock operas "She" and "Alchemy" due to Manzi's involvement in the latter. ARENA performs in the usual theatrical and moody manner that they always have with Clive Nolan's eerie keyboard touches haunting every cadence and providing the atmospheric generator as the canvas on which to paint the melodies and rhythmic drives of the heavy guitar, bass and drums.

Overall it's really hard to distinguish THE UNQUIET SKY from "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" as the album seems to carbon copy every aspect and the band had fallen into a comfort zone with little desire to expand beyond the previous album's newly established harder edge rock tracks. Once again ARENA implements a series of shorter tracks that emphasize strong melodic hooks that constitute simpler constructs although with just enough progressive mojo to keep it from being booted out of the progressive rock club. If random tracks from this one were mixed with the previous album and shuffled together it would be virtually impossible to distinguish which belonged on which album therefore THE UNQUIET SKY fails to distinguish itself in any significant way save the rare overtly cinematic touches such as the introductory track. While the band perfectly checks off all the boxes that make ARENA the band they are, what's missing here is some sort of interesting deviation from the status quo.

To my ears this album sounds like one of those bonus albums that was tacked on to deluxe packages, a trait that has become more common especially in prog circles like IQ and other neo-prog bands. An album that is perfectly listenable and basically gives the fans a double dose of what a particular album dishes out. If this had been released the following year after "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" and marketed as a sort of "Part 2" then this might have been more acceptable but after a four year absence in which to craft something more stellar, THE UNQUIET SKY does fail at wowing the aural sensibilities. Nevertheless there is nothing bad at all about this album. It effortlessly cranks out twelve well-crafted tracks that weave pleasant melodies, dynamic outbursts of heavy rock alternating with piano led slower moments and the expected storyline that revolves some melodramaticism excavated from long ago. Unfortunately despite all the exact same traits as its predecessor, everything seems a little watered down and showcases ARENA in a slow but sure decline.

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Posted Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Review Permalink

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