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ARENA

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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Arena biography
Founded in 1995 in Virginia Water, Surrey, UK

The gathering of ARENA's famous musicians makes a super-group: Mick POINTER (Ex-MARILLION) plays the drums, CLIVE NOLAN (PENDRAGON) the keyboards, and Keith MORE (ASIA) played the guitar until replaced by John MITCHELL (Ex-Kino).Vocalist Rob SOWDEN has been with the band since IMMORTAL? and the bass player is Ian SALMON. There have also been some guest appearances by Tracy HITCHINGS (singer of QUASAR, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN & LANDMARQ) and Steve ROTHERY (MARILLION's gifted guitarist).

"Songs From The Lion's Cage" is then a very professional Progressive rock, both close to MARILLION and hard-rock. "Pride", their second opus issued in 1996 (one year after the previous one) confirmed the high musical level of this band, at a time when they added a touch IQ to their music. Curiously the band's sound gained in heaviness after their 2 first albums, and the music quality increased a lot in originality and musicianship.

Recorded in 1998, "The Visitor" alternates passages inspired by Steve HOGARTH's group along with some dark instrumentation. "Immortal" shows a new heavier dimension that still remains anchored in the best neo-Progressive music. "Moviedrome" is an excellent twenty minute track. "Contagion" follows the glorious tradition of "Immortal", although I found it more hard edged and multidimensional from all aspects. This powerful and evoking concept album tells about the quest for redemption, through the vision of a dark and anguishing future. No doubt about it, people won't have to think for a long time before electing the best album of winter 2002-2003!

''Pepper's ghost'' from 2005 sees Arena entering the realms of a quite heavy and very symphonic sound with some metal elements, a real highlight of their career. Long-time members Rod Sowden and Ian Salmon left the band in 2010 and they were replaced by Paul Manzi and John Jowitt respectively, the latter starting his second stint with the band.''The Seventh Degree Of Separation'' offers a very fresh and pounding sound, but the song structures had now become a bit conventional. Same goes for their latest entry, the 2015 ''The Unquiet Sky'', here Jowitt's place has been taken by newcomer Kylan Amos.

One of the best bands on the English scene nowadays... HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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ARENA discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

ARENA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.84 | 414 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
1995
3.63 | 330 ratings
Pride
1996
4.04 | 664 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.91 | 452 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.14 | 629 ratings
Contagion
2003
3.63 | 414 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.48 | 288 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
2011
3.68 | 274 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
2015
3.83 | 220 ratings
Double Vision
2018

ARENA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.68 | 75 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
1997
3.76 | 84 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
2001
4.36 | 77 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.57 | 26 ratings
Live Recorded 2011/12 tour
2013
0.00 | 0 ratings
Re-Visited: Live!
2019

ARENA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.01 | 53 ratings
Caught In The Act
2003
3.84 | 61 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
2006
4.08 | 31 ratings
Rapture
2013
3.54 | 27 ratings
XX
2016

ARENA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.97 | 75 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.35 | 24 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
2006
4.20 | 29 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

ARENA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.19 | 12 ratings
Edits
1996
3.48 | 14 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
1997
3.45 | 19 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Story Of My Life
1999
5.00 | 2 ratings
Never Alone
1999
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Cage Unlocked
2001
3.50 | 14 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2001
2.88 | 51 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.64 | 29 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.16 | 46 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Contagious by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
2.88 | 51 ratings

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Contagious
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by thwok

3 stars I listen to a lot of EPs. I think they're a good way to get a general introduction to an unfamiliar band. I had read a lot about Arena, and knew that they're often compared to Marillion with more metal influences. I hear the similarities mostly in John Mitchell's guitar playing and Rob Sowden's singing. That was enough to pique my interest, so I checked out this CONTAGIOUS EP along with the related CONTAGIUM EP. Both EPs contain songs that didn't quite fit on the full CONTAGION album.

The best songs on CONTAGIOUS are "I Spy" and "The Hour Glass". I find the remaining material a little repetitive. "Witch Hunt" is a terrific song, but the original version is far better than this unnecessary remix. I realize that testing out an unfamiliar band would not be the rating standard for many of this sight's visitors, who may listen to more neo-prog than me. This EP does give a general impression of what Arena is about, but CONTAGIUM and the original CONTAGION album are stronger. Definitely explore them first.

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.83 | 220 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by lazland
Prog Reviewer

4 stars In 2015, I reviewed The Unquiet Sky as a welcome return to form by this venerable neo outfit, certainly compared to the disappointing predecessor album.

I am glad to say that Double Vision takes this to a higher level still. It is a deeply impressive album, and I will say immediately that this is the album where every Arena fan will look back in the years to come and say that this was the work where Paul Manzi most definitely made the lead vocalist gig his very own. He simply shines on every single track, and the band have, I feel, now become very comfortable in the fusion of more traditional symphonic and bombastic prog rock, their original calling card, and the far heavier and harder edge which Manzi, especially, brought to the act.

There are also moments of beauty. Witness the denouement to Red Eyes, a gorgeous end piece by Clive Nolan reminding one of similar such passages with Pendragon. My only complaint is that there was potential for an extended piece here.

The album itself, with a stunning piece of cover art, is the sequel to the much loved The Visitor from 1998. I love the lyrical references on the musically huge The Scars to what went on before. On this, the ever busy John Mitchell blasts out some powerful riffs, with Manzi theatrically leading the wall of sound led by Nolan's keys.

This is the major theme I have taken from a large number of listens prior to finally putting "pen to paper" for this review, my first in quite some time. This is the sound of a band who have fused differing progressive sounds, but managed to retain their unique mojo in our little prog rock world. This is an album which clearly deserves to be heard by a far larger audience in the wider rock world. It is also an album by a very stable ensemble - who would have thought we would be saying that about Arena in 2019, eh?

The first five tracks fairly race along in bombastic and heavy style, and we then have a hugely enjoyable ballad in Poisoned, featuring some lovely Mitchell guitar work, before we get to the main epic, the quite superb The Legend of Elijah Shade. All which preceded this leads up to 20 plus minutes of sheer classic Arena, an operatic piece which spells out loud, and at times very loudly, precisely where this band are now.

This is an album which comes highly recommended. An excellent slab of modern prog rock, and a clear statement which leaves the listener salivating at the thought of what might come in the years ahead.

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.83 | 220 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars The uncertainty of ARENA continuing after the departure of vocalist Rob Sowden left fans wondering if the band would ever return with new material but after a six year absence the band recruited Paul Manzi as the lead frontman and put all doubts to rest that ARENA was still in it for the long run. Three albums in after their comeback in 2011 with "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" the band returns in 2018 with the 9th studio album DOUBLE VISION and no this is not a collection of Foreigner covers! After the comeback, ARENA beefed up the heaviness and toned down the progressiveness becoming more of a crossover prog act than the bona fide powerhouse neo-prog outfit that they had evolved into leading up to "Contagion." Unfortunately the following "The Unquiet Sky" continued to tamp down the progressiveness and focused more on tightly delivered melodic rockers that only added touches of atmospheric rivers of synthesizers and eschewed lengthy grandiosity and virtuosic outbursts.

DOUBLE VISION comes three years after "The Unquiet Sky" and after all the negative feedback regarding that album, the band wisely revived more of the progressive aspects however they also kept the heaviness churning and in fact create one of the most rockin' albums of the band's existence. While bassist John Jowitt rejoined the band for "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" he quickly departed and was replaced by Kylan Amos. DOUBLE VISION enjoys the same lineup as "The Unquiet Sky" which allowed the current lineup of Clive Nolan (keyboards, backing vocals), Paul Manzi (vocals), John Mitchell (guitars, backing vocals), Kylan Amos (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums) to conjure up the organic chemistry needed to perfect all the proper elements to make this third phase of ARENA's career as vivacious and relevant as the first two. In that regard DOUBLE VISION definitely steps things up from the rather lazy predecessor that pretty much sounded like a "Seventh Degree Part 2".

First noticeable difference between DOUBLE VISION and the other two Manzi led albums is that his vocals have improved remarkably. It almost sounds as if he's been taking voice lessons in order to improve not only his dynamic delivery but he has expanded his vocal range and covers more diverse grounds. Same goes for the compositions themselves. While the band not only beefs up the prog factor, there was obviously more attention paid to crafting more addictive melodic hooks that develop into a larger frame of pleasantly unfolding prog fueled rock that wends and winds through six strong tracks that culminate in the grand finale, the whopping almost 23 minute long epic "The Legend Of Elijah Shade" which consists of six parts strung together to create one of those delicious slices of overweening pompous prog that true believers will eat up like kids in a candy store.

Now granted, ARENA are not interested in deviating from their established neo-prog style that they have been changing subtly throughout the band's near quarter century career. The strength is in the almost impeccable consistency that sticks to the playbook and only tweaks it enough to create a few unexpected twists and turns but the real bravado is in the excellent melodic developments and how they are strewn together in a series of soft and revolving heavy passages that result in synth-laden, guitar heavy crescendoes. DOUBLE VISION, while not deviating from the established playbook, does however crank out seven stellar tracks that not only rock the house but implement the proper dosages of holy progginess with all that excellent delivery of piano runs, keyboard glides and atmospheric haziness that Nolan so judiciously generates.

Out of the three albums that have featured Manzi, DOUBLE VISION is the best one yet and finds the band effortlessly melding the many phases of ARENAS existence into one beautiful album that includes the more sophisticated compositional prowess of albums like "Contagion" but also some of the melodramatic Marillion inspired 90s sounds from "Immortal?" Add to that the heightened awareness of casting the proper metallic spell and the perfectly placed bombastic parts in conjunct with the synthesized streaming operatic moments amount to ARENA's best album of the decade. True that nobody will find any surprises not already included int he ARENA playbook but when an album contains no weak tracks and each one is constructed so uniquely and placed in the proper sequence which amounts to such a glorious listening experience then who really cares if this is the most original album ever to hit the prog scene. Sometimes high quality over originality wins the day and DOUBLE VISION certainly made the quality a top priority. A triumphant return to form!

 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.68 | 274 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by 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.

 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.48 | 288 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars With the loss of vocalist Rob Sowden, it's no wonder ARENA had to step back for a while and decide if the band should continue or not. After all, Sowden's distinct vocal flare is what made ARENA, well ARENA, right? Well not so fast there. After a presumably restful break with some soul searching for the next move that the band should embark upon if any at all, ARENA returned six long years after 2005's "Pepper's Ghost" with not only a new vocalist in the form of Paul Manzi who came out of nowhere but also found the unexpected return of bassist John Jowitt who had left the band after 1998's "The Visitor."

While the band never officially broke up and continued to tour, the new lineup was the perfect reset button and ARENA did the wise thing and didn't try to find a vocalist who would merely mimic the previous while pretending everything was just the way it was before. Au contraire. ARENA reinvented themselves for the seventh album aptly titled THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION which continued the ARENA tried and true tradition of cranking out an album's worth of nebulous concepts concerning life, death and the ethers that bridge the two all set up in emotive musical drama with instantly addictive hooks laced with progressive touches.

In fact, the changes had already begun on "Pepper's Ghost" as the band ramped up the heavier elements with harder guitar delivers, increased tempos with a more heavy rock edge than any of the album's that preceded. THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION simply picked up where that album left off stylistically speaking as if six years were just an illusory chunk of time. However, despite the attempt to just pick up where things left off, the notable differences in vocalists dictated that things were not the same and it sounds like every attempt was made to allow the music to adapt to Manzi's vocal abilities rather than the other way around.

Continuing the heavier aspects, ARENA opted to tamp down the more complex aspects of the progressive side of things which didn't sit well with many a fans and for many this was a clear decline and disappointment for one of the premiere neo-prog bands of the 90s. The tracks are more clear and concise with not a single one extending beyond the eight minute mark and most hovering around four. In a nutshell, THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION is much more a hard rock album than a progressive neo-prog album but that doesn't diminish the effectiveness of its rich tapestry of melodic weaving and excellent mastery of vocals, guitar oriented riffing and Clive Nolan's unworldly talent for casting the perfect atmospheric projections on his keys.

Conceptually, THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION tackles the subject of death by exploring Frigyes Karinthy's theory from which the album title gets its name only ARENA changed the original six to the number 7. Karinthy was a Hungarian author and postulated that all people are only six or fewer social connections away from each other. I guess he wasn't taking hermits into account but i digress. As with all ARENA albums, the thematic presence is loosely defined, nebulous to the core and is meant to fire up the imagination rather than cast an iron clad tale into literal form. Once again the music perfectly matches the imagery and despite the more accessible musical compositions works quite well in tandem.

While the obligatory bloated progressive elements are removed and replaced by a series of catchy pop hooks, the tracks whiz by fairly smoothly, all connecting for a nice album ride to the near hour completion. In some ways, Manzi reminds me of Geoff Tate of Queensryche in his vocal style only without the multi-octave range but his vocal phrasings and voice signature in general makes this connection. Likewise, the progressive metal of early Queensryche also seems to have at least made a marginal impact as some of the tracks have similar chord progression and atmospheres however these are subtle references and THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION stands up on its own two feet.

For finicky prog purists, this one will surely disappoint. It seems to purposely eschew any meandering sections that point to the perfect prog escapism but rather nurtures the melodic constructs into shorter and to the point rockers. But despite the decomplexifying touches, this is still prog rock through and through and there are healthy doses of time signature deviations, stellar atmospheric overcasts that glaze the Genesis inspired soaring guitar licks and emotive rock opera styled melodramatic effects. Just don't expect an album like "Contagion."

What's clearly missing is any sort of standout performances by Nolan as the keyboards have taken a back seat to the more ramped up guitar, bass and drum parts. Despite the new direction, i find THE SEVENTH DEGREE OF SEPARATION to be quite the addictive album based on the strong melodic hooks alone and the fact that they are augmented by a heavy rock bombast makes it all the stronger. I can totally understand why some fans jumped ship at this point but i find this new phase to be just as appealing as what came before but then again i crave change rather than relish complacency any day.

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.83 | 220 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Tarcisio Moura
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 3,5 stars, really. I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand itīs a bit of a disappointment: the album is basic a bunch of songs, with the group becoming a wee bit too predictable musically. Thereīs nothing really new and even the "epic" The Legend Of Elijah Shade (22 minutes and 39 seconds in length) is little more than a bunch of small songs cobbled together with no real continuity or coherence in terms of what an epic should be. Only the final part does show Arenaīs in all its power and glory at the emotional fade, but then itīs too little too late. And it only serves to show how innovative and moving this band once was. On the other hand, letīs face it: the songs may not be that original, but, boy, are they good! And, if you are not not very demanding, itīs a darn good album of fine stuff.

Yes, itīs hard for me to listen to Double Vision without comparing to their masterpieces The Visitor or Contagion. Even the previous The Unquiet Sky (2015) is better than this one. Only occasionally you hear a (brief) keyboard solo form Clive Nolan. Again there are no instrumentals. Fine, it is still far better than the disastrous 'The Seventh Degree of Separation' of 2011, but that is not the hardest thing to do for talented guys like Arena. Another good news is the fact that Paul Manzi is singing better than ever. The guy is a fantastic vocalist and since The Unquiet Sky he got the spirit of Nolanīs dark lyrics and themes. My point is: itīs a good album, with very good songs and has almost all the elements we know and love from this band (unlike The Seventh...). Still... I really wish they had come up with something more adventurous and progressive, but you canīt have everything.

Conclusion: Not their best stuff, but very far from being a dud. Good songs, sometimes very good, but I can not say it is essential. Hence the 3,5 stars mark.

 Live & Life  by ARENA album cover Live, 2004
4.36 | 77 ratings

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Live & Life
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Arena - Live & Life (2004)

I've been picking up some new Arena live records and was quite blown away by this one. I've been listening with goosebumps to the Contagion album since age fourteen (delivering papers after school hours!) and I still frequent this magical album.

On the first disc of this double live set they play the album almost in its entirety. Though some of the original's abstract magic is lost, this powerful rock star rendition recorded has a charm of its own! Rob Sowden shines throughout with vocals that mach the atmosphere of the original, whilst opening up registers of vocal strength on some major powerful moments. The guitars sound thicker and grittier, the keyboards are a bit more to the background the rythm section is playing in a higher gear throughout. The total mix sound fuller and more intense then the Contagion album itself. Surely this is one of the best neo-prog live album recordings I know of. If the genre lacks one thing, it's the feel of really rockin' out.

On the second disc we get an overall 'best of' from the debut, Visitor and Immortal. Standout song like Solomon, The Butterfly Man and The Hanging Tree are glorious, whilst 'Chosen' seems to be the only song that doesn't benefit from this spiced up version of Arena. On songs from the first three Arena albums Rob Sowden again stands out as the best vocalist the band ever had.

I will give five stars for this most entertaining and uplifting live record.

 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.68 | 274 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by 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: ***

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.83 | 220 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars The latest incarnation of popular British Neo-Prog band Arena has been in place for seven years now, and 2018's `Double Vision' marks the third album fronted by superior vocalist Paul Manzi for the group. While `Double Vision' may not quite be the big leap forward in sophistication that 2015's `The Unquiet Sky' was in comparison to the previous song-based (but actually rather underrated!) `The Seventh Degree of Separation' that kicked of this era, it still confidently marries the heavy guitars and shadowy gothic keyboards of this current version but now fuses them again to the lengthier prog epics of Arena's early days. While the album may not be a narrative-driven concept work, all of the seven pieces here share a similarly icy air, heightened emotion and surreal darker lyrics to maintain a stylistically similar mood the entire disc.

The curiously titled `Zhivago Wolf' is a punchy opener fuelled by Clive Nolan's mysterious icy synths and John Mitchell's snarling guitars, the piece detailing the way memories can be distorted over time only to seem more real than ever before. Vocalist Paul Manzi reels off a feverish string of stream-of-consciousness fragmented imagery and the band tear off into an up-tempo sprint behind Kylon Amos' pulsing bass and Mick Pointer's thrashing drums in the final moments. `The Mirror Lies', detailing the `emperor's new clothes' syndrome of those who believe their own hype, might feature big organ blasts and crushing riffing, but some calmer guitars and soothing ambient synth washes throughout harken back to the prettiest earliest Arena moments, and it also holds a catchy chest-beating chorus perfectly delivered by Manzi's soaring voice (and just listen for Clive's wavering keyboard break in the middle!).

Synths elegantly shimmer throughout `Scars' behind Manzi's pleading introspective voice, but it's really a showcase for John Mitchell's stadium-sized guitar soloing that rages with purpose, and muscular riffing around trippy electronic ripples burn throughout `Paradise Of Thieves' that also reveals another superb chorus. Bombastic organ menace and biting heavy guitars are perfect for conveying the hideous world of online sexual grooming in `Red Eyes', and lyrics like `Virtually invisible to you, spinning out my charms and promises, I can walk right into any room,' are deeply confronting. `Poisoned' is then classy and emotional ballad for lost loved ones, a true standout moment for Manzi on a disc that constantly highlights this charismatic singer.

It's then onto a closing epic (oh, as if prog fans dig those!), and the near-twenty-three minute `The Legend Of Elijah Shade' continues some story elements introduced on Arena's rightly cherished masterwork from twenty years ago, `The Visitor', a title often placed alongside other highly-regarded Neo-Prog works such as IQ's `Subterranea' `Twelfth Night's `Fact and Fiction' and Pendragon's `The Masquerade Overture'. Actually it's more a multi-part continuous suite of tunes than a true epic that would hold recurring themes and reprising passages, but pantomime-like grandness (similar to the wonderful stage shows that Nolan spends a lot of time on these days), ghostly piano ballads, boisterous harder rockers and uneasy gothic touches are all peppered with the theatrical vocal delivery, rousing choruses and surreal words the band do so well. There's no shortage of runaway keyboard soloing, and passages of sweetly chiming guitars and pretty synths instantly embrace the more romantic moments of the early albums once more, making the piece everything Arena do so well, and it maintains the great momentum and suitably dramatic build they excel at.

Arena here manage to marry the new with the old, but crucially without making it sound like a lazy retreat due to lack of inspiration. It's certainly not a challenging reinvention for the group, nor is it ever particularly subtle, but strong tunes, melodic arrangements, robust singing and an atmospheric instrumental backing all help make `Double Vision' a deceptively powerful and effective addition to the Arena discography that many of their fans will adore.

Four stars.

 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.48 | 288 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by The Crow
Prog Reviewer

2 stars After the departure of the best singer in Arena's history, Rob Sowden, along with the bassist John Salmon, Arena returned with a new line-up and some new ideas, starting a whole new era for the band.

But sadly, a great part of the magic of this band was sadly gone. The new singer Paul Manzi is a good one, but his heavy and high pitched style just don't fit in Arena. Rob Sowden is very missed here, but even other Arena singers were a better choice than Manzi in my opinion.

Nevertheless, the real problem in this album is the boring, predictable and average songwriting. In The Seventh Degree of Separation we can encounter a bunch of songs in a not very progressive dark-hard rock style where Manzi is the protagonist leaving little space to the great keyboards of Nolan (who is not prominent at all throughout the record) and the Mitchell's solos, being Catching the Bullet a fine exception.

The result is a less than average neo-prog record. Boring, repetitive, sometimes really insipid and not remarkable at all.

Best Tracks: The Great Escape, What if? (beautiful chorus) and Catching the Bullet (good progressive interlude)

Conclusion: Paul Manzi a good singer, but not a good choice for Arena. He lacks dramatic strength and true feeling in his singing. And this fact along with the mediocre songwriting, makes this album the weakest in Arena's discography in my opinion, Even under the not so loved Pride.

For this reason, I consider The Seventh Degree of Separation just for fans only and true neo-prog junkies. The rest can easily avoid this one, because does not offer anything really interesting.

My rating: **

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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