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ARENA

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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Arena biography
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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Unquiet SkyUnquiet Sky
Import
Imports 2015
Audio CD$13.07
$12.22 (used)
VisitorVisitor
Import
Inside Out 2004
Audio CD$10.18
$7.18 (used)
Pepper's GhostPepper's Ghost
Import
Imports 2012
Audio CD$8.28
$4.94 (used)
ImmortalImmortal
Inside Out U.S. 2000
Audio CD$16.75
$4.99 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
STATUS QUO & NICKELBACK Tour/Concert Flyer Sheffield Arena UK 2015 Rock Music USD $1.54 Buy It Now 58m 26s
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5h 53m
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9h 6m
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21h 33m
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23h 45m
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ARENA shows & tickets


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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)

3.88 | 342 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
1995
3.66 | 269 ratings
Pride
1996
4.07 | 545 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.91 | 377 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.20 | 504 ratings
Contagion
2002
3.60 | 345 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.47 | 231 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
2011
3.83 | 134 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
2015

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

3.67 | 59 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
1997
3.83 | 70 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
2001
4.45 | 63 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.28 | 20 ratings
Live Recorded 2011/12 tour
2013

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

3.90 | 40 ratings
Caught In The Act
2003
3.81 | 53 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
2006
4.08 | 22 ratings
Rapture
2013

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

2.96 | 67 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.31 | 20 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
2006
3.86 | 18 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

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

2.22 | 8 ratings
Edits
1996
3.43 | 12 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
1997
3.42 | 15 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Story Of My Life
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
Never Alone
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Cage Unlocked
2001
3.10 | 10 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2001
2.85 | 43 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.48 | 24 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.10 | 39 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by progbethyname

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.

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by rdtprog
Special Collaborator Heavy 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 .

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Progrussia

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.

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 Immortal? by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.91 | 377 ratings

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Immortal?
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

4 stars Neo-proggers ARENA entered the timeline of the millennial change releasing their fourth album IMMORTAL? and sees the edition of yet another lineup change with their third lead vocalist Rob Sowden replacing Paul Wrightson and taking the role of musical story teller and frontman. Also we get a changing of the guard on bass duties with Ian Salmon taking over for John Jowitt. While Sowden's vocal abilities don't strike me as having as wide of a vocal range as his two predecessors he does manage to get the job done and despite being put off by his addition to the band upon first listen, i have comfortably settled into the fact that they really don't dissuade from the musical experience at hand.

As far as the music itself, despite the addition of a new vocalist and bassist, this is 90s ARENA all the way with strong ties to the Marillion neo-prog sound of the 80s replete with keyboards on atmospheric steroids, melodic guitar solos and that galloping baseline that gives neo-prog its own special bouncy flavor in the greater prog universe. John Mitchell continues to ramp up the distorted power chords ratcheting the band ever closer to the more hard rock oriented sound of future albums and the music is as catchy and melodically drenched in melancholy as any of the best neo-prog releases out there. Mitchell's solos and acoustic contributions are also tasty attributes to the overall scheme of things.

Like most ARENA albums, this one is endowed with excellent lyrical content loosely based on the concept of the human perception that the obsession for technology is a panacea for taking the place of aspects in life that keep the body and soul in balance with the greater worldl environment with an album cover that reminds me of the same theme like on Roger Waters' "Amused To Death." The vocals are delivered with the usual flair and gusto that ARENA vocalists are known for and even though Sowden isn't top dog for my favorite vocalists he does fit well into this style of music that requires the frontman to accentuate the rhythms, melodies and themes that demand such bravado. Mick Pointer's drumming has improved although never flashy or out of the context of the music.

As always, despite being a tad derivative of previous neo-prog releases, ARENA doesn't disappoint with strong, well-crafted tracks that are constructed of highly melodic developments accentuated by all the icings on the cake such as the pompous bombast of Clive Nolan's keyboard runs, suave piano rolls and synthethesized atmospheres drenched with mellotron and choral samples. I initially liked IMMORTAL? less than many of the other ARENA albums surrounding it but i have to admit that the tunes are downright catchy enough to hook me and reel me in so successfully that i have surrendered to their charm. Still not my favorite ARENA album and the 90s approach to songwriting is definitely in need of an upgrade soon but this last vestige of that era is a very decent one with IMMORTAL? ranking high amongst its contemporary neo-prog rivals.

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

BUY
The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by emperorken

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.

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by steve-s332

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.....

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by 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.

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by onslo

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.

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 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.83 | 134 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Wasp

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.

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.47 | 231 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by aapatsos
Special Collaborator Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams

3 stars After a long break of six years, Arena return with no Rob Snowden on vocals and a concept album yet again (Clive Nolan is responsible for all the lyrics), this time on what they call the 7th degree of separation (or rather connection?): that to the dead. This abstract theme is recurring in the album but don't expect continuous storytelling.

There is a significant change of structure compared to Pepper's Ghost with only one composition exceeding the 5-minute mark. Paul Manzi does a good job on vocals, albeit his range sounds narrower than that of his predecessor, but that fits the overall build of the album: verse-chorus-verse compositions with a strong rock character, very good melodies and solid rhythm section but little grandiose and theatrical twists and turns. AOR does come into play and does fit nicely to the new path Arena have decided on this album, with a rather strong commercial feel and without necessarily eroding the characteristic sound of Nolan/Mitchell, at least when compared to the band's post-2000 heavier releases.

''Trebuchet'' and (the long-ish) ''Catching the Bullet'' are perhaps the only tracks with a direct reference to the material on Pepper's Ghost and constitute, along with ''Burning Down'' and the very Marillion-esque closing ''The Tinder Box'', the more interesting compositions in the last part of the album. Furthermore, there are excellent vocal sections in ''Bed of Nails'' and ''Rapture''. The Threshold-prog-metal-type sound is quite dominant and even in songs where the commercial approach might go a bit too far (''One Last Au Revoir''), Arena manage to pull the ideas and melodies to maintain consistence, with no stand-out weak tracks.

A good album that flows freely; certainly not essential, but the potential is there for a return to their excellent moments. 3.5 stars.

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