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





3.47 | 346 ratings

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3 stars Arena - The Seventh Degree of Seperation (2011)

On this album by Arena, a major band of the neo-progressive rock genre, we get to hear quite a lot change going on. Vocalist Rob Sowden has left the group, which I myself though was a pitty. New singer Paul Manzi has a powerful modern prog voice, much less abstract and 'somewhere out there' then Sowden's. Another major change is the style of the material, which consists of shorts songs with relatively little progressive rock dynamics and originality. A third is the modern progressive metal sound with the heavy guitars of Mitchell put on the foreground and the keyboards of progressive rock veteran Clive Nolan quite timid in the mix. The effect is a less recognizable sound for Arena, which has grown a lot towards bands like Kamelot.

Former vocalist Rob Sowden often found ways to elevate songs to a degree that I thought of albums like 'Contagion' as significantly better then that of the competition in the field. Perhaps he just hit the spot for me personally. Now singer Paul Manzi sings lines that a clearly from Arena, yet distinctively more overproduced and less in the moment of the music. Most refrains are made up of vocal notes tightly bound to the rhythm and harmony and with little fantasy or liveliness. Moreover, almost every chorus has that dubbed poppy progressive metal vocal sound, which easily becomes a bore. In the couplet themes Paul Manzi proves to be more lively and slightly aggressive, which works for me.

The short songs don't seem to be out of place in the beginning of the album, but after a while the simple tight melodies on heavy, but simple chords start to become quite uninteresting. The songs are just a bit too much like the the one before it. Exceptions are mystical 'The Ghost Walks' and the up-tempo 'Echoes of the Fall'. Most songs have some great symphonic instrumental themes, but because the lack of advanced songwriting nothing falls in its right place. Even the better tracks like before mentioned 'The Ghost Walks' would have fitted better within a multi-part progressive rock track. To make things even worse, the only longer track of the album 'Catching the Bullet' fails to impress because of apparent lack of innovation or some original hook (like for instance Opera Fanatica had).

It must however be said that the band has made a good impression on the heavy metal community, getting for instance a 90/100 from Dutch metal magazine 'Aardschok' and 87/100 from online metal magazine ''. The band has most certainly not lost any of its professional sound and musicianship. So perhaps we can conclude Arena has made an effort to win new audiences in the booming progressive and symphonic metal genre.

Conclusion. This album shows the band going into a more straightforward symphonic metal direction, which I find significantly less interesting. Three stars. Still highly recommended to fans of the progressive metal genre.

friso | 3/5 |


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