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





3.47 | 346 ratings

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4 stars It's been six year's since we last had an album from Arena, the excellent Pepper's Ghost. After such a hiatus it needed to be a good one and although band members have been active in their other bands (Pendragon, Frost, It Bites etc) Arena as a band could have been in danger of missing out on the current prog resurgence. Fortunately The Seventh Degree Of Separation is a winner though likely to divide the fan base on opinion.

They have a new singer to replace the departed Rob Sowden who left after not being impressed by the direction of the new material. His replacement is Paul Manzi and whilst not so much in the prog singer mould, if there's such a thing, he turn's out to be the best vocalist the band have ever had. More of a traditional rock vocalist not a million miles away from Bernie Shaw of Uriah Heep. Another new recruit is excellent bassist John Jowitt who should need little introduction to anyone who's been listening to prog for a few years or more.

Onto the music - and this is where fans are likely to be divided. Firstly The Seventh Degree Of Separation is a concept album about someone dying covering their last hour of life and the first hour of death. All very prog so far but musically we find Arena in much more accessible and commercial territory. While it's recognisably Arena, particularly on the darker sounding moments such as Rapture and Trebuchet where Clive Nolan's lush keyboard work stamps their melancholy mark with his trademark sweeping chords, the music often has an almost AOR feel. Check out What If? for the perfect example. Fortunately whilst this may have some fans reeling in horror there's no denying the quality of the tunes here. Of some disappointment is the fact that there's less instrumental work and when it comes it's very welcome such as on the excellent Catching The Bullet, incidentally one of the album highlights. Fans of John Mitchell's heavier guitar work are well catered for though as he features strongly throughout but a few more of his searing solo's would have been appreciated.

As good as it is this is not Arena's greatest album and unlikely to be thought as such by any existing fans. Nevertheless with a vocalist of the calibre of Manzi they have the potential to transcend boundaries and appeal to music lovers outside the prog genre, particularly with their more accessible edge. Whether this can happen so far down the road in their career is unlikely but the possibility remains. Personally I'd love to see them come back in a couple of years with an album along the lines of Immortal? which would be fantastic to hear with a vocalist of the calibre of Manzi. For now though I'm thoroughly enjoying this one.

Nightfly | 4/5 |


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