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





3.47 | 346 ratings

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5 stars The first spin of this album came to me in the form of 320 MP3 file with a very good sound quality. But unfortunately I was not impressed at all with this album as the opening vocal line by the new vocalist sounded awkward to me. I did not then pay enough attention to this album until I got the CD. The album comes in a 3-leafed digibook with a 28 pages counting pullout booklet, packed with original artwork. Mine is special edition with a bonus DVD of 50 minutes, featuring 'the making of' the new album, in which the five members give the viewers an insight into the process they went through when composing the music. It was a long wait, approximately 6 years from their previous album. It's basically shorter than what IQ took to release new album. Of course I expected something better than their previous album.

Well, with the CD version at my hands I was then feeling obliged to spin again the album. Surprisingly, I did enjoy the second spin and then I kept playing the album many times. Oh man ... this album is really a grower for me as the more I listen to it the more I like it. And then I kept asking question: why didn't I like it at first spin as the music is basically not so complex and it's typical Arena albums after all? Was it because of the MP3 format? I don't think so as there have been so many albums that I got the digital file first before I then got the CD and I had no issue at all. By the way, at the end of the day I always rip my CD into digital file format for convenience. Having pondered myself with that question I finally conclude that this album is a real grower for me. I started with disliking and then grew into liking it and finally now I'm loving it. I'm really happy that Arena is back in its form with consistent music direction.

Let's have a look in detail ....

Am I still here? Am I hidden from your sight?

Oh my God ....! I really love the powerful vocal line by Paul Manzi opening the album in "The Great Escape" (4:38). Quality-wise, I am impressed with his clean voice and it's better than his predecessor Rob Sowden. "The Seventh Degree Of Separation" is a concept album about the journey from the last hour of life into the first hour of death. WOW! It's a subject that really fits with me as I always wonder how I would end my life. Of course I always pray to God that at the end of the day I would want to die as a good moslem. The lyrical verse of this opening track visualizing how would it like one hour before death. Paul really dare to start this wonderful track with acapela followed with symphonic rock style that flows in medium tempo like typical neo prog music. There are many good riffs mixed softly, showing the vocal power of Paul.

The second track "Rapture" (4:22) starts with an ambient nuance followed nicely with simple but catchy riffs continued with nice vocal "I always wondered how my destiny would go" .... oh... I really love this simple shot. Style-wise this track is basically a riff-based prog rocker with great variation of percussion work combined with excellent drumming in the middle of the song especially during the lyrical verse "Don't tell me - what you think i should believe". It's really a great variation and it helps accentuate the music.

"One Last Au Revoir" (4:34) sounds poppy at first listen of the album. But later I think this can serve as a nice bridge to the next track. Melody-wise, it's a very good one especially when the style changes in some segments after the continuous music. There are nice guitar shots here and there during the entire song - and most interestingly in the interlude part where it has a stunning performance combined beautifully with keyboard work. Mitchell and Nolan collaborate really really well here as always with previous albums.

The next track "The Ghost Walks" (3:19) reminds me to Steve Hackett's "Defector". I don't think Arena does it intentionally as it does not really sound the same - only the nuances are similar especially through the combined work of guitar (in Hackettian style) and keyboard with similar beats, drumming-wise. Of course the two are not the same, only similar. When the vocal enters the music, the two are different.

"Thief Of Souls" (3:52) starts with soft piano work followed with vocal line and howling guitar work at background, mixed softly. As the title implies this is now the time when the soul moves away, lyrically. It flows nicely to "Close Your Eyes" (3:25) which opens with guitar work followed with vocal line. It really reminds me to the style shown in Arena's masterpiece work "The Visitor". This track serves as a break as it's different compared to other tracks.

Musically, "Echoes Of The Fall" (2:26) serves as an important bridge as this short track has a relatively fast tempo with some rocking segments where guitar riffs play significant role combined nicely with Pointer's drumwork. "Bed Of Nails" (4:39) continues with slower tempo maintaining the overall tone of the storyline. I like the interlude part that actually does not demonstrate any long solo work but the nice guitar work during transition pieces. It then slows down with guitar fills that remarks the start of next track "What If?" (4;35). This one actually quite boring at the intro part. Again, Mitchell's guitar work is stunning right here.

The rhythm guitar work in Burning Down is great!

"Trebuchet" (3:39) moves up the tempo through its dynamic beats featuring a combined work of keyboard as well as guitar. Even though this song sounds just flat to me but the guitar work as well as vocal are really nice. Most importantly this track serves beautifully as a transition piece to the next wonderful "Burning Down" (4:29) track. I do enjoy this track because of its rhythm guitar work is really top-notch. Actually I am about to get bored with the music but as this track enters I come to the situation where I am energized with how this song flows. Well, not only rhythm guitar work after Manzi shouts "Burning down ..."! WOW ....!! I really love this part. This is one of the reason why I can stay with this album as I know that I will reach this wonderful eleventh track. This track really stirs my emotion especially that guitar rhythm plus beautifully crafted keyboard (Hammond?) solo. I bet you love this track as it's really great!

Having been satisfied with "Burning Down" I actually do not really care with how it would look like after this track, i.e the remaining two tracks: "Catching The Bullet" (7:42) and "The Tinder Box" (4:16). These last two tracks conclude the concept album nicely and I enjoy how these two are really placed here at the final chapters.

Four or five stars?

One chief reason why I have deferred very long not writing a review of this album is because of this one single question: four or five stars? have to admit that this album cannot surpass the materpiece work "The Visitor" the band has ever made. Comparatively, I can say straight to the point that this seventh album is much better than their sixth "Pepper's Ghost". So, for sure I can give four stars for the Seventh. And then, is it good enough with four stars? I do not think so, because the storyline is really good. Yes, musically this album is much simpler and much straighter than The Visitor but then I ponder myself with this intriguing question: does prog really require to be complex? Nope! So .... finally I give this album with 4.5 plus stars that rounds up to be five. If I do not consider the lyrical verses, just looking at the music perse, I might have given four stars rating. But this one deserves a five star rating. JRENG! Keep on proggin' ...!!!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Gatot | 5/5 |


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