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ARENA

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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Arena picture
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!

ARENA Videos (YouTube and more)


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Buy ARENA Music


Unquiet SkyUnquiet Sky
Verglas Music 2015
$13.17
$16.75 (used)
Visitor (20th Anniversary)Visitor (20th Anniversary)
Remastered
Verglas Music 2018
$18.86
$28.10 (used)
Arena Re-Visited Live! (Blu-Ray/Dvd/2Cd/Booklet)Arena Re-Visited Live! (Blu-Ray/Dvd/2Cd/Booklet)
VERGLAS MUSIC 2019
$41.10
$41.02 (used)
Double VisionDouble Vision
Verglas Music 2018
$12.73
$17.22 (used)
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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 | 418 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
1995
3.64 | 331 ratings
Pride
1996
4.05 | 667 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.91 | 458 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.14 | 636 ratings
Contagion
2003
3.63 | 417 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.48 | 288 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
2011
3.68 | 275 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
2015
3.83 | 226 ratings
Double Vision
2018

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

3.68 | 76 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
1997
3.76 | 84 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
2001
4.36 | 77 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.61 | 27 ratings
Live Recorded 2011/12 tour
2013
5.00 | 5 ratings
Re-Visited: Live!
2019

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

4.01 | 54 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)

2.98 | 76 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.38 | 25 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
2006
4.21 | 30 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

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

2.28 | 13 ratings
Edits
1996
3.51 | 15 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
1997
3.45 | 19 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
1999
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Story Of My Life
1999
4.67 | 3 ratings
Never Alone
1999
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Cage Unlocked
2001
3.50 | 14 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2001
2.89 | 52 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.67 | 30 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.17 | 47 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Pride by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1996
3.64 | 331 ratings

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Pride
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review Nš 278

Arena was formed in 1994 by Mick Pointer, the former drummer of Marillion, and Clive Nolan, the former keyboardist of Pendragon. Their debut studo album, "Songs From The Lions Cage" released in 1995, was a very strong neo-prog debut album with some aggressive playing that brought comparisons to Fish-era Marillion and contained some lengthy tracks with long guitar and moog solos. Their next and second studio album "Pride" released in 1996, which built upon the sound the band had begun on their first album and saw them develop away from some of the Marillion's influences.

So, "Pride" is the second studio album of Arena and was released in 1996. It's the first Arena's album to feature vocalist Paul Wrightson and bassist John Jowitt. Paul Wrightson replaced their founder vocalist John Carson and John Jowitt replaced their founder bassist Cliff Orsi. Curiously, both two new band's members, Paul Wrightson and John Jowitt quit the band after the release of their next studio album "The Visitor", but John Jowitt returned to the group in 2011. It's also the last album to feature their founder guitarist Keith More which was replaced by John Mitchell on their next album. So, the line up of the album is Paul Wrightson (vocals), Keith More (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), John Jowitt (backing vocals and bass) and Mick Pointer (backing vocals and drums).

As with "Songs From The Lion's Cage", "Pride" has also nine tracks and all the songs were written by Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer. The first track "Welcome To The Cage?" is an excellent pompous and very catchy rock song with great vocal performance by their new vocalist Paul Wrightson. It has also a great and very fast keyboard work excellently well backed supported also by great guitar and bass works. This is an excellent powerful opener for the album. The second track "Crying For Help V" is a very nice and beautiful song in the same vein of their "Crying For Help" songs of their previous studio album. This is an excellent instrumental song with beautiful keyboards and flute performances that reminds us the medieval times. The third track "Empire Of A Thousand Days" is also a nice and good song. However, it sounds to me a less appellative and a less catch song than the opener of the album. It's an epic song, one of the epics of the album, with very good lyrics and nice guitar and bass works. It represents also a great musical moment on the album. The fourth track "Crying For Help VI" is another instrumental track in the same vein of "Crying For Help V", and it has a very typical Genesis feel. It follows a similar classicist medieval music style, but this time, instead of keyboards and flute we have the song shared between acoustic guitar and keyboards. The fifth track "Medusa" represents one of the two highlights of the album. The other is "Sirens". It follows the same steps of the opening song, being a more standard rock song. It became a classic neo-prog song and one of the songs most played live by the group. The sixth track "Crying For Help VII" is a very simple song only performed with vocals. It's a nice a Capella song very beautifully performed by Paul Wrightson. The seventh track "Fool's Gold" is the second epic song of the album. It's another nice bombastic song with explosive choral work. It states a similar scheme of "Empire Of A Thousand Days" and like it, it's also a less appellative and less catchy track, than the long songs on "Songs From The Lion's Cage", despite being also a very good track. The eighth track "Crying For Help VIII" is a strange and dark song very calm and beautiful, with a kind of a celestial appeal, which serves perfectly as an introduction for their closing musical number. The ninth and last track "Sirens" is the third epic song on the album and represents, without any doubt, the great highlight of the album and it's also one of best tracks ever made by Arena. This is, in reality, a great epic perfect song that alternates calm and romantic musical ambiances with mysterious and bombastic parts. It's a very complex musical number, the longest of all the tracks, featuring many tempo changes and with a very strong finale. This is a great closing track for this album.

Conclusion: "Pride" is the name of the second studio album of Arena, but it could also have been called "Songs From The Lion's Cage, Part II". In reality, "Pride" has the same musical structure of "Songs From The Lion's Cage", with also nine tracks, five long and most complex progressive tracks alternated with four short and less complex tracks. Even the short tracks are still called "Crying For Help" and continue with the same sequence number of the first album. Despite "Pride" be also a great album, it hasn't the same quality level of their debut. While, on "Songs From The Lion's Cage" all the lengthy songs are great, on "Pride" the lengthy songs are less great. "Welcome To The Cage?", "Medusa" and especially "Sirens" are the real highlights of this album. And, the division between the long and most progressive songs and the short and less complex songs persists, and I continue thinking that it wasn't the best option. While I hear both albums, sometimes I feel that if we put the best material of both albums on only a single album, we probably have a masterpiece. Anyway, Arena had already put all in the right place on their debut live album "Welcome To The Stage".

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.83 | 226 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Egyptianprog-Fahmy

4 stars 4/5 a must listen for prog fans Although I did not get the point of the theme and the lyrics until I started reading about them, I couldn't just let Arena slide like that. There was something about the instruments and the music itself that made me attracted to them. Zhivago wolf was catchy but kept true to prog. Red eyes, had a sad kind of intro vibe that gave it purpose, even though the song isnt that sad overall.

The finale song, was true progressive rock masterpiece and blew me out of the water with its intense changes and amazing vocal work.

all in all a very solid abum!

 Songs From The Lion's Cage by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.84 | 418 ratings

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Songs From The Lion's Cage
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review Nš 277

Arena is a British progressive rock band that belongs to the neo-prog sub-genre. 1995 is the year it all began. The band was founded by Clive Nolan, the keyboardist of Pendragon and Shadowland, and Mick Pointer, the original drummer of Marillion, who appeared only on Marillion's debut EP 'Market Square Heroes' and on their debut studio album 'Script For A Jester's Tear'. The first album of Arena, 'Songs From The Lions Cage' was very well received and a new progressive rock legend has been born. The music is vibrant and fresh, and the album contains instant classic tracks.

So, 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' is the debut studio album of Arena and was released in 1995. This is the only Arena's album to feature the vocalist John Carson and the bassist Cliff Orsi. So, the line up of the album is John Carson (vocals), Keith More (guitars), Clive Nolan (keyboards), Cliff Orsi (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums). The album has also the participation of Steve Rothery, the guitarist of Marillion, who did a guest appearance on track 'Crying For Help IV'.

'Songs From The Lion's Cage' has nine tracks. All songs were written by Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer. The first track 'Out Of The Wilderness' is a great song and an excellent opener for the album. It's clearly a song in the vein of the earlier Marillion's studio albums. This is really a very powerful song with a very strange, mystical and dark musical atmosphere, with heavy keyboard playing and great guitar work especially with the beautiful guitar solo in the end. The second track 'Crying For Help I' is a very short instrumental track only performed by the the acoustic guitar. It's a very simple song, very nice, beautiful and pleasant to here, composed in the same vein of Steve Hackett's acoustic guitar compositions. The third track 'Valley Of The Kings' is the first epic song on the album that continues in the same vein of the earlier Marillion. Curiously, it's also a song that reminds me, only in a little bit in the beginning, Rush in the time of 'Hemispheres'. This is a wonderful track full of an amazing and pompous keyboard work and excellent guitar performance. It reminds us completely the grandeur and the magnificence of the pharaohs. The fourth track 'Crying For Help II' is another very simple song, nice, beautiful and pleasant to hear. This time it was composed for keyboards and sounds as a medieval madrigal. It's a typical classical symphonic song that sounds beautifully as it was performed by a harpsichord. It's a song that personally moves with me very much, because I always loved the harpsichord sound. The fifth track 'Jericho' is another excellent track. It's a song with a very quiet introduction and that ends epically. This is what would be the typical Arena bombastic future sound. This is a typical neo-progressive song, one of the best on the album, which keeps the quality of the album at a very high level, indeed. The sixth track 'Crying For Help III' is also a very good and interesting track. It's another simple, calm and beautiful track with a surprising end with a telephone ringing and a recorded message. This is a very nice and relaxing new age track and a truly break on the album. It represents also a perfect passage to the next song. The seventh track 'Midas Vision' returns to the typical sound of the most of the album. This is a catchy song, very nice and pleasant to hear and represents another excellent song on the album. It deserves a special mention the guitar work. It sounds very close to the Floydian sound because it has David Gilmour's style. The eighth track 'Crying For Help IV' is almost a mellow and melancholic track very beautiful and pleasant to hear. This is the track that has the participation of Steve Rothery on lead guitar. In reality, he performed a real truly and amazing guitar solo on the track. Those who like Steve Rothery guitar style enjoy very much this track, for sure. The ninth and last track 'Solomon' is often considered as one of their finest tracks. This is a very well structured song with a storyline, many time changes, majestic keyboard work and great guitar work. It's the second epic song on the album. It represents also the highlight of the album and it was a perfect decision of the group to close this great album. With this song Arena made one their best songs and one of their most brilliant closing numbers in their career.

Conclusion: 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' is, without any doubt, a great debut album and represents one of the best and most important albums made by one of the best prog rock bands of our times. It's very melodic and has great performances by all band's members, particularly, the individual performance of Clive Nolan is completely astonishing and shows us why he is considered one of the best modern keyboardists. It deserves also special mention, the performance of Keith More on guitars. His guitar performance and the arrangements are very interesting and they sound, many times, very close to Steve Rothery, Steve Hackett and David Gilmour styles. So, 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' is almost a perfect album. But, I'm not sure if the division of the album between the big and most prog songs and the short and less complex songs was a very good choice. I'm not saying that the global quality of the album was highly decreased. Still, I suspect that this option took some damaged to the final musical consistency of the all album.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Contagious by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
2.89 | 52 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 | 226 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 | 226 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 | 275 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 | 226 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.

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

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