The history of Arena goes back to the year 1995 when the band with ex members of Neo progressive bands like Marillion (Mick Pointer), Pendragon and Shadowland (Clive Nolan) made their impressive debut album “Songs From The Lion's Cage”. Later on John Jowitt (Jadis, IQ) and John Mitchell (It Bites, Kino) joined the band. After that great debut album it took the band some years to produce their masterpiece “The Visitor” (1998). At that time the excellent singer Paul Wrightson (who was later replaced by Rob Sowden) was a member of the band. On this new Arena album singer Rob Sowden is replaced by Paul Manzi. To be honest I think Arena has never equaled the high quality of the album “The Visitor”. After “Pepper Ghost” (2005) the fans will be very curious to hear the new studio material of the band. The new concept album is entitled “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” and is about the journey from the last hour of life into the first hour of death.
Clive Nolan - keyboards; Mick Pointer - drums, John Jowitt - bass, John Mitchell - guitars, Paul Manzi - vocals
reviewAfter having to wait so long for a new studio album we all have high expectations. In the person of Paul Manzi the band has now a more rock orientated singer with a rough edge in his voice. It fits well with the music the band is making now. The thirteen songs flow seamless into each other. In this way the listener is sucked into the music. The duration of most of the songs is less than five minutes. Alone “Catching The Bullet” has a duration of more than seven minutes.
The first songs “The Great Escape” and “Rapture” (music with a swelling tension) shows a band that has a lot of power. “One Last Au Revoir” is a delicious Neo-prog song with nice melodic guitar work of John Mitchell. “The Ghost Walks” is a slow lingering song where you can hear some Steve Hackett influences. “Thief Of Souls” and “Close Your Eyes” are typical Arena rock songs with some melodic vocal accents. The short “Echoes Of The Fall” is an up tempo rock song. More interesting is the following song “Bed Of Nails” in where you can find more melody, a beautiful vocal line, full synth strings and melodic guitar parts. The song has more diversity, this is something I miss in the more rock orientated songs. After this strong song it is time for the ballad “What If?” John Mitchell uses a guitar sound that reminds me sometimes of the sound of Gary Chandler from the band Jadis. This ballad has some beautiful vocal melodies and a nice melodic guitar solo. “Trebuchet” with his broad synth carpets and “Burning Down” are the more typical Arena rock songs. The longest song of the album is entitled “Catching The Bullet”. For me it is the highlight of the album, mainly because of the greater diversity. There is more room for instrumental interludes and is therefore more interesting for the lovers of progressive rock. The album closes worthly with the track “The Tinder Box”. The tension of the music of this song swells slowly towards a climax.
I can't tell you something about the artwork of the special edition package simply because I only received a copy of the disks. I say disks because included with the special edition of the album you will get a free DVD that features “The Making Of The Seventh Degree Of Separation”, where Clive, Mick, John, Paul and John gives you some insight into the process they go through to make the music of this album. A nice bonus for the Arena fans. You get a great insight in how an Arena song develops.
After listening to the album for the first time, I was thinking that we had maybe too high expectations. “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” is not as good as “The Visitor” but it is a good consistent progressive rock album. The fans of Arena will be pleased. But I think that the adventurous progfan ... after a time span of six years ... expected a little bit more. You can find a delicious Neo-prog song (“One Last Au Revoir”), a beautiful ballad (“What If?”) and some highlights with more diversity (“Bed Of Nails”, “Catching The Bullet”) on this album. But most of the other songs are more rock orientated and lacks the diversity to become really exciting. Don't get me wrong ... “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” is a good consistent prog album ... maybe my expectations were to high.