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Arena: The Unquiet Sky

After six albums in ten years, UK Neo Progsters Arena return with only their second release of the second decade of their existence, The Unquiet Sky. There have been many changes to the band's line-up over that time and TUS is no different; bassist John Jowitt (IQ, aRK) ending his second spell with the band, Kylan Amos taking up the four string mantle. Vocalist Paul Manzi returns for his second outing, having made his debut bow on, the lukewarmly received, The Seventh Degree Of Separation (I loved it). Completing the line-up is the long-standing trio of keyboardist Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Shadowland, Caamora), guitarist John Mitchell (It Bites, Lonely Robot, Frost*) and drummer Mick Pointer (Marillion).

For many the album Manzi debuted on, TSDOS, wasn't amongst the strongest in the lauded Arena canon. Not due to the confident delivery of the frontman, but more down to the overt Prog Metallisms which always play in the background of the Arena sound suddenly finding themselves heaved into the limelight and taking control. However with The Unquiet Sky balance has been resumed, bombast reduced and the intricacies of Nolan's keyboards once more a driving factor behind most of the album - possibly something which can be put down to Mitchell concentrating more fully on his own Lonely Robot album as TUS was being created. However that's not to suggest the guitars are posted missing on this album, in fact far from it, Mitchell's style and sound stamped large, while his solos on, for example, "No Chance Encounter" are a thing of furious beauty. Manzi too is on top form and I'd suggest he's gone further than his impressive supporting role on Seventh Degree, taking much of this album by the scruff of the neck and adding a bite and confidence unheard on his first sortie with the band. However it is the contribution from Nolan which is key, his recent flirtations with a more theatric, orchestral sound brought into play here also, although in a purely Arena-like manner; the likes of "Time Runs Out" a perfect example of how to meld the theatric to the Neo-Prog.

The album revolves round the the short story, 'Casting The Runes' by M.R. James, and while it isn't a straight retelling of that tale, it does revel in the occult, supernatural tone of the book - also lending itself to a superbly illustrated and laid out CD booklet in the process. However it's the music that shines brightest here and whether through the dark, foreboding "Traveller Beware", the unsettling spiral of "What Happened Before" or the pulsating, anthemic "The Bishop Of Lufford" The Unquiet Sky delivers on every count.

Why Arena have never quite managed to make the jump from niche Progsters into leaders of the Neo pack I'm not quite sure, for from their eight studio efforts, at least five can be considered amongst the best the genre has produced. And right at the forefront of that excellent output is an album of real quality, assuredness and poise. It's called The Unquiet Sky.

Track Listing
1. The Demon Strikes
2. How Did it Come to This?
3. The Bishop of Lufford
4. Oblivious to the Night
5. No Chance Encounter
6. Markings on a Parchment
7. The Unquiet Sky
8. What Happened Before
9. Time Runs Out
10. Returning the Curse
11. Unexpected Dawn
12. Traveller Beware

Added: May 1st 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Arena online
Hits: 4180
Language: english

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