ARENA — Double Vision (review)

ARENA — Double Vision album cover Album · 2018 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
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!
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