ARENA — The Unquiet Sky (review)

ARENA — The Unquiet Sky album cover Album · 2015 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
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.
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