Change is nothing new for a band like ARENA who have gone through several vocalists in their 16 year history, which includes John Carson (“Songs From The Lion's Cage”), Paul Wrightson (“Pride” and “The Visitor”), and Rob Sowden (“Immortal”, “Contagion”, and “Pepper's Ghost”). But it was Sowden's tenure which provided the stability and impetus to distance ARENA from their neo/prog contemporaries with his dynamic on stage persona. His rock star attitude and brilliant vocals insured concert goers an evening of great entertainment both musically and visually; a fact in evidence on the 2003 concert DVD “Caught In The Act”.
So my initial reaction to Sowden departure from ARENA was a resounding … “Damn!”.
But in retrospect, despite the many personal changes between the 1995 debut album “Songs From The Lion's Cage” and their last 2005 studio album “Pepper's Ghost”, I came to a quick realization that I've enjoyed their complete discography regardless of who was behind the microphone.
So this new change would be simply that … a change. Whether it is for the better or worse could only be determined by their next studio project.
In 2011, ARENA (version 4) released their first studio album in six years, “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” featuring new vocalist Paul Manzi (Oliver Wakeman Band), as well as the return of bassist John Jowitt (x-IQ) who was with the band during the recording of “Pride” and “The Visitor”.
Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to listen to the album as of yet, but the arrival of the concert DVD “Rapture” for my review has provided me with the chance to hear some of the new material as well as old favorites performed by new vocalist Manzi.
First off, vocalist Paul Manzi proves to be more than capable of filling Sowden shoes. And although his vocals seem more suited for a symphonic/metal band like Symphony X, Ayreon, or Dream Theater, they provide the power and passion necessary for belting out the new tracks and performing older ARENA classics with the confidence of inner piece. And his energetic stage presence provides the visual stimulus to feed off the raucous concert goers in one of the best progressive rock settings – Teatr Slaski IM. Stanislawa Wyspianskiego; KATOWICE, Poland . By the end of the concert Manzi had successfully exorcised the ghost of Snowden, winning over any skeptical fans expecting the worse.
My major criterion for the justification of a new concert DVD by a group with two or more live performances under their belt is a radical variation of material from the previous DVD set list. Unless you're a rabid completest there is little reason for purchasing a new concert DVD if the material varies very little from an earlier purchase. And to quell the fears of potential buyers – the 21 tracks on “Rapture” contains only 6 previously recorded tracks which appeared on “Caught In The Act” (“Crack In The Ice”, “Don't Forget To Breath”, “City Of Lanterns”, “Serenity”, “Crying From Help VII”, “Ascension”, and “Solomon”) - the remainder of the tracks are split to encompass highlights from the new album “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” with tracks like “The Great Escape”, “Rapture”, “One Last Au Revior”, “The Ghost Walks”, “What If?”. “Burning Down”, and “Tinder Box”.
Also peppered through the set list are tracks covering their entire 16 years career with tunes from the fist album “Song From The Lion's Cage: (“Crying From Help VII”, “Valley Of The Kings” and Solomon”); a track from their second album “Pride: (“Crying From Help VII”) - which proved to be a crowd pleasing sing-a-long; 4 tracks from “The Visitor” (“Crack The Ice”, “Don't Forget To Breath”, “Serenity”, and “Visitor); a single track from “Immortal (“Ghost In The Firewall”): a pair from “Contagion” (“Ascension”, and “Riding The Tide”): and two tracks from Pepper's Ghost (“Bedlam Fayre” and “The Eyes Of Laura Moon”).
All and all – a well rounded collection of crowd pleasing tunes that kept the rowdy crowd cheering for more.
The performance was flawless, and as usual the enthusiasm of the musicians on stage translated to the energetic fans in the seats who seemed to feed off that energy creating an infinite loop from crowd to musicians that intensified with each cycle until the climactic final encore.
Metal Mind Productions has found the perfect venue for progressive rock groups to show their wares in a concert venue. The sound and acoustics are perfect, the Polish crowds responsive and genuine in their approval of the genre, and the lighting, audio, and video technicians are masters at their craft. I've yet to be disappointed by a concert DVD produced by Metal Mind Productions filmed in Poland.
Besides the 21 tracks on the disc “Rapture” also has bonus features such as an interview with Mick Pointer and Clive Nolan, where they describe in some detail Rob Sowden's decision to leave the bad, as well as the darker tone and subject matter they explored in the creation of “The Seventh Degree Of Separation”. Also included in the supplemental material is a bonus bootleg concert Live in Warsaw 2011, a photo gallery, complete band discography, and desktop images.
If you happen to live in an area like me, where chances of seeing ARENA in a local life venue is nil – then snap up a copy of both “Rapture” and the 2003 DVD “Caught In The Act” to see what you're missing. Both are well worth adding to your collection.
Current Members Of Arena are: Paul Manzi (vocals, acoustic guitar), John Mitchell (guitars, backing vocals), Clive Nolan (keyboards, backing vocals), John Jowitt (bass, backing vocals) and Mick Pointer (drums).
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on April 19th, 2013