Arena are back with their first album since the excellent 'Pepper's Ghost' back in 2005. Since then John Jowitt has returned on bass and they have a new vocalist in Paul Manzi and returned with a concept album. This album looks at the last hour of life and the first hour after, which added to the stunning album sleeve artwork makes for a thoughtful and enjoyable listen.

The heavy 'The Great Escape' starts the album off well, allowing John Mitchell to lay down some big riffs. Paul Manzi comes into his own on the slower, more melodic numbers like the moving 'One Last Au Revoir' and 'Close Your Eyes'. Of course Clive Nolan's keyboards are a massive part of this band's sound, be it the piano and organ on 'Thief Of Souls' or the spacey soloing on 'Burning Down'. This song also has a wonderful chorus. There is not a duff song in sight and cleverly the songs can be played as one sitting or listened to separately without losing the overall concept of the album.

There is also a two disc version adding a DVD of band interviews and the making of this album. Interesting insight, with each band member going through how they recorded their parts for the album, although not much from the new frontman Paul Manzi!

Arena have done it again, creating an album that reveals more and more on each listen and by doing the songs (bar one) at the three to four minute mark they lend themselves easily to airplay. It is always a gamble changing your vocalist but Arena have found a more than adequate replacement for Rob Sowden. Musically this album has a harder edge and although the songs are shorter, the band maintains their progressive feel coupled with some very strong melodies. Hold the press, I have just found another album of the year contender...

Jason Ritchie