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Neo-Prog • United Kingdom

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Arena picture
Arena biography
Founded in 1995 in Virginia Water, Surrey, UK

The gathering of ARENA's famous musicians makes a super-group: Mick POINTER (Ex-MARILLION) plays the drums, CLIVE NOLAN (PENDRAGON) the keyboards, and Keith MORE (ASIA) played the guitar until replaced by John MITCHELL (Ex-Kino).Vocalist Rob SOWDEN has been with the band since IMMORTAL? and the bass player is Ian SALMON. There have also been some guest appearances by Tracy HITCHINGS (singer of QUASAR, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN & LANDMARQ) and Steve ROTHERY (MARILLION's gifted guitarist).

"Songs From The Lion's Cage" is then a very professional Progressive rock, both close to MARILLION and hard-rock. "Pride", their second opus issued in 1996 (one year after the previous one) confirmed the high musical level of this band, at a time when they added a touch IQ to their music. Curiously the band's sound gained in heaviness after their 2 first albums, and the music quality increased a lot in originality and musicianship.

Recorded in 1998, "The Visitor" alternates passages inspired by Steve HOGARTH's group along with some dark instrumentation. "Immortal" shows a new heavier dimension that still remains anchored in the best neo-Progressive music. "Moviedrome" is an excellent twenty minute track. "Contagion" follows the glorious tradition of "Immortal", although I found it more hard edged and multidimensional from all aspects. This powerful and evoking concept album tells about the quest for redemption, through the vision of a dark and anguishing future. No doubt about it, people won't have to think for a long time before electing the best album of winter 2002-2003!

''Pepper's ghost'' from 2005 sees Arena entering the realms of a quite heavy and very symphonic sound with some metal elements, a real highlight of their career. Long-time members Rod Sowden and Ian Salmon left the band in 2010 and they were replaced by Paul Manzi and John Jowitt respectively, the latter starting his second stint with the band.''The Seventh Degree Of Separation'' offers a very fresh and pounding sound, but the song structures had now become a bit conventional. Same goes for their latest entry, the 2015 ''The Unquiet Sky'', here Jowitt's place has been taken by newcomer Kylan Amos.

One of the best bands on the English scene nowadays... HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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ARENA Videos (YouTube and more)

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Buy ARENA Music

Double VisionDouble Vision
Verglas Music 2018
Unquiet SkyUnquiet Sky
Verglas Music 2015
$12.29 (used)
Visitor (20th Anniversary)Visitor (20th Anniversary)
Verglas Music 2018
Pepper's GhostPepper's Ghost
Verglas Music 2012
$18.98 (used)
Inside Out Germany 2004
$5.94 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
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Beatles Five Nights In A Judo Arena Japan 1966 Rock LP Extremely Rare BG 52043 USD $9.99 [0 bids]
Metal Thunder: Arena Rock Classics by Various Artists (CD, Apr-2007, St. Clair) USD $0.99 [0 bids]
7 Prog/Arena Rock Vinyl Record LP Lot - VG+ - JOURNEY TOTO ALAN PARSONS PROJECT USD $14.50 [20 bids]
Grateful Dead Dave's Picks 17 Selland Arena Fresno 7/19/74 Very Good USD $50.00 [11 bids]
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USD $20.00 Buy It Now
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WET WET WET Sheffield Arena 24/06/95 TICKET UK 1994 Ticker Stub For Gig At USD $2.80 Buy It Now
GARY GLITTER Sheffield Arena 17/12/1994 TICKET UK 1994 Used Ticket Stub Pinhole USD $6.64 Buy It Now
WET WET WET Birmingam Nec Arena 16/03/92 TICKET UK 1991 Ticket Stub For Gig At USD $6.64 Buy It Now
CHRIS DE BURGH Sheffield Arena 29/09/1992 TICKET Used Ticket Stub For The Power USD $4.18 Buy It Now
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CHRIS DE BURGH Sheffield Arena 29/09/1992 TICKET 1992 Used Ticket Stub For The USD $2.80 Buy It Now
WET WET WET Birmingham Nec Arena 29/6/94 TICKET UK 1994 Ticket Stub For Gig At USD $4.18 Buy It Now
NEIL DIAMOND Sheffield Arena 3Rd June 1996 TICKET UK 1996 Used Ticket For USD $5.58 Buy It Now
JOSE CARRERAS Nec Arena 20/3/1991 TICKET Used Ticket Stub USD $4.18 Buy It Now
MOODY BLUES St Paul Civic Arena 31 October 1983 TICKET US 1983 Used Ticket For USD $6.64 Buy It Now
SHADOWS Final Tour - Cardiff Arena 5Th June 2004 TICKET UK Cc Live 2004 Used USD $6.64 Buy It Now
PRINCE Sheffield Arena 2Nd August 1993 TICKET UK 1993 Used Gig Ticket Prince USD $24.42 Buy It Now
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cd-album, Tina Arena - Songs Of Love & Loss 2, 12 Tracks, Australia USD $7.52 Buy It Now
Led Zeppelin - Long Beach Arena Complete / Confusion / 1975 USA 3CD USD $14.00 [1 bids]
Arena Duran Duran vinyl LP album record Japanese EMS-91095 EMI/TRITEC 1984 USD $38.54 Buy It Now
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2m 2s
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ARENA discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

ARENA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.86 | 392 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
3.64 | 314 ratings
4.05 | 637 ratings
The Visitor
3.91 | 437 ratings
4.16 | 602 ratings
3.62 | 397 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
3.49 | 273 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
3.74 | 258 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
4.25 | 55 ratings
Double Vision

ARENA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.71 | 72 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
3.78 | 81 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
4.27 | 73 ratings
Live & Life
3.53 | 25 ratings
Live Recorded 2011/12 tour

ARENA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.91 | 49 ratings
Caught In The Act
3.83 | 59 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
4.07 | 30 ratings
3.54 | 25 ratings

ARENA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.97 | 73 ratings
The Cry
3.33 | 23 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
4.19 | 28 ratings
Contagion Max

ARENA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.23 | 11 ratings
3.48 | 14 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
3.45 | 19 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Story Of My Life
5.00 | 2 ratings
Never Alone
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Cage Unlocked
3.50 | 14 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2.89 | 50 ratings
2.60 | 28 ratings
3.15 | 46 ratings

ARENA Reviews

Showing last 10 reviews only
 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.25 | 55 ratings

Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by rdtprog
Special Collaborator Metal / Heavy / RPI / Symph Prog Team

5 stars After a couple of albums of more concise songs, the band is back with songs of epic scale. Arena has always been critical about their own compositions and the production. There are not many bands that can produce albums exempts of ordinary songs. "Double Vision" has seen the light after 1 year and a half of preparation. The first song has a dark intro and we can feel the epic style with symphonic passages. In the song "The Mirror Lies" we have a spacey Pink Floyd keyboard part of Clive that bright things up the straightforward first part of the song that ends nicely with some heavy guitars and a brief acoustic part. "Scars" brings some majestic keyboards lines and a long instrumental section. I am not sure if this song is a suite of "Crying for Help" because of the lyrics but it's a different atmosphere for sure. "Red Eyes" is a dark song with some of the heaviest stuff of the album where Clive is leading the way a while before stopping suddenly into a short calm ending. The song has some special vocals effect and a clear influence from the band Muse. "Poisoned" is a fine acoustic ballad to give a breather into this stormy music. And how can be an Arena album without an epic song at the end with countless tempo shifts, moods, and atmospheres where the intensity is always kept. Clive is going from the piano to the keys to finish in a pure Rick Wakeman style with the church organ. This is a solid 4.5 stars, time will tell if it stands out for being one of their best.
 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.25 | 55 ratings

Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by freddie71

5 stars This band is back in great shape again. There is an extremely strong magnitude in the sonority of this new album Double Vision, giving notoriety to the production and the excellent execution of the work of all the members of the band. All of them completed their mission in a grandiose way, giving a strong structure to all the tracks found here. The album contains 7 tracks, the pearls of this album are The Legend Of Elijah Shade, which contains 22 minutes of pure subtlety and The Mirror Lies, around 7 minutes. Double Vision is not an album for progressive rock purists, as their strands are more routed to hard rock, but even those might not be disappointed with such musical quality, The boys are back in business and I think, this might be another landmark album, who knows?
 Pepper's Ghost by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.62 | 397 ratings

Pepper's Ghost
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars Although only formed in 1995, ARENA had became one of the great prog revival bands of the decade by imitating Fish-era Marillion and then quickly latching onto a veritable sound of their own as Clive Nolan found a new niche away from his other neo-prog bands Pendragon and Shadowland. A decade after the formation of ARENA, the band changed up their sound yet again on their sixth album PEPPER'S GHOST which after many lineup changes in their earlier years emerged as the third album in a row with the same cast members. At this point the collaborative songwriting efforts of Clive Nolan (keys), Mick Pointer (drums) and John Mitchell (guitars) was in full swing as they once again as they independently created their own parts and then adapted them to a band setting which surprisingly combines well into another album of thoughtful constructs that deliver another epic concept album.

The concept of PEPPER'S GHOST revolves around five different individuals who travel through time to defeat a demon all of which is narrated through a comic book included in the packaging. For a tale so tall it connotes a stylistic upgrade in sound and on PEPPER'S GHOST, the band ramped up their decibalage and tempo to the point this blurs into heavy rock territory for much of the time without ever feeling like a metal album so i guess it could be considered heavy neo-prog or something of the sort. The term PEPPER'S GHOST comes from a projection technique developed by John Henry Pepper, a 19th century inventor whose technique casts the illusion of ghostly objects fading into and out of existence in a room but can also "magically" transform certain objects into totally different ones. How this term and storyline weave together is beyond me but arcane enough to accept blindly without question.

Musically PEPPER'S GHOST carries on where "Contagion" left off. There is no significant deviation to the stylistic approach, the interplay or any sort of song structures as with other albums, ARENA craft seven tracks with the final "Opera Fanatica" being the most ambitious and lengthy at time run of of just over thirteen minutes. Despite the similarities, there are several differences as well. First is the abrupt heaviness that makes PEPPER'S GHOST the most hard rock leaning album up to then with crunchy guitar riffs and even more ambitious solos that occur from time to time however ARENA have lost none of their atmospheric prowess as Nolan conjures up beautifully powerful ambient backdrops to accompany the more aggressive guitar and bass. Ironically the drumming does not take on a more aggressive role as Mick Pointer creates more subtle drum rolls that add rhythmic contrasts. Rod Sowden delivers another brilliant vocal performance as always however this time around his lyrics seems submerged beneath the heavier production and guitar dominance.

Another difference is the type of melodic developments. The album begins with circus music that finds itself reprising throughout the album's musical development which adds a sort of gypsy jazz swing element dispersed throughout the album when least expected. For some reason PEPPER'S GHOST doesn't seem to be as well revered as previous ARENA albums and that's quite the shame because i find PEPPER'S GHOST to be just as compelling as any of the earlier albums minus the magnificence of the perfection of "Contagion," however ARENA doesn't shed their origins on this one, they merely augment them with a more diversified palette that allows more extreme dynamics, faster tempos and more ambitious lyrical themes in their concepts. Personally i find this one to be slightly more addictive in the melodic hooks in comparison with some of the earlier albums. For anyone avoiding PEPPER'S GHOST on account of the lower ratings, i have to say do check this out for it's on par with any of the other classic neo-prog albums of the era.

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.25 | 55 ratings

Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by mitarai_panda

3 stars Arena is a very famous new avant-garde band and can be considered as a leader in this school. They were established in Surrey, England in 1995. It is a super combo, played by Marillion's former drummer Mick Pointer and Pendragon's keyboard. Kevin More, the guitarist of Clive Nolan and Asia, was replaced by Keith's John Mitchell. From so many members of the new avant-garde band, it's no wonder that the band that was established in the mid- to late-1990s will be called the New Guard. Counting this year's new album, they have released nine albums so far, the most famous of which is Contagion in 2003. The new brick is called "Double Vision," as the cover shows. In terms of music, there are some assembly lines for stealing four songs. Without exception, it is a combination of three elements: heavy riff+ pop vocals and keyboard symphony. Although riff sounds very cool, but life is not quite my appetite, Paul Manzi's voice range is a bit narrow, and surprised, Clive Nolan (he himself also made many albums) keyboard occasional flash , but not much. It wasn't until the fifth Red Eyes reached a peak time, the psychedelic opening and the end, where the keyboard was shining, and it was a small number of highlights. Afterwards, Poisoned was a cappella accompanied by acoustic guitar. This sing was quite good, but it did not touch me. Finally, a 23-minute epic, The Legend of Elijah Shade, was somewhat dramatized. It was a weird vocal chorus accompanied by a witty keyboard. When I thought it would be a little different, the song immediately restored the stereotypes of the three elements. Until the time of entry, some synthesizer sounds and solo are still good, but in the end they still get into the assembly line. The long length and too many singing and instrumental performances without real highlights seem to be telling the self-indulgence of the avant-garde rock. . Overall, this is a mediocre album, stylized, with great highlights, and I was disappointed with their album last year, a Samsung and a half evaluation.
 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.25 | 55 ratings

Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

5 stars Arena, a band that in many ways was brought together by a running joke in an underground fanzine, which led directly to Mick Pointer realising that there was quite a vibrant prog scene. In turn he was introduced to Clive Nolan, and the rest as they say, is history. The debut 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' was released in 1995, and the jokes soon started about never being at far left or far right on a band photo as you would be the next to leave, but the guys have been stable now for quite some times, with the same line-up since 2011's 'The Seventh Degree of Separation'. That was the last album I heard, as for some reason I missed 2015's 'The Unquiet Sky', although I have been listening to quite a lot of Clive's other works, as well as releases featuring guitarist John Mitchell (the line-up being completed by singer Paul Manzi and bassist Kylan Amos).

Having played Clive's 'Alchemy' so much that it is almost worn out (according to LastFM it is my second most played album since I joined that site in 2007, behind only Camel's 'The Snow Goose), plus having known him for more than quarter of a century (I feel old) and having most of his projects, I was really looking forward to this album, and I wasn't disappointed. While Arena are first and foremost a progressive rock band, what I found fascinating with this album is the amount of theatricality within it. Paul Manzi surely has one of the most expressive and emotive voices around, and his relationship with Clive is long-standing in this and other projects, and they have an innate understanding of what is needed to take a song to the next level. There are times when I am clearly reminded of his performance on the aforementioned 'Alchemy', such is the power of his storytelling.

But, this is very much a band album, although it obviously has been heavily influenced by Clive who wrote or co-wrote every songs and provided all the lyrics, but Mick is playing better than ever, Kylan has a great sliding style that really suits the music. Then on top of it all there is the incomparable John Mitchell. He may not have been the original guitarist (who was Keith More, ex-Asia, for the first two albums) but he has been there for twenty years now, during which time he has built a considerable reputation as one of the finest guitarists in the scene, and I don't think anyone was really surprised when he joined It Bites. He knows when to riff and drive the music along, when to provide solos, when to use restraint and when to just let the music rock.

Here we are in 2018 and both Galahad and Arena have this year released possibly the finest albums of their careers, only time will fully be able to judge that, showing that although they were in the underground scene in the Nineties, playing all the dives that entailed due to no publicity (or internet!), they are ready and able to reap the rewards of keeping going when others have given up. This is a stunning album, one that all progheads need to discover at once if not sooner. I loved it the very first time I played it, and it has only got better the more I listen to it.

 Contagium by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
3.15 | 46 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by thwok

4 stars I agree with the general consensus regarding CONTAGIUM. This is the better of the two EPs consisting of songs that didn't quite fit onto CONTAGION. The songwriting and general memorability of these four songs is a bit stronger then CONTAGIOUS. It isn't better then the CONTAGION album, but it's still very good. I didn't have access to the bonus features for this review, so I am only reviewing the 4 songs.

Only "The March of Time" overstays its welcome. I suppose "On The Edge of Despair" and "Confrontation" take pride of place over the other two tracks. I was very happy when Arena became a more aggressive band and shortened their songs a bit, which they did during this period. Arena aren't a clone of any other band, but the general description of them as a more hard rock-sounding Marillion is apt. It was enough to get me to start listening to them. If that piques your interest in Arena, this EP is a very fine place to start.

 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.74 | 258 ratings

The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by benbell

5 stars I heard great things about this album and being relatively new to Arena but having really liked Contagion I thought it would be the ideal next thing to listen to. I was quite disappointed at first ? for reasons I can't remember ? but it didn't last. This album is superb and Paul Manzi really shines as the new (to me) vocalist here.

The material is a tighter story, almost more towards Clive Nolan's musicals in form, though not stylistically and obviously with a single vocalist.

I should probably put Contagion on again sometime and remind myself of it, but these days every time I want to listen to Arena this is the album I pull out.

Five stars, no ifs and buts.

 Immortal? by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.91 | 437 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by The Crow
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Welcome to the best Arena's line-up!

And that's because Rob Sowden is the best vocalist that Arena ever had (sorry Paul Manzi) and the first who not sounded like a copy of Fish. Ian Salmon is also one hell of a bass player, and Mitchell was fully consolidated as a capital part of Arena's sound, together with the powerful Mick Pointer's drums and the great keyboards of Clive Nolan.

The production was also the best that they took pleasure in, thanks to the last and very good production of Simon Hanhart with the band. The artwork of Hugh Syme is also over the top... But let's talk about the songs!

Chosen is like a summary of what Immortal? has to offer. Strong riff, great keyboard melodies and a very talented singer. And great guitar and keyboard solos! The style of the band is a bit stronger, harder and darker as in The Visitor. Waiting for the flood confirms that Rob Sowden is a prodigious singer, with a very personal and strong voice. This song is both mellow, progressive and it has another marvelous keyboard solo. Nolan, you are God!

The Butterfly Man is like an advance of what Contagion would become a few years later. Dark, even horrifying lyrics and a very progressive and variable structure. Another great track! Ghost in the Firewall, on the contrary, is less inspired. A bit boring and not very interesting... But the lyrics help in the strange and vague concept of the album, which talks about new technologies in a rather negative and apocalyptic way.

Climbing the Net is just the opposite. A very vivid and funny track in the style of the most optimistic parts of The Visitor, with an outstanding Nolan work and splendid melodies. Perfect to be played live! And then comes Moviedrome... The longest song that Arena ever recorded and one of their finest. Just a pleasure to the ears and a true classic of Neo-Progressive rock. It has even a melody which reminds me to John Carpenter's Halloween theme! And the final section is also anthological.

Friday's Dream, is not so brilliant, but it's mid-tempo and beautiful chorus help to end this album leaving a delighted smile on our faces.

Conclusion: Immortal? is the start of the best years for Arena, and an excellent advance of what the masterpiece Contagion would be. And despite being not so good as this album, Immortal? is a very solid effort with some outstanding moments and a song (Moviedrome) which deserves to have a golden place in prog music history.

It's a shame that Arena are not able to create so wonderful albums anymore. Both The Seventh Degree of Separation and The Unquiet Sky don't stand a chance against Immortal? Maybe their next one? With the inadequate Paul Manzi as frontman I don't think so.

Best Tracks: Waiting for the Flood, The Butterfly Man, Moviedrome.

My rating: ****

 Contagion Max by ARENA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2014
4.19 | 28 ratings

Contagion Max
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

5 stars After a ten year wait in 2013 fans of ARENA's monstrous neo-prog hit "Contagion" were finally treated to hearing the album as it was originally intended to be released in the form of the extended double disc CONTAGION MAX. Clive Nolan has always stated that the "Contagion" story was to be more intricate and drawn out with extra instrumental passages and vocal tracks that add more depth to the storyline. Well, Nolan wasn't too sure about the possibilities of releasing an extra long album and felt the pressure to to edit their ambitious project down to a single disc release. The result was that seven tracks were chopped off the listening experienced and released simultaneously on two separate EPs titled "Contagious" and "Contagium." While it was all fine and dandy to make those orphaned tracks to the public, much was lost regarding the context in which they were woven into the overall theme. After many years of a demanding public for the album to be released in full form, voila!

Fast forward ten years and the CONTAGION MAX anniversary edition finally sees the light of day in its complete original intended format. It contains all seven tracks in the proper order stuffed into the album "Contagion" from 2003 as a double disc digipak CD release. While i found nothing wrong with the original album "Contagion" and in many ways find it to be the peak of the creative juices flowing for ARENA in their lengthy career, i must say that i much prefer hearing it as the extended double album experience it was meant to be as it smooths out the ruff-around-the-edges transitions that become more apparent once listening in the band- desired delivery mode. CONTAGION MAX doesn't exactly make the two EPs that came before completely irrelevant if you are interested in hearing electronica induced remixes of the tracks "Witch Hunt" and "Salamander" but i find them a little cliche and devoid of any true reason to exist therefore i highly recommend this beautiful extended version of "Contagion" for anyone who loves that album and wishes that it was longer.

Despite being a fairly newer release, this album has become a little difficult but not impossible to find. Initially it was released as a pre-order campaign with band members adding their autographs but was only released in limited numbers therefore not as easy to obtain as the much easier to find "Contagion." Another worthwhile mention is that it seems that CONTAGION MAX is possibly a digitally remastered version of the original plus the extra tracks in the proper order. This album sounds EXCELLENT! The production is off the charts beautifully executed with every little sound shining like a crazy diamond and all aspects of the music perfectly mix together in superb splendor. It is unbelievable how well this album sounds and how wonderful it is to experience this one as it delivers on all accounts. Perhaps if this were released as intended it would have been considered a rival force to IQ's "Subterranea" which is of the same calibre but could also stand up to any of the great symphonic prog releases of the past.

This track listing shows the entire track listing of CONTAGION MAX with the titles in bold being the seven tracks that appear on this expanded edition which were originally spit up randomly and placed on "Contagious" and "Contagium." They are followed by brief descriptions

Disc One:

1 Witch Hunt (4:17) 2 An Angel Falls (1:14) 3 Painted Man (4:38)

4 VANISHING ACT (from "Contagious") (4:11) was originally a leftover instrumental track from "The Visitor" album and had the title "Sacrifice" but was rearranged, rerecorded and renamed. It begins with a space rock Floydian echoey guitar and synth run and then becomes more hard rocking with a ample change of riffs drenched in camp mellotron. Very cool sequencer beat and guitar solos that brings aspects of "The Wall" to mind

5 This Way Madness Lies (3:32)

6 THE HOUR GLASS (from "Contagious") (5:58) begins as a sensual ballad but adds some extra punchy guitars that display the vocal talents of Sowden and thick layers of synthesizers and a heavy bass led melodic development. It adds a continuity to the story as the narrative builds another layer of darkness to the mix

7 Bitter Harvest (2:50)

8 I SPY (from "Contagious") (2:33) is primarily an acoustic guitar folk number also displaying Sowden's vocal abilities. Other than acoustic guitar, only the bass is heard

9 Never Ending Night (3:11) 10 Spectre At the Feast (5.34) 11 Skin Game (4:44)

Disc Two: 1 Salamander (4:00) 2 On the Box (2:30) 3 Tsunami (2:30)

4 ON THE EDGE OF DESPAIR (from "Contagium") (5:40) begins with the same bass line and melody of "This Way Madness Lies" from Disc 1 and sort of a revisiting of that point in the story but after almost a minute switches gear and becomes an acoustic guitar ballad once again highlighting Sowden's vocals and lyrical supplementation. It continues to alternate between the beginning intro segments and then jumps back into acoustic guitar part again. Sounds really good together as the two parts contrast perfectly and add that flavor of life when some things seem familiar while totally new aspects are being introduced

5 City of Lanterns (1:23) 6 Riding the Tide (4:24)

7 CONTAGIOUS (from "Contagious") (4:07) begins with sirens and incorporates different sounds that are from the "Contagion" album and creates a little overture of sorts to revisit certain moods of the album. It features a strong bass line with John Mitchell delivering some of the most sophisticated and daring solos on the album. There is also nice background synthesized(?) vocals that add a spooky ambience to the overall mood. Nice keyboard runs as well. This is kind of a revisitation point on the album that takes a few minutes to reflect on what's already been happening. Very appropriate and nice to take a breather.

8 MARCH OF TIME (from "Contagium") (7:29) continues the only two tracks that sit back to back not on the original "Contagion." This sounds more like the majority of tracks as it begins with a heavy bass driven melody and screeching guitars in a Floydian style drenched by feedback and fuzz and then slows down a bit to usher in Sowden's vocals. Generally speaking the vocal parts are more Floydian and the instrumental parts are harder rocking. It also has some acoustic parts that remind me of The Who especially on "Tommy" with that Pete Townsend type of strumming.

9 Mea Culpa (3:45) 10 Cutting the Cards (4:41)

11 CONFRONTATION (from "Contagium") (5.05) begins with some sort of mixed media narration clips before ceding into a darkened bass line that is ominously overshadowed by more possibly synthesized background vocalists and that Who inspired acoustic guitar strumming pattern once again punctuated by a staccato heavy guitar chord. It all stops and enters church organ territory and then adds acoustic guitar again only before Mitchell channels his inner Pink Floyd guitar solo instincts and lets loose. This is another all instrumental track

12 Ascension (4:34)

Total Running Time Of CONTAGION MAX = 92 minutes and 40 seconds but i can't say i get bored once through it's entirety and much prefer this version as opposed to the truncated "Contagion" album of 2003. Something about the extra tracks connects all the dots for me on this one but that does not mean that the original CONTAGION album suffers from its brevity. On the contrary ARENA hit a home run with two stunning versions of this album that works with or without the seven tracks equally in my world.

 Contagion by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2003
4.16 | 602 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

5 stars As ARENA entered the 21st century they finally hit a stable lineup and for the first time and released two albums in a row with the same band members which allowed them the opportunity to learn how to coalesce their individual talents and develop a strong and stable chemistry. On their fifth studio release CONTAGION they hit the high point of their career with yet another concept album that like many of their albums delivers vague and ambiguous notions of going through the trials and tribulations of being human and experiencing every emotion there is to be had a hundredfold. This one is supposedly about the end of the human race and all the emotional baggage of being alive until it happens. As much as i try i still haven't found a decent explanation of what exactly the concept is supposed to consist of but it matters not for at long last ARENA found their perfect sound with Clive Nolan (keys), John Mithcell (guitars), Ian Salmon (bass), Mick Pointer (drums) and their third lead vocalist Rob Sowden and the quality of the compositions on CONTAGION shows it.

From the first notes of "Witch Hunt" it is obvious that ARENA got major rekindling of musical mojo. At this point they sound less and less like 80s Marillion which was the sound of their early albums and more like their contemporaries IQ who also released a concept album at the same time. This time around the band found a new lease on neo-prog by adding heavier and harder rock guitar and bass often verging into metal territory briefly with virtuosic guitar solos and heavy churning riffs and thundering bass but still manages to weave it around the intricately delicate melodies that have been carefully crafted into extremely strong and catchy tunes that build upon one another and seamlessly transition from track to track until an entire album unfolds around you. There are also many space rock references to Pink Floyd with dreamy echoey guitars, sensual solos and Salmon's strong Rickenbacker bass lines.

CONTAGION is perfectly partitioned into vocal and instrumental tracks. "Witch Hunt" begins with a thundering bass line, heavy guitar riff and powerful vocal performance by Sowden which sets the tone for the majority of the album but there are also ballad segments like the beginning of the music box beat backed "Spectre Of Feast" and the piano laden "Never Ending Night" which weaves in tender moments surrounded by more thunderous heavy rock. Despite having the qualities of AOR, something about ARENA's attention to details make the music quite sophisticated with variations in the subtleties such as keyboard runs, echoey guitar backings or different types of drum fills. The melody is the main driver of the tracks with Sowden's vocal emphasis on the lyrics being mostly in the spotlight except when the band delivers excellent musical prowess such as on the instrumental beasts "This Way Madness Lies," "On The Box" and "Riding The Tide."

I must admit that i wasn't a huge fan of CONTAGION upon first listen as it sounds very much like many neo-prog albums that may come off as gimmicky with the heavier rock elements added but after a few spins i was hooked and the intricate charms of the album shone through with synth rich ambient notes backing heavy yet melancholically addicting melodies passing the torch to the next track that takes the listener onto a new adventure and then on to the next. While there are clearly stronger tracks than others, the beauty of the album is that is places all of the elements in key places. It opens with several strong tracks and then has some quieter less powerful tracks that skillfully link the various parts together. The musicianship is extraordinarily strong on CONTAGION with every member going the extra mile to eke out the most satisfying musical performances.

CONTAGION was originally intended to be released as a double album but Clive Nolan got cold feet on releasing such a sprawling 90 minute plus behemoth of a double album and nixed seven tracks and would release them simultaneously on two separate EPs titled "Contagious" and "Contagium." After many years of demands by rabid voracious fans to release CONTAGION as the originally intended double album, in 2013 it finally came to be as a tenth anniversary expanded edition titled CONTAGION MAX which contains all of the missing seven tracks in their proper places amongst the others. While it was not intended to replace the original truncated form and was solely intended to provide a supplemental insight into the album's history, i have to say that ARENA scored big time with CONTAGION as i find it works equally well in either form as CONTAGION doesn't feel forced and never indicates that certain tracks were left out merely for editing's sake nor does CONTAGION MAX feel like the extra tracks were superfluous filler either. Personally i would highly recommend both editions but CONTAGION is probably the first place to stop for anyone wanting to check out ARENA's thoughtful and subtly textured symphonic progressive rock. CONTAGION will surely go down as their magnum opus as it is one of those album's that only gets better the more you listen to it, at least that's the way it worked for me.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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