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Arena - Contagion CD (album) cover





4.16 | 656 ratings

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4 stars It took more than ten listens and a few months for this album to grow on me. I got hooked right from the start by songs like "Witch Hunt", "Painted Man" or "Spectre at the Feast" but I failed to keep focus on the latter part of the album. Plus, at first, the three instrumentals seemed pointless to me as they were cutting the flow of the story. Because, although it is not obvious by just listening to the lyrics, Contagion is telling a story, the dark story of a man who brought a terrible disease to the world and is seeking for redemption (well, at least this is what I understood from the brilliant band's biography, The Salt and the Sand, that can be found on Arena's fan club website). The concept may look cheesy and not very innovative but it works : music and lyrics combine to create a depressive atmosphere that sticks to the listener through the hour long journey that Contagion represents. The beautiful art cover and booklet also perfectly fit the purpose.

Apart from the story, another crucial point to Contagion's success IMHO are the top notch production and mixing, thanks to John Mitchell for the most part if I believe the aforementioned biography. You can hear each instrument very distinctively, along with the warm voice of Rob Sowden, and everything shines. I guess the guys put a lot of work into this album and they are well paid in return since, technically speaking, the result is close to perfection, really.

Yet Contagion has its minor drawbacks. Even if I now appreciate all the songs very much, instrumentals included, I think they need to remain in the album's context to get their full effect. "Spectre at the Feast" is the only really outstanding track that could figure on any (progressive or not) rock anthology. Another critic could be made about the pompous side of the music but I guess this is part of Arena's trademark and it doesn't bother me much. To be honest, some of Contagion's lyrics, although globally very good, don't help either. "Standing on the mountain, the olive leaf in hand" : sorry, Clive, but this is a bit too much for me .

Finally, Contagion's merits easily overcome its drawbacks to make it a great album. Try it, give it a little time and patience and you should end like the disquieting character on the cover : badly addicted.

Bupie | 4/5 |


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