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Arena Contagion album cover
4.15 | 740 ratings | 53 reviews | 36% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2003

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Witch Hunt (4:17)
2. An Angel Falls (1:13)
3. Painted Man (4:41)
4. This Way Madness Lies (3:35)
5. Spectre at the Feast (5:34)
6. Never Ending Night (3:23)
7. Skin Game (4:43)
8. Salamander (3:59)
9. On the Box (2:40)
10. Tsunami (2:38)
11. Bitter Harvest (2:52)
12. The City of Lanterns (1:22)
13. Riding the Tide (4:28)
14. Mea Culpa (3:46)
15. Cutting the Cards (4:57)
16. Ascension (4:34)

Total Time 58:42

Line-up / Musicians

- Rob Sowden / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars, backing vocals, co-producer
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals, engineer & co-producer
- Ian Salmon / bass
- Mick Pointer / drums

Releases information

Artwork: Dave Wyatt

CD Verglas Music ‎- VGCD024 (2003, UK)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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ARENA Contagion ratings distribution

(740 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(36%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(39%)
Good, but non-essential (17%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

ARENA Contagion reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by semismart
5 stars Have you ever noticed how some bands keep getting better with each new release while others reach their zenith on the first, second or third try and then slip into that undefined area, somewhere between mediocrity and oblivion, by constantly churning out average discs at best or diminishing albums at worst.

Arena is one of the ones that get better and better, not that their previous work isn't great. The two other albums I own, Immortal and The Visitors are also excellent. This band is accomplishing what all bands would like to do, ever improving, never peaking. It's really a shame that extraordinary works in all the sub genres of Progressive Rock/Metal music get no substantial recognition while the mostly worthless so called radio friendly music receives all the kudos on the various awards shows.

What's that popular saying, which I believe was made into a Country song? Oh yeah, "Life Sucks". Country Music has a way of cutting right to the chase don't it?

Sustaining nearly as many lineup changes as one of their influences, Yes, Arena was one of the dominant neo-prog groups of the 1990s. A Quasi-supergroup, Arena featured former members of Marillion, Pendragon, IQ, and Shadowland.

Funny, If one were to ask me who my favoite British prog-bands are along with Anathema and Mostly Autumn, I would have named all the above groups except Shadowland whom I'm not familiar with. Not surprisingly, Arena's music is similar to the the members former bands and what could be better for me (and you) than a fusion of some of my favorite prog-rock bands.

Those of you who are familiar with Marillion, I.Q. and Pendragon know those bands and by description, Arena are not heavy in the least. I always thought they were a little too mellow. In fact, I would say that it is less hard than most of the popular Pop/Rock groups of Top Forty.


The current lineup of Arena, consists of Clive Nolan Mick Pointer John Mitchell Ian Salmon and Rob Snowden,

Arena was formed in 1994 by Mick Pointer, the former drummer of Marillion, and Clive Nolan, the former keyboardist of Pendragon. after about three years of musical musician chairs, guitarist John Mitchell, who instantly proved himself an able replacement. A year later after two more defections, bassist Ian Salmon and current singer, who's quite good, Rob Snowden rounded out the current lineup.


"Witch Hunt", Never Ending Night", "Skin Game", "Salamander", "Riding the Tide", "Cutting The Cards", "Ascension"


Arena is a group that could and should have broad mass appeal since it's heritage and style are from the ever popular pioneers of British Progressive rock and even mimic somewhat, on a higher level, other very popular current British rockers, Radiohead and Coldplay.

Now some of you may have noticed that all the songs are rather short for Progressive rock songs and that is true but since this band has always been thusly categorized and since I can see no other place to put them, but you may consider them progressive alternative rock. It works for me.

The singer, Rob Snowden is excellent as are Mitchell and Nolan (Guitar and Keyboards). My version of Contagion comes in a gorgeous Triple folding digipack, which you should get if you can.

If you are a prog-rock fan, this is an essential album! If not try it anyhow. I can't recommend Contagion high enough, for any reader.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars It's definitely catching

More like a follow up to "The visitor" than "Immortal?", Contagion is a concept piece made up of interwoven tracks and recurring themes. It has all the Arena trademarks, but Nolan and Mitchell find more space to display their keyboards and guitar prowess than on previous albums.

It's hard to identify the best tracks as such, with album flowing so well, but "Painted man" and "Spectre at the feast" do stand up as excellent individual pieces. The former has a strong back beat which complements one of Rob Sowden's finest vocal performances. As might be expected, "Spectre at the feast" has a more haunting tone with understated, but atmospheric vocals.

The various soft link tracks repeat a common theme with differing sounds which tie the album together superbly. The music is best described as slightly metallic neo-prog. While there are hints of bands such as Genesis and Marillion in the music, there is a refreshing sense of uniqueness in the style and output of the band.

Not having read Nolan's short story on which the album is based yet, I'm not really sure what the concept is(!), but this is a top quality album, which sits well with their previous releases. That in itself is high praise indeed. As with all Arena albums, and indeed most of the really great albums, those new to the band may find that it takes several listens to catch "Contagion", but rest assured, it is well worth the effort.

"Contagion" was followed by "two extended EPs, "Contagious" and "Contagium" which contained tracks omitted from the album. The band have indicated that an extended version of the album will be released at some stage which places those tracks in context.

Review by loserboy
5 stars "Contagion" is ARENA's fifth studio outing, and represents a very powerful and evocative concept album full of IMHO ARENA's most fulfilling music yet. In the land of neo-prog is very very hard to find a tighter band than ARENA and although the band at times sound over the top they do kick big time. On "Contagion" ARENA have delivered an intimate album of connected songs which gives the listener a feeling of a concept album which deals with the fight against a deadly virus threatening the entire civilization. As you would expect the album is graced with the founding combo of Mick Pointer and Clive Nolan and this time all returning members Ian Salmon (bass), John Mitchell (guitars) and vocals of Rob Sowden. This album is clearly Sowden's spotlight with a wonderfully vast array of vocal mixes and pungent lyrics.
Review by Hibou
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Although this album is more straightforward than any previous ARENA output and its longest track is barely 5:34 minutes, all the progressive elements we've come to expect and love from the band are here: rising crescendos, heart-wrenching melodies, wonderful harmonies and a top-notch production. From the raucous, throbbing opener "Witch Hunt" to the dramatic grand finale "Ascension", chills run up and down your spine. "Painted Man' reminds me a lot of 'The Butterfly Man"; "Spectre at the Feast" with its ominous vocals gives me the impression the Cheshire Cat is right behind my back, grinning maliciously. The 3 instrumentals, interspersed through out the album, provide a welcome respite between the highly charged vocal tracks: on "This Way Madness Lies" you'll hear some incredible guitar play; "On the Box" again features some machine-gun guitar riffs - how on earth do you do this, Mr. Mitchell!?! - plus a great solo from half way down to the end; finally, "Riding the Tide", a whirling keybord number in 7/8, is a perfect follow-up to the vocal track "The City of Lanterns" - gosh, ARENA sure know how to pick their vocalists, don't they.

Speaking of vocalists, what a fine one ROB SOWDEN turned out to be; his delivery, at times, is simply orgasmic (cf. "The Skin Game"); I hear echoes of FREDDY MERCURY on "Bitter Harvest" and "Mea Culpa". This larger-than-life CD has to be one of the hardest prog albums I own. Although it does have a shorter shelf life than "The Visitor", I highly recommend it to anyone who's into melodious muscle-prog. Fans of IQ and particularly PENDRAGON will love it.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This Arena album has more guitar part as compared to their previous albums. John Mitchell's guitar playing has demonstrated major improvements. The opening track is very uplifting with easy to follow lyric that may become someone's yell "Exile! You show no mercy!" uughh .. nice man! Again .. this is another nice track to open your day after you wake up in the morning. Another track that kicks me is "Painted Man". The strong point of this album is that almost all tracks have the same quality of music. It's worth for your progressive rock collection.
Review by Tristan Mulders
4 stars Arena - Contagion

This was the first ARENA record I bought, after hearing the brilliant The hanging Tree from one of their other albums and I must admit, this is a great album. 'Great' might even be an understatement.

This record really grows on to you; I did not expect it to be quite as heavy as it appeared to be (knowing Mick Pointer only by his drumming on MARILLION's "Script for a Jester's Tear").

The way Witch Hunt opens really gives me goose bumps when listening to this record through my headphones, the whispering voices in the background make the music feel so much louder when the guitar's start to play and when Rob Sowden's vocals come in, you immediately feel the magic of this song.

Maybe a nice thing to say is that this is an concept album, that also explains a bit why most songs (a lot at least) run together, which results into the listener not noticing that the songs are not quite that long :)

The next song that is worth mentioning is Spectre at the Feast; it is a really nice composition especially Sowden's vocals and John Mitchell's guitars are nice in this song.

The guitar intro of On the Box (one of the in total 3 (!) instrumentals) sounds really nice; the guitar riff is repeated very quickly over a great sonic background. And the way the Morse code kicks in at the end of the song gives it a very abrupt ending, but it is superb! Surely this is one of the best songs on the album.

The final track Ascension is also a mention worthy, but that is actually only because of the great vocals, the composition itself is not quite that original and innovative.

Because I only mentioned these 4 four tracks (out of 16) does not mean that the rest of the songs are not any good, but you really have to listen to them before knowing what is so good about them instead of somebody telling you all the great aspects.

Just buy this record, you will not be disappointed!

Review by Menswear
5 stars Are you a prog purist? Instead of buying Echloyn, you'll buy Gentle Giant? Instead of purchasing Anglagard, you'd choose Genesis? You'd choose a day of Locanda delle Fate than an eternity of Spock's Beard? Then néo-prog has a massive potential to bore the hell out of you. And it's true, IQ or Marillion could make you yawn in their lack of technical challenge and repetitive keyboard atmosphere. It did for me. I assume that I have mixed feelings about that FM type of rock.

But brighten up little troopers, there is an alternative. Yep, I didn't believed it 'till I heard it.

Arena has a silly band name, let's face it. By it's name, we could anticipate Poison-type ballads or even worse....a resurrection of White Lion. Now that would've made the children cry!

But NO! I'm totally blown away by this album. Totally blown away. I'm telling you, they'll find my socks in Tibet and my shoes in Alaska. The explosion was brutal. At the first listen, Witch Hunt captured my heart by it's catchy refrain. Salamander, On the Box, Riding the Tide, Cutting the Cards, Ascension....too many great tracks to name them all.

Rob Sowden is giving a refreshing vocal performance. Few voices had stolen my heart during my exploration in the prog buisness....but his voice is sooo pleasant. Because, let's face it, Labrie's shorts-too-tight vocals are nice, but Sowden is less irritating and less pyrotechnical. Soothing I might say. Anyway, feels good.

Apart from the exquisie packaging and exceptionnal art cover, we can easily point at the robotic drumming of Mick Pointer, who doesn't seem to get any younger. He improved a lot since Jester's Tear but...he could cut a bit on the tom rolls.

Crunchy and rusty guitars, killer riffs, lush and impressive collection of keyboards and on top super vocals...this album will absolutely please the most picky progger. Hey, THIS album opened my eyes on a new type of progressive rock. Change is good...right?

This album reflects the (very) disturbed times that our world live in. Crimes, frightning deseases, hunger, obscure wars, unemployement, family violence, the list goes on. And the spooky feel on the album is reflecting the insecurity but also the need of solutions that everybody's craving. Insecurity and fear trancend throughout the whole album. Expect dark and gloomy atmosphere.

The best of what 2003 had to offer.

Review by TRoTZ
4 stars After their previous good records "The Visitor" and "Immortal ?", the expectations were too high for sure. But Arena didn't disappoint the expectancies creating this very enjoyable album! Their style is maintained, the so called neo progressive rock, followers of IQ, MARILLION and PENDRAGON but with METAL influences, transmitted by instrumental strenght and speedy passages. Comparatively to the previous records, there are no long suites; in fact the longest track has 5:34, with many tracks of 2 or 3 minutes. But the tracks are well orchestrated with each others, giving a great continuance to the album; besides, there are parts that are repeated in two distant tracks, all this contributing to the truly unit of the album. The album presents us with great ambiences and great emotional sonorities, particularly the guitar work and the neo like organ. It has a lot of good melodies (sad emotional and more angst ones) spread all over.

Lyrically, futuristic ideas, the main theme is about the end of human race and the final judgement, as seen for example in AYREON's Into The Electric Castle.

When I started listening the album with Witch Hunt, (besides realizing that it was not a RUSH's cover from "Moving Pictures") I started to think that the album would be crap. The introducing song is not very progressive, it's like a METALLICA track taken from their most commercial releases. But don't be frightened because the album is going to improve a lot. The next track, An Angel Falls, is a little piano minuet with sad melody leading to Painted Man, with its main catchy bass riff (which is going to reappear in the album) and good melody. (This Way) Madness Lies is an instrumental, the first highlight of the album; it as great guitar work, particularly in the end. The climax of this song is amazing, with its tense and emotionally beautiful guitar crying and background chorus. The next track is subdivided in two parts: the first a sad and calm melody and the second, heavier. Again, sad piano in Never Ending Night leading to the heavier Skin Game. Salamander and the instrumental On The Box are another highlights of the album, presenting good ambiences created by good solo guitar work and by the organ and orchestra. In Bitter Harvest the catchy bass riff of the third track appears now as guitar riff. Riding The Tide, another highlight, achieved mainly by its spacey keyboard melodies perhaps inspired in PENDRAGON's "The Masquerade Overture". The next track presents us emotional melody with piano playing and no guitar. More again good melody in Cutting The Cards, this time joyful and more epic. The album ends not brilliantly (but it could be much worse) with Ascension. I think this album should end with a big suite and not a verse/refrain/verse/refrain track.

Essential for MARILLION, PENDRAGON, IQ and other neo-prog lovers! Highly recommendable to all progressive music fans.

My rate: 7,5/10

Review by Muzikman
5 stars The cover of this album reminded me of the classic ROXY MUSIC "Avalon" release. The colors and imagery are similar. This cover however belongs to symphonic progressive rockers ARENA. Their latest effort "Contagion" fits the mold of a career groundbreaking recording. From what I know of this group, they made a big impression right from the start of their recording career and continued with several albums thereafter. If their previous work has been as impressive as what you will find on this CD, I would not hesitate in snatching up their entire catalog.

As a clever strategy to aggravate possible pirating of their music, they broke up this album into 72 tracks. I guess that would be a deterrent to burning a copy for your buddy now wouldn't it? It is quite a sight to watch that many tracks click off on your CD player.

From the opening of the startling "Witch Hunt" to the epic closer "Ascension," this is a rocking, compelling, larger-than-life journey of musical transitions. Vocalist Rob Snowden handles each track with total confidence and the results are astonishing. His voice is so powerful and smooth that it allows him uncommon freedom to move around inside the music as each song develops into a story of its own. The musicianship is absolutely jaw dropping. I got chills listening to this; it elevates your spirits and emotions in such a way that you fall prey to their sound and become completely enveloped in their magical musical spell. There are virtually no weaknesses on this CD. The sound, production, and engineering are excellent, leaving nothing to chance. Driving rhythms powered by an in-step rhythm section, forceful and precision guitar riffs, beautifully layered keyboards, and a lead singer with a purpose, makes this some of the very best music I have heard all year.

Remember the group, ARENA, remember the names . Rob Snowden (vocals), John Mitchell (guitar and backing vocals), Clive Nolan (keyboards and backing vocals), Ian Salmon (bass), and Mick Pointer (drums).

Go ahead and cut the cards, lay them on the table and place your wager, and bet the house on this group to become one of the most remembered progressive rock innovators in the 21st century.

[It won't be released until late January (at least in the UK/Europe). - ed.]

Review by The Crow
5 stars This is one of the best prog albums from the last years, in my humble opinion...

I love every song included here, and the work of every musician. Rob Sowden has an incredible voice and he sings in a powerful passionate way, Mike Pointer made a very consistent work with great drums sound (the Salamander's drums intro is amazing..), Ian Salmon's bass brights in songs like Tsunami and This Way Madness Lies, John Mitchell's work is very creative with good riffs (Witch Hunt) and magnificent solos (Painted Man) and Clive Nolan... Just hear Rinding The Tide!!! Great!!! A progressive orgasm!!!!

I'd like to emphasize the Clive Nolan's lyrics, with great moments and a good concept. Some lyrics, like Salamander and Bitter Harvest, are really catchy! But all the album's lyrics have an splendid quality. I think Clive Nolan's work with Arena it's very much productive and creative than his work in Pendragon, because he is the center and the soul of Arena. But we can't forgive the marvellous work of all the others members.

An incredible album. And the best Neo Progressive I've heard...

Review by Melomaniac
5 stars Arena's most accomplished album in my humble opinion, and my favorite. Even though he already did on Immortal?, Rob Sowden once again proves he is the man for the vocal job in Arena. He is intense, theatrical but not overly theatrical like Paul Wrightson was (he was good, but to me he was just another Fish in the sea... ;)). The pieces flow well into one another and things are clear from the start that this is a dark album ( I think Mitchell's guitar is tuned in C in Witch Hunt, and that makes for a dark and heavy intro to the album). No less than 3 instrumentals here, and they are all excellent, particularly "Riding the Tide" which is probably my favorite Arena song.

I like every song on this album, and the "Angel" recurring theme is always welcome and pertinent when it is played. From start to finish, the succesion of moods is fabulous, ending with the majestic "Ascension".

Every musician shines here, even Mick Pointer offered an inspired and solid performance. This album proves that this is THE Arena line-up, and everyone in the band must have felt that too, as they are still together after 3 albums, a first for this band

Arena's masterpiece, and a neo prog masterpiece. A reference to judge all neo prog albums by.

Five stars for a classic.

Review by evenless
4 stars After their somewhat "heavier and less polished" 2000 release "Immortal?" ARENA continues on the same track and it seems to be they are on the right one :-)

On "Immortal?" Rob Sowden traded places with Paul Wrightson and I must admit that even though I preferred Paul's voice I do think that Rob is doing a great job and almost makes us forget about Paul. As we all know it's just a matter of "getting used to". Same thing also happened with Steve Hogarth trading places with Fish in Marillion.

So what can we say about "Contagion"? Well, it's a concept album like "The Visitor" and even though the tracks aren't really all that long it doesn't really show, because they are all flowing over into one other. So is my comparison with ARENA's highly praised album "The Visitor" a valid one? I think it's a very good album, but just not quite as good. All instrumentation is top notch again, especially Clive Nolan's keys stand out and John Mitchell's excellent guitar play as well. Once again Rob Sowden now truly is the voice of ARENA. He's fulfilling our highly acclaimed promises!

My personal favourite tracks of the album? Probably: "Which Hunt", "Painted Man", "Spectre at the Feast", "Salamander", "Cutting the Cards" and "Ascension".

The result? Well, all and all another very nice concept album delivered by Clive Nolan and consortium. Good, maybe even very good, but just not as good as the 1998 concept album "The Visitor". Therefore I would like to rate this album 4 stars, just like I did with "Immortal?". For me "The Visitor" is still the one that really stands out (5 stars).

Review by Prog Leviathan
5 stars At this point, Arena distinguishes themselves from their peers, and in my opinion shows that they are really the best at playing exciting and dynamic music with classic progressive sensibilities. Few of the "neo-prog" bands out there can keep up with Arena's enthusiasm and energy.

"Contagion" shows the band playing its best and sounding the most refined as a group, with strong song writing and performances throughout. Nolan and Mitchell give us their best lead playing to date, while Sowden's vocals soar with emotion. The opening track, "Witchhunt" starts the album big and band delivers with each successive song; there's rarely a dull moment (even the rhythm section is interesting!). There is splendid variety, emotion, and energy. It all adds up to an outstanding high-point in the band's library and within the genre.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 4 Lyrics/Vocals: 5 Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Review by ZowieZiggy
4 stars This is the central piece of a trilogy. Their concept will be extended on two companion EP's : "Contagious" and "Contagium" in which you'll get explained how the numbers should be listened to in order to get the full and logical setlist.

This is rather complicated and I fully adhere to Easy Livin's point of view : they shoud have better inspired in releasing a double album. Less hassle for everybody. But maybe that all the pieces of the puzzle were not already finalized at the time of this release of. We'll get probably a full live versions of this entire work when Arena will celbrate the tenth anniversary of this very pleasant release ? Anyway...

When one looks at the setlist, with no less than sixteen numbers it is obvious that no epic will sit here. But this is not too harmful to the quality of this album. It was also the case for "The Visitor". This album is a collection of nice, melodious and catchy songs.

These ones are "Witch Hunt" (the opener). It is a dynamic song. A bit hard, but not too much. "Painted Man" will also be on the heavy side. "Spectre At The Feast" reminds me "Crying For Help IV or VII". The list goes on and on almost throughout the album.

As in almost all concept albums, there will be some short transition tracks. "An Angels Falls" and "Bitter Harvest" (which includes a very nice chorus) are the best of these ones. Much more than fillers, really.

I wouldn't be as positive for "and "The City Of Lanterns" and the premonitory "Tsunami". Excerpts of the lyrics : "A wave that rushes headlong through the darkness. An eternal flood that violates our minds. There's nowhere to hide now. Nowhere to run".

Both are from the poorest songs of this album. But only two out of sixteen is a great achievement.

Some instrumental numbers will be featured as well. "This Way Madness Lies" and "Riding The Tide" are very much Genesis oriented. The inspiration is definitely "Cinema Show" for both of them. "On The Box" can also be considered as instrumental if you exclude the background voices that can be heard in the background of the last part. But this one is a bit dull.

To be honest, I must say that from "On The Box" through "Mea Culpa" the album somewhat weakens.

The last two numbers will break this least interesting part. "Cutting The Cards" starts on an acoustic intro but turned out to be a good rocking song after two minutes while "Ascension" is another great and traditional Arena song : full of power. All mighty.

There are no sublime highlights but it is a very well balanced album, almost all the way through. I also feel that with this work, Rob has never sound so good. The band has finally stabilized and we get the same line-up as for "Immortal ?" which is a positive point for the future. I am missing the great guitar breaks that were available on "The Visitor" though.

Four stars for this solid and consistent album.

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars I know i'm in the minority here but I really feel this album is a step backwards for the band after two great records in "The Visitor" and "Immortal ?". After enjoying Sowden's vocals on "Immortal ?" so much I have to agree with stonebeard that they come off as sounding "hard rock" on this release. I just couldn't get into this album at all. Maybe it was because i've been enjoying some melodic rock by ENCHANT and THRESHOLD lately that sounds better than this album does. I don't know. I was looking forward to this release because of the advertised heaviness, but it didn't deliver in my opinion.

Some of the highlights for me are "Painted Man" with the heavy drums, organ and mellotron. Vocals arrive with some screaming guitar later. The guitar to end the song reminded me of Eddie Van Halen's work. "This Way Madness Lies" has such a good melody with bass and keys, but this is a guitar driven instrumental and my favourite track. "Spectre At the Feast" is a mellow tune until you can hear the guitar start to grind some melodies out.

"Skin Game" has some heavy passages that come and go, and I like the melody 3 minutes in. The guitar that follows sounds beautiful as do the harmonies to end the song. "On the Box" has some great guitar that just goes on and on. From here to the end of the album is really hit or miss with me. "The City Of Lanterns" is a refreshing change with lots of atmosphere. "Mea Culpa" is a dramatic tune with piano and vocals leading the way. There is a nice full sound after 2 minutes on "Cutting the Cards". The final song "Asension" has some powerful vocals and is a great closer.

My favourite tracks are the instrumentals "This Way Madness Lies" and "On the Box" , while "Skin Game" would round out my top three. Overall 3 stars.

Review by progrules
4 stars When I buy an album of one of my favourite bands I tend to look at the length of the songs hoping for at least one, hopefully even more epics, they are usually my favourites. When I saw the playing times of the songs of Contagion I got disappointed. I'm a fan of Arena from the beginning, really loved Solomon, Sirens, Moviedrome but of course also other songs. I still bought this album, wanted to give it a real chance and I'm glad I did.

This proved to be an album that kept growing on me, the songs got better and better after each listening. It's an accessible album but is still prog (fortunately), typical neoprog actually. This album has slowly but surely grown to a true 4 star case, well deserved. Best songs are Witch hunt, Painted man, Riding the tide and Cutting the cards. Well done Arena !

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is one of the four Arena albums that I own, so it's safe to say that this is by far their greatest achievement among their highest rated releases! The obvious question would be: Why is this album so hard to surpass? Simple really, Contagion has a feel and look of an epic concept album. Since we know that what looks, feels and , most of all, sounds like an epic concept piece, is very likely to be just that.

Granted that the previous statement wasn't all that explanatory in conveying the true magnitude of the performance I'll try to put it more frankly. Since the release of Immortal? it foreshadowed that great performance and most of all the song writing that the band were capable of. All they really had to do here was to create the right atmosphere for their material to work and after the hard lesson of The Visitor there seemed to be no doubt as to how to undertake such a task.

There are quite a few memorable performances featured on this album but it's ultimately the overall flow of the material which wins me over even more than Immortal?. It's all about a nice one hour long journey that is great to undertake once I'm in a mood for some melodic rock compositions performed in a dramatic conceptual way with strong melodies and ultimately a strong overall pay-off.

To be completely honest, I still haven't figured out the album's whole concept for myself, but I heard that the two EPs Contagious and Contagium do clarify it quite a bit. Unfortunately I've never had a chance to listen to them. But that being said, I believe that this albums music stands very well on its own. So if you enjoy the Neo-Prog genre then check it out!

***** songs: Witch Hunt (4:17) Mea Culpa (3:46) Ascension (4:34)

**** songs: An Angel Falls (1:13) Painted Man (4:41) This Way Madness Lies (3:35) Spectre At The Feast (5:34) Never Ending Night (3:23) Skin Game (4:43) Salamander (3:59) On The Box (2:40) Tsunami (2:38) Bitter Harvest (2:52) The City Of Lanterns (1:22) Riding The Tide (4:28) Cutting The Cards (4:57)

Total Rating: 4,22

Review by LiquidEternity
2 stars I don't know how a band can write music that is technically good music, but still somehow comes out terribly uninteresting.

With Contagion, Arena cut down the songs lengths and released a conceptual, flowing album. Something is wrong, though. The songs for the most part do not go anywhere. The music for the most part spins its wheels gently in the thick mud. The production for the most part works but does nothing out of the ordinary. And I think that is the true problem of this release: all the tracks are ordinary. This is little more than a glorified pop rock album. True, every once in a while the band steps out and performs a little bit, but on twelve or thirteen of the tracks, we've got standard to weak music. The vocalist doesn't seem to have much in the way of a unique voice, either. So, while I was really interested in this band due to members of it appearing on Ayreon and Frost* albums, I came away pretty cold from the experience.

I must add that there a couple of good tunes, and one definitely good one. Without these, this album would probably getting only a single star. Painted Man and Skin Game are both interesting songs, with vocal melodies that actually stand apart from the things you'd expect. The really good track is Cutting the Cards, which is the one streamable on this site. From this sample, I figured more of the album would feature that kind of energy and deeper songwriting. Well, it doesn't. Instead, the rest of the album ranges from worse to less interesting when compared to this track. Now, I do suppose that some serious neo-prog fans consider this music really fantastic, and I suppose they are allowed to. But coming from a fan of progressive music who only really asks for creative and original songwriting, Contagion leaves me pretty unimpressed and not very optimistic about the rest of the band's output.

If you love neo-prog or if you love Arena, I'd say go ahead. If you are unfamiliar with the genre or the band, the genre offers better music in IQ or Marillion, while I am unqualified to discuss the rest of the band's catalog at this moment. I must admit, though, that the cover art is something really special on this album, and is the other highlight next to Cutting the Cards.

Review by lazland
4 stars I got this on the strength of positive reviews on this website, and agree with all previous reviewers 4/5 star reviews.

This is the first Arena LP I have purchased, but it will certainly not be the last.

It is an fantastic album, neo-prog at its best, and I say that as a huge H era Marillion fan.

Rob Snowden's vocals are utterly amazing, and the keyboards of Nolan, rhythm section of Pointer & Salmon, along with great guitar work by Mitchell complement him very well.

The album has a great rock feel, but also includes the rich textures of sounds that prog fans long for in modern bands. It is certainly a grower, getting better with each & every listen. It is entertaining, original, and does not fall in to the trap of trying to sound like a copy of classic prog bands.

Highly recommended and thanks to ProgArchives for the previous reviews.

Review by Roland113
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars In My Not so Humble Opinion:

Contagion by Arena is the best release in the Neo-Prog top twenty with the only possible exception being the new release by Martigan (and I only offer that exception because I don't have that one).

Let me start with a brief story. As my prog resurgence grew over the last two years, I noticed that I leaned heavily towards Neo and Symphonic. I picked up a lot of CD's during this time, most of the time from deals that I was able to find on either Amazon or in used CD shops or downloads from iTunes or e-Music. Arena was one of those bands that I just couldn't find a CD of theirs for under $20. Not that it wasn't worth it, but when I could pick up two or three Marillion CD's for the same price, I had to go for the quantity.

Finally, around Christmas time, I finally found a used copy of Contagion on Amazon, with a certain amount of excitement I ordered it along with a few others and eagerly awaited their arrival. First came Aenima, then Ever by IQ, two additional CD's that I'd been eager to get my hooks into. When Arena came, it was certainly used, a little on the beaten up side. The very next day, "A Street Between Sunrise and Sunset" by Satellite arrived in it's nice and shiny new package and I'll admit, I kind of forgot about Contagion for a month or two.

I started listening to it in about March. Since then, it's been my most listened to album, easily. Now, it's number three on my Last FM chart behind "Snow" and "Stardust We Are", both double albums that I've had for two years. My point, this is a great CD.

On to the review proper:

I have no complaints about this album; this is as close to a perfect album as we get in my mind. The production is wonderful; Clive Nolan is at his best here. His choice of keyboard patches is spot on and his solos, particularly on the showcase piece "Riding the Tide", are both beautiful and tasteful. A magnificent solo is not based on how many notes you can play but when you choose to play them.

Rob Sowden's powerful and soulful voice adds another layer of energy as he plays the part of patient zero of the plague that takes out humanity (at least that's my interpretation). His mournful plea in "Mea Culpa" almost makes you cry while his gentle urging of "Oh my brother, kneel with me tonight" in "The City of Lanterns" gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. Rob sounds amazing on this album.

. . . and let's face it, John Mitchell is no slouch either. John's showcase piece, "This Way Madness Lies" shows his ability to solo tastefully while the last part of "On the Box" shows that he can shred when necessary. When he isn't luxuriating in the spotlight John Mitchell adds to the general ambience, blending with Clive seamlessly.

Finally, the rhythm section of Mick Pointer and Ian Salmon is tight and solid the whole way through, providing the foundation that allows the other three to shine. They really add to the "Cinema Show" feel of "Riding the Tide".

There are no weak tracks on this CD. The highlights include the previously mentioned "The City of Lanterns", "Riding the Tide" and "Mea Culpa". In addition, "Witch Hunt" starts the CD off with a driving bang, Mitchell's crashing guitar commands your attention from the first note until Sowden comes in with an angry growl a few seconds later. "Cutting the Cards" is another great song with some very tasty acoustic guitar allowing the beginning vocal harmonies to take the center stage until the full band crashes in.

The biggest highlight of the album is the run of "Spectre at the Feast", "Never Ending Night" and finally "Skin Game". Spectre is pretty and a good set up to "Never Ending Night" which starts out beautiful and just plain ends up spine tinglingly evil. "Skin Game" continues the evil vibe through the first half until about the two minute mark when it starts a 40 second build up to the most beautiful moment on this album. When Rob Sowden cries of the "quirk of fate, yielding to my DNA", the band follows with a hauntingly beautiful chord progression that, like many other points on this album, makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

In sum, I love this album and highly recommend it to any fans of Neo progressive music. This is as close as it gets to perfect for me.

Review by friso
5 stars To me this album stands out. Not just in the neo-progressive genre - in which it belongs in the short list of absolute great albums like 'Script For A Jester's Tear', 'Empires Never Last' and 'Resistance' - but of any sub genre. To me 'Contagion' represents the adventurous, emotional and magical journey that is progressive rock. Whereas Arena still leans heavily on the groundwork of early Marillion and Genesis, it does take the genre for a ride in a quite different direction. More based on these magical abstract atmospheres, more sci-fi, more in search for a divine sound. Existential in way. Rob Sowden is hands down my favorite recording vocalist of the genre and his well immersed powerful vocals greatly enhance the already well composed songs. He lives his songs. John Mitchell's melodic heavy guitars have long been a favorite of mine, but his contributions to songs like 'This Way Madness Lies', 'Never Ending Night' and 'Cutting the Cards' are just beyond me. Whereas all songs fit perfectly together in this semi concept album, there are actually some influences of other genres. For instance the pumping raw metal riff of 'Witch Hunt', the electronic prog of 'Riding the Tide' and the folky opening of 'Cutting the Cards'. Mostly the album fares well on neo-prog melancholy and the experience of the deep self, of which the final track 'Ascension' is a great example. Seldom was a song so suited for setting the mood for finish a musical journey. This is the original album that got me hooked on progressive rock as a fourteen year old and I can't imagine having had a better start.
Review by Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Clive Nolan (best known for his work with prog legend Pendragon) is the master of the dark side of neo prog. Or something like that. Certainly he and former Marillion drummer Mick Pointer had succeeded in bringing up something quite unique. While Arena´s first two albums were too much a Marillion-like affair, from the excellent The Visitor on, they found their own sound and themes. Quite frightening themes, I should say, but still good and exciting. And Contagion is one of their best efforts.

I still think The Visitor is their best ever. It is one-of-a-kind type of album, on which everything works. But Contagious comes very close to that. For the first time the band has the same line up as their most recent work, Immortal?, another very good CD. But Rob Sowden vocals are much more confident and personal here. I also liked Ian Salmon´s bass lines very much, quite heavy and fitting very well on the overall music. My only complaint about this album is that The Painted Man sounds too much like the Butterfly Man (from Immortal?) both musically and lyrically: A coincidence? Or was it meant to be like that? Like a good mystery film director, Nolan does not give clear answers. Even the overall concept of the album is not explained, leaving the listener to find its own interpretation.

Which is fine, since the music that comes with it is simply fantastic: a kind of heavy symphonic prog, with lots of 70´s influences (specially early to Genesis). In fact the music is so rich and varied it takes some time to really sink in, but once it does, you´re hooked (or contaminated). There is little point trying to find a highlight here, since the whole album works as a big suite with many shifting moods and great musical passages that link one track to the other. After several spins, I still can´t think of any of them without the other, even if some instrumental cuts like Riding The Tide (great Banks-like synth solo!) are among Nolan´s best performances ever.

Contagious is truly a work of art and a must have for any prog lover. Highly recommended! Final rating: 4,5 stars

P.S. _ The brazilian release of this album via Hellion records includes a bonus CD that is the whole The Cry EP. Even if not one of Arena´s best it was a plus for it has at least one fine extra song (The Healer).

Review by Flucktrot
4 stars I really like much of Arena's work, and I definitely think they are capable of putting together a masterpiece of progressive rock. Unfortunately, I've been through most of their catalog and haven't found that piece yet, now including Contagion. On the flip side, there's certainly nothing wrong with being a model of consistency, if perhaps not brilliance.

If you don't mind a bit of cheese (and, really, can any of us who really like neo prog say that we don't?) then it would be tough to view this album as less than four stars. Snowden does a very nice job, both in passionate and well-paced delivery ( i.e., not too slow), and with interesting lyrics. Nolan lays it on nice and thick with the keys, and Mitchell brings it all over the top with some awesome guitar work.

Exhibit A: the Painted Man. A catchy, stately theme, and the instrumental break is a great example of Mitchell and Nolan supplementing each other (as opposed to dueling, Petrucci and Rudess style). Exhibit B: This Way Madness Lies (instrumental). Mitchell's guitar has this enormous sound, and he just lets it rip--I just love this guy's feel. In addition--and perhaps more with this album than any of their others--you can actually hear the bass! Not only that, but Salmon is doing some melodic stuff, as opposed to mechanically grinding it out in the low register (as on Immortal, for example).

Overall, probably the most consistent piece from a strikingly consistent band--consistently very good, to boot. Perhaps it's the lack of a Visitor-style climactic ending, the slightly cheesy heaviness of some bits, or something I can't put a finger on, but I'm going to go against my id here and place this just out of masterpiece territory.

Excellent album: A must for those of us who enjoy what Arena has to offer. I'm going to keep hoping for them to crank out a true masterpiece of prog in the future--I know you guys have it in you!

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Neo-what? This music reminds me of the turn away from prog in the late 70s and 80s. Over and over I've listened to this soap opera music and have yet to have a song that draws me back, that becomes memorable (though the first instrumental, "This Way Madness LIes," comes close). Were it not for the pedigreed band members--which, unfortunately, raise one's expectations quite a bit--and excellent recording and sound production, this album would have gone immediately into my ASIA/JOURNEY/FOREIGNER/SURVIVOR/DEF LEPPARD "Do Not Resuscitate" bin (which is one whose discs never see the light of day again and most often get dumped at some resale shop.) I can't even seem to find any redeeming qualities to justify elevating them to my STYX/REO SPEEDWAGON/KANSAS/RUSH/ SUPERTRAMP "Re-listen ... LATER" bin--which is one box higher than the previous--and whose members at least earn the privilege of staying in my collection.

Please help me out here: What about this music, this album, is prog? Too bad, cuz I'm a big John Mitchell fan.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Rob Sowden's second album as lead singer of Arena finds the band really hitting their stride again after the rather transitional Immortal. Incorporating a few metal influences in their music really helps the band diversify their sound, and the songwriting team of Mick Pointer, Clive Nolan, and John Mitchell have come up with some really strong material this time around.

Granted, there's places here and there where things get a bit samey or predictable, but on the whole it there aren't enough to completely derail the album, and the band pack in just enough surprises to make it worth picking up this one if you already have and are enthusiastic about their earlier albums.

On the whole, in fact, I'd say it's more or less on a par with Pride, Songs From the Lion's Cage and The Visitor, and a big step up from Immortal. I particularly recommend the Contagion Max edition, which restores the missing songs which had been collected on various EPs to their proper part in the sequence. Perhaps its biggest weakness is that this prog metal-adjacent style isn't necessarily what Rob Sowden's voice lends itself to, and the fact that in its original configuration the album risks becoming a bit samey; the more varied material on the EPs, restored to their proper place in the running order, makes the journey a touch more varied.

Review by kev rowland
5 stars This album is the follow-up to 2000's 'Immortal?' and sees Arena with the same line-up of Clive Nolan (keys/vocals), Rob Sowden (lead vocals), John Mitchell (guitar/vocals), Ian Salmon (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums). It is a concept album concerning a search for salvation through a dark and foreboding vision of the future. Apart from the striking artwork by David Wyatt, the one thing that stands out on this album is the sheer intensity of the work as a whole. Some bands think that everything has to be turned up to the max, but they often miss the dramatic edge which this album has in abundance.

This is a step forward for Arena; they have raised the stakes and dare others within the prog field to follow. They have moved more into the prog metal area while at the same time staying far removed from bands such as Threshold. This is an album that is keyboard-led, as would be expected from one of Clive's bands, but when the guitars are there they are crunching and when they are not there is the anticipation and edge that they will soon be back. It gives the album a sense of drama which is heightened by the way that the music swirls and moves through themes, returning to ideas and moving on in different ways. It takes a strong vocalist to stand out against all that is going on and Rob Sowden knows when he has to take control with strong soaring vocals or when the time is right to be more emotional. He is at home when singing with just a piano or when he is fronting an all out rock band.

When Arena are in full flight they are a sight to be heard and the production by Clive Nolan and John Mitchell gives the sound the quality that it deserves. There are times when this album is multi-tracked acoustic guitars and pure venom from John while at others this is a prog band that have let loose the hounds and are running at full pelt. With 'Contagion' Arena have thrown down the gauntlet and are daring others within this area to follow. Intense, majestic, theatrical, powerful, full of visual imagery, I don't know how to convey the sheer wonder of this album. Visit for more details.

I will be interviewing Clive in the next issue of Feedback (for the first time for many years), but he has already told me that this album has had the highest pre-sales of any Arena album to date and has been in the national album charts in Germany as well as top 10 in the independent releases chart in Holland. This really is a great album.

Originally appeared in Feedback #72, Feb 03

Review by siLLy puPPy
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.

Review by VianaProghead
5 stars Review Nº 297

Arena is a band which doesn't need to be introduced. Almost everybody or at least people that are interested on progressive rock has listened to some of their albums, surely. For me, the band has been used for many people as a useful connector and not as a big band full of great skill and virtuoso movements. However, I have to say that they have worked out a nice musical space and deserving to be one of the most important bands of the modern prog rock scene.

'Contagion' is the fifth studio album of Arena and was released in 2002. It's their first studio album to feature the same line up of their previous studio album 'Immortal?'. So, the line up of the album is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums).

Like their follow up third studio album 'The Visitor', which was released in 1998, 'Contagion' is also a conceptual album made of interwoven tracks and recurring themes. So, as usual on the most of the cases of the conceptual pieces, the music and the lyrics flow throughout the album, for the most part of it, as if they were only a single theme. Thus, and as usual, I'm just going to review the album globally, not track by track, and make some general considerations.

So, one of the leaders of the contemporary neo-prog rock scene Arena was back with another very powerful new studio album of melodic rock with some very catchy anthems, great symphonic keyboards and a fantastic guitar performance. In reality, it's a real follow up to their highly regarded previous studio album 'Immortal?', following a very similar path to that musical work. It fully confirms that the group has gone the musical direction to a path of a much heavier sound.

Thus, despite 'Contagion' follows the same path of 'Immortal?', it's also, in a certain way, the real and truly natural successor of their third studio album 'The Visitor'. If we make a brief reflection about all their five first studio albums we may say the following. Their two first studio albums 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' and 'Pride' are very similar and follow the same formula of the traditional sound of the progressive sound of the 70's. It's also very close to the music of the traditional neo-prog bands like Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas. With their third studio album 'The Visitor' we can clearly see a change on their sound and, in my humble opinion, with this album the band found their own proper sound and space into the neo-prog style and definitively established itself as one of the major living forces into that progressive sub-genre. Their next forth studio album 'The Immortal?' shows a band, in my humble opinion, with the same style of their previous studio album 'The Visitor' but with a heavier sound, which is particularly noted with the guitar sound, with clear influences of the prog metal sound. With this new album 'Contagion', I sincerely think that it follows the same path and formula of 'The Visitor' and 'Immortal?', but bringing to it the best parts of both worlds.

About the tracks, the opening cut 'Witch Hunt' grabs you right away, with the chunky guitars of John Mitchell and the powerful, husky vocals of Rob Sowden leading the charge. This is Sowden's second recording with the band, and the singer is brimming with confidence throughout the album. On the emotional 'Painted Man', the vocalist pulls a great performance, as his powerful and pained performance is matched only by the fluid, David Gilmour influenced fret work from Mitchell. The guitarist and keyboard wiz Clive Nolan lay down some complex, sonic blasts on the melodic instrumentals 'This Way Madness Lies' and 'On The Box', two tracks that are excellent but really serve as seques to the vocal pieces. 'Spectre At The Feast' and 'Never Ending Night' are reminiscent of songs from their album 'The Visitor', featuring emotional, haunting melodies, chilling keyboard washes, and the tortured guitar lines of John Mitchell. The band even approaches prog metal bliss on songs like 'Skin Game', 'Salamander', and 'Tsunami'. Clive Nolan is fairly restrained as far as solos go on this album, and goes for a more varied and textural sound. But on the tune 'Riding The Tide' he lets loose with a vengeance, blasting out wild synth solos with a true reckless abandon.

Conclusion: 'Contagion' is an excellent album and one of Arena's best albums and undoubtedly it represents, for me, the second masterpiece of the group. Relatively to their previous studio album 'Immortal?', we are in presence of a more cohesive musical work of the band and hasn't the same weak points that we can find on it. In relation to their first two studio albums 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' and 'Pride', it's definitely better because it's much balanced and more cohesive that those albums are, despite they're also two great albums. However, when we compare it with 'The Visitor' I sincerely don't have the same opinion. In my humble opinion, and despite all I wrote before, 'The Visitor' remains, for me, as their greatest and finest masterpiece until now. Concluding, 'The Visitor' and 'Contagion' are among one of the best neo-prog albums ever made and with them, Arena ascend to the rare status of being one of the most important and immortal bands of the neo-prog scene with bands like Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, Pallas and Galahad.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Review by A Crimson Mellotron
4 stars British neo-progressive rock titans Arena deliver a stunning and exhaustive collection of songs on their fifth studio recording 'Contagion', with styles ranging from pure symphonic prog to jaw-dropping hard rock with infectious riffs and choruses, to pure heavy metal-sounding bangers; or else put simply, this album is a bag of treats!

Loosely (or certainly, depending on who you ask) a concept album that is seemingly telling the story of a man's otherworldly journey through the darkest places of the mind, touching upon the topics of trust, love, fear, and angst - the recurring themes of this album; it is really challenging to precisely dissect the story and make up something that sounds convincing, mainly because the story is pretty fractured! It seems like the order of the songs that would make the concept of 'Contagion' more straightforward and perceivable is shuffled. Not only this, but as most progressive rock fans know, this album is actually lacking seven tracks that supposedly animate the story (Fortunately, the full version exists as 'Contagion Max' and unfortunately, a select few have heard it). However, the real protagonist of the whole frenzy is the 'blue flame' that is mentioned on several occasions throughout the album, hypothetically the true sources of the contagion around which the concept revolves.

But what makes this record so compelling? It could hardly be the confusing conceptual side, too blurry and mysterious to be grasped? well, it is the brilliant and shockingly good music! The 'core' of Arena (Clive Nolan, Mick Pointer, John Mitchell) is untouchable on this release, delivering some of their finest moments. Vocalist Rob Snowden's performance is also stellar, so is the one of bass player Ian Salmon.

The successful amalgamation of different moods, tones, and tempos make this album a unique and blissful listening experience, that has pretty much everything one would want from a top-tier progressive rock album. Nonetheless, there is not a single weak track on here, vocal or instrumental. However, I would say that the songs should really be heard in the context of the album, not as sixteen separate entities, since many of them flow into one another, forming a complete listening experience.

Some very good tracks on 'Contagion' include the metallic opener 'Witch Hunt', a song that sounds like it could perfectly fit 'Immortal?' as well; it isthe perfect way to open the album on a high note. 'An Angel Falls' is a small prelude to the beautiful 'Never Ending Night'. 'Painted Man' and 'Specter at the Feast' are also very strong; 'Skin Game', 'Salamander' and 'On the Box' might be my top three tracks off 'Contagion', definitely some of the best Arena material is on so far. The following three/four tracks also form some sort of a mini-epic. It has to be noted down that all the instrumentals are severely impressive, very elegantly played and always in-place, no mindless noodling on this LP, not even for a second. Finally, there are 'Cutting the Cards' and 'Ascension'; two very emotive and powerful songs to finish off a one-of-a-kind album.

All I can say as a conclusion is that the neo-progressive label that goes along with Arena's output would be a pretty imprecise and misleading categorization for this album. 'Contagion' is special for its very strong songs and for its palette of sounds and moods, topped by the flawless performance by the five men making up this band. A 21st century British prog classic! /And an album deserving much more attention/

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Report this review (#1113310) | Posted by jmeadow | Sunday, January 12, 2014 | Review Permanlink

4 stars With the new album upon us I felt it time to revisit their earlier material? ?and fell upon the album Contagion, and was hooked. I then realised that the two 2003 EP's contained material that belonged to the concept and duly inserted it, and placed the whole into the correct order and listene ... (read more)

Report this review (#571872) | Posted by huge | Sunday, November 20, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars But what a pleasant surprise!I'm really amazed that album.Until then my knowledge of neo- prog was limited only to bands with Marillion (of course) and Pendragon.Listen this album gives me a new dimension this kind, although this band is almost sort of a supergroup, as it has or had members of ... (read more)

Report this review (#414165) | Posted by voliveira | Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Arena could have easily become my favorite group. That what I thought after the first two albums. I waited with great expectations for the following one. Then, they composed their first concept album, "The visitor" which was a errible desillusion for me : great moments ("Hanging tree", "State of ... (read more)

Report this review (#274565) | Posted by Kjarks | Saturday, March 27, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Ah, Contagion - less an album, more a cauldron of hot, spicy guitar riffs and keyboard solos. The short tracks make it more digestible than Pepper's Ghost or Immortal?, but this format may not be so friendly with all proggers. Down to business... 1. Witch hunt (4:17) - Odd crowd noises quietly ... (read more)

Report this review (#191088) | Posted by Staker | Sunday, November 30, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I was a little late to the party with Arena releases. I've worked my way backwards, starting with Pepper's Ghost then Contagion and so on. Contagion hit me like a ton of bricks on about the tenth listen. I knew it was a good release, but after hearing it over and getting familiar with some of ... (read more)

Report this review (#179969) | Posted by cutsofmeat | Monday, August 18, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Arena's second amazing concept, Contagion is at its best when you add in the two additional LPs, Contagious and Contagium. It then becomes a 90+ minute monster, bringing it alongside the Lamb and Subterranea. There is so much variety and drama present here: Arena are perhaps the future of Neo pr ... (read more)

Report this review (#153010) | Posted by La fraisne | Wednesday, November 28, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Even though Arena is my favourite band of all time, I will try to do a fair review of the album. Contagion is the band's fifth release, and since it's an odd number, it's a concept album (band policy). This time, the concept deals with the flaws of mankind and the end of the world. I won't ven ... (read more)

Report this review (#117014) | Posted by Silhouette | Sunday, April 1, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars If Arena have made an album which is a best then this must be it, eclipsing even the Visitor. It contains every element needed for a great neo-prog album. This album deserves more recognition from a wider audience than it gets, anyone who likes rock music could come to love this album. The ba ... (read more)

Report this review (#100254) | Posted by laghtnans | Friday, November 24, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 pointles ... (read more)

Report this review (#92301) | Posted by Bupie | Wednesday, September 27, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Well, this is my first introduction to the Neo Progressive sub-genre. My uncle introduced me to it, with this fantastic album. What an introduction !! Before this, the only stuff I heard from Arena was "The Butterfly Man" (which is not on this disc), from a progressive sampler of Big Bear Reco ... (read more)

Report this review (#81127) | Posted by Barla | Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Ah well, Contagion was a slight disappointment for me. While the production on Contagion is crisp and suitable, the music is not the best that Arena, especially Clive Nolan, considering his background with Pendragon, can offer. The biggest problem I can find with Contagion (which was apparen ... (read more)

Report this review (#70881) | Posted by stonebeard | Wednesday, March 1, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is a Great Album. Including the 2 EP's. It's a pity that they didn't made a double album in the first place. For the music it's a five star, even a 6 star album, but bring everything now, after all the fan's have it now, as a double album is very sad. ... (read more)

Report this review (#44726) | Posted by | Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Before anything I must say that I knew Arena from its first album called "Songs from the lions cage". Well, there the Arena´s sound was loudly and brilliant with a lot of crushing cymbals, speedy riffs and long songs. I can say the lapse when they made music like that was great, but now with " ... (read more)

Report this review (#44723) | Posted by Queno | Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The legendary Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer have been the two constants of the band since it's inception, while there have been three different bassists, three vocalists, and two guitarists, with Steve Rothery of Marillion a guest guitarist on "Crying for Help IV" from "Lion's Cage", which ha ... (read more)

Report this review (#44237) | Posted by | Thursday, August 25, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Structurally this album is far more similar to their 1998 album The Visitor than 2000's Immortal? This album is made up of a large number of shorter songs (even more so then The Visitor) that gel together in such a way that if you don't look at the track numbers you would think you were listening ... (read more)

Report this review (#37850) | Posted by Forgotten Son | Monday, June 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars On Contagion Arena manage to blend the different styles of the previous released albums into one cohesive concept. Both the heavy guitar/keyboard style from Immortal? are present, but also the more melodic textures from Pride and The visitor find their way through the mix. it took me a couple ... (read more)

Report this review (#16062) | Posted by tuxon | Sunday, March 27, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is Arena's most creative and diverse album so far. The keyboards are once again melodic, atmospheric, and complex. The new vocalist is perfect for the portraying the progressive emotional storytelling. Not all the tracks are good, but a vast majority are exceptional. The music sounds ... (read more)

Report this review (#16059) | Posted by hattrick | Monday, March 7, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars This one's rather disappointed me. At common sense, this is the kind of structural and stylistic copy of THE VISITOR album. Once again we have a depressive conceptual album with a range of short tracks, Prog-Metal-like arrangements and apocalyptic themes in lyrics. But it seems like less since ... (read more)

Report this review (#16057) | Posted by Emperor | Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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