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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!

Arena official website

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Buy ARENA Music

Inside Out Germany 2004
Audio CD$34.98
$6.28 (used)
Pepper's GhostPepper's Ghost
Imports 2012
Audio CD$8.64
$7.48 (used)
Caught in the ActCaught in the Act
Multiple Formats
Mvd Visual 2003
$5.49 (used)
Seventh Degree of SeparationSeventh Degree of Separation
Ais 2012
Audio CD$10.28
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USD $63.18 Buy It Now
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Duran Duran "Arena" 1984 Capitol L.P. Gatefold Shrink Hype w/ Inner USD $2.95 [0 bids]
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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 | 387 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
3.64 | 307 ratings
4.05 | 624 ratings
The Visitor
3.91 | 429 ratings
4.16 | 591 ratings
3.61 | 390 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
3.48 | 266 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
3.74 | 250 ratings
The Unquiet Sky

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 | 58 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
4.06 | 29 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
 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 | 250 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 | 429 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 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 | 591 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE & JR/F/Canterbury 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.

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

Arena Neo-Prog

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

3 stars Clive Nolan's original intent for the "Contagion" album from his band ARENA was for it to be a double album with several instrumental tracks appearing at certain points in the album for there to be a smoother flow between the segments that spell out the storyline. But the record label had other ideas and the band was forced to scrap the idea and instead trim the album down to a single disc and with the leftovers created two separate EPs released simultaneously with the "Contagion" album.

There are several head scratchers about this decision of how to release these extras though. First of all instead of releasing one compilation album of the seven extra tracks, they were instead issued on two different releases, one called "Contagious" and this other edition CONTAGIUM which features the three leftover tracks "On The Edge Of Despair," "The March Of Time" and "Confrontation." In addition there is the "Special Remix Of Salamander" which sounds more like a psytrance meets hard rock track with plenty of mellotrons turned up to the max. There are also some multimedia additions that includes a video of "Painted Man," some ghost vocals that tell the story as well as a tour photo gallery and screensaver.

Like on "Contagious," these leftovers are quite decent quality listens but this EP as well has been made quite irrelevant since these leftover tracks found a new home on the 2013 anniversary re-issue called "Contagion Max" which featured all of the extra tracks in their proper place on the album as originally intended in its double disc form. The only track that has never found a new home is the remix of "Salamander" and it is hardly worthy of making this bunch of tracks relevant as the "Contagion Max" places the tracks that matter in their proper context.

 Contagious by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
2.89 | 50 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

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

3 stars Clive Nolan's original intent for the "Contagion" album from his band ARENA was for it to be a double album with several instrumental tracks appearing at certain points in the album for there to be a smoother flow between the segments that spell out the storyline. But the record label had other ideas and the band was forced to scrap the idea and instead trim the album down to a single disc and with the leftovers created two separate EPs released simultaneously with the "Contagion" album.

There are several head scratchers about this decision of how to release these extras though. First of all instead of releasing one compilation album of the seven extra tracks, they were instead issued on two different releases, one called CONTAGIOUS and the other "Contagium." On this release CONTAGIOUS contains the tracks "Vaninishing Act," "I Spy," the title track and "The Hour Glass." In addition to these surplus musical tidbits, there is a "Special Remix Of Witch Hunt" which sounds more like an early 80s new wave band than ARENA.

While the music on this one is quite good, this EP has been made somewhat irrelevant since in 2013 an anniversary release called "Contagion Max" was finally made public and included all the extra tracks in their original intended ordered on a double CD. That means only the "Witch Hunt" remix is unavailable anywhere else and believe me it's certainly no reason to track this down separately. It's also strange that these tracks don't appear sequentially on the "Contagion Max" edition and are scattered about randomly on both discs.

 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.74 | 250 ratings

The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Neo-prog standouts Arena return with their powerful blend of hard hitting, pomp-filled, highly melodic, and well performed rock with The Unquiet Sky, a concept album that, despite seeming to check every item on the "Prog Rock" checklist, comes across as a bland and ultimately unmemorable experience.

I decided to pick up this album after revisiting the band's excellent catalog (including Contagion, probably my favorite album in the neo-prog sub-genre here on the Archives). I was happy to hear the band roar to life within the first two minutes, smashing out a heavy blast of guitar and walls of keyboards in the great introductory track, "The Demon Strikes." One thing that can never be taken away from Arena is the band's excellent musicianship; they're simply great at creating this style of music, and know how to put the pieces together to make for outstanding instrumental moments. Paul Manzi, who returns to handle vocal duties, is serviceable, fitting in well with the tone established by the band's preceding vocalists. Personally, I prefer Sowden, who has stronger timbre and phrasing, but Manzi can belt out passionately and has a powerful sustain.

My issue is mostly in the songwriting and overall feel of the album. It's not because The Unquiet Sky is basically a by-the-books prog-rock concept album; we can easily forgive this because there are so many great examples out there that are, when you get down to it, derivative. It's more a malaise of mid-tempo blandness which pervades the majority of the album's running time. The highs aren't high enough; ballads not subtle enough; up tempo moments not exciting enough... you get the picture. I can totally groove to a single track or two on this album, but when taken as a single listen I am totally bored by the end. The music doesn't capture me, and the story doesn't inspire me; in fact, the lyrics are encumbered by their sheer number and need to tell a story, often literally, rather than through creative rhymes or poetic verse.

So sort of a mixed bag in the end. You won't regret listening to The Unquiet Sky, but it won't get nearly as much play as other albums in the genre. Fans should definitely check it out, but others should stick to the group's more diverse and exciting library.

Songwriting: 2 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

 Pride by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1996
3.64 | 307 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 3.5 stars for sure

The second album of this famous neo prog band was issued in 1996 named simply Pride. With a new vocalist Paul Wrightson and a new bassist the well known abong proggers John Jowitt from Jadis and IQ fame Arena did another worthy album in this zone, continuing the same level left on previous album, thier first baby. The musicianship is as expected solid all throughout the album, with some really nice parts. The music is solid rooted in IQ-Marillion style but with with their own twists and turns added in the mix. Pieces like opening Welcome to the cage, one of the tunes played in almost every gig since then, Empire Of A Thousand Day or Medusa show maturity in song writting and aswell confirmed once again that Arena has something to say in this scene , confirming the high level of this band gained in few years. So, to this point, Pride is regarded as one of their best, only The Visitor and few more are in front of this release so far. 3.5 stars, their next one is even better and definatly their mahgnum opus and one of the better neo prog albums ever written The visitor.

 XX by ARENA album cover DVD/Video, 2016
3.54 | 25 ratings

Arena Neo-Prog

Review by progbethyname

2 stars * Review for CD and DVD media formats.

Absolutely Appalling A&R.

To be clear, this is one of the worst recorded live albums I have heard in quite some time, which makes it impossible for me to personally and fully enjoy the music that is being played because the audio recording really is just that bad! For me, It doesn't matter how great the music actually is because when you have shotty, 3rd rate audio production it seems to take over and my love or attachment to whatever I am listening to is completely thrown out the window...a lost cause if you will.

Moreover to be known to all, I love Arena. This is a band that has 'wowed' me in every possible respect musically with in their what is now, a 20-year history. They have been one of those few bands that have remained blemish free with in their entire studio album discography and including live albums as well...until now.

Enter Dos Equis. Yes those hideous, blown up double X's that defecate on what was once a beautiful album cover, slapped right in the middle and below the album's actual cover art. Even from doing a half-fast hatchet job like this for the album's overall presentation, you know this could be the start of something quite poor...that is quality wise. Long story short, my initial feelings on this were right because the heart of the matter, which is the audio itself, is created with no love or care at all like the album cover art, sadly.

To begin with, the overall Dos Equis recording really does sound like it was recorded from up in a tree. I really don't understand the mic tracking placement for this album because the soundstage is so unbelievably squished and It really does sound like I'm listening to a piece of music set up in a horribly compressed lounge chamber. I just can't believe my ears and I'm so disappointed because I love Arena and I think the set list they chose is awesome and it has great flow, but I just can't enjoy it or even remotely tell if Arena is actually delivering an emotionally or memorable live performance, musically. Here's the thing. I understand that this album was recorded at a very small venue in Poland that is primarily a movie theatre, but if you are an A&R guy you should really do your homework with in the subject of Psychoacoustics and understand the steps and measures you need to take in order to record an album properly by treating the room for sound diffusion and establishing risks of echo flutter as well as under going proper microphone placement, which is that of a big one! I mean poor Mick Pointer's drums sound so compressed and lifeless that his cymbal crashes sound like pure and utter distortion. Paul Manzi's vocals are treated terribly. His presence is so far away and hollow like he is shrouded with in a cave, while Kaylin Amos's bass has absolutely no low end shimmer or feeling. It's completely flat and lifeless. Clive Nolan's keyboards have no stage presence or any punch with in the overall mix of the album. I don't hear those interesting, shadowy nuances that usually burst so much character into the flow of what is known as Arena's trademark sound. There is nothing to be found here!

Mainly, we have to look at the culprits. The A&R team for Metal Mind Productions are Michal Kuczera for the recording Engineer position. Prosound software and EQ'ing (PA) Jaroslaw Kaszyński and the mixing was done by Karl Groom, who is the only one who can be excused from the list because it's not his fault. If an album is recorded like a turgid disaster, you can't expect your album mixer to save it or make the album sound any better than how it was originally recorded in the first place. Overall, I cannot recommend anyone to purchase the CD version of this live album. It's a half fast production in just about every way that is conceivable. The album was recorded in April of 2015 and released in February of 2016, so that should give you a pretty good idea of how fast XX was slapped together....I really do mean 'slapped..'

Mainly, Arena have to examine and clean house of their A&R team at Metal Mind as well as maybe drop the label because their last DVD done in 2012 (The Rapture) was not any better. The CD version however, was actually done quite lovely for the Rapture, but to talk further about both DVD versions is mainly upsetting. For both The Rapture and XX the 5.1 mix is so boring and not dynamic at all. I hear hardly anything passing through my left and right surround rear channels. The mix for both DVD's exist mainly at the front left, right channels with very little pouring out of the center channel. Above all, there is just no immersion or dynamic channel separation. Piotr Brzeziński is the main man responsible for the 5.1 codec mix, and I feel once again a little cheated by the quality of what comes out and passes through my home theater system audio wise and of course the video isn't very good either. I mean would it kill Arena and Metal Mind to release a bloody blu-ray for once! Come on! This is 2016 for entertainment's sake! How about celebrating 20-years properly?

Thus, the DVD version of XX Isn't any better nor is it a saving grace somehow. Arena need a new label and should start doing right by themselves by hiring a quality team of video and A&R Specialists to represent what a quality band Arena truly are. There is no doubt in my metal mind, that as far as Neo Prog with a metallic edge goes? Arena are second to none. What a shame that 20-years couldn't be represented in a more professional manner by their record label. This really is upsetting and is exactly why I personally put so much weight and importance into proper audio engineering or the art and science behind sound recording in general cause this live album is a perfect example of how great music can be greatly misrepresented. A&R is a bit of a thankless job in the music business, so this album is yet another perfect example as to why we should appreciate the Alan Parsons, the Andy Jackson's, the Terry Brown's and the mastering capabilities of the Bob Ludwig's with in audio engineering/production world. All I can say to you healthy listeners out there, that if you like how an album sounds to you look at the album credits. Look at the names of the individuals who have brought your music to life! You may see them, like I do, as actual members of the band because of their value.

In conclusion, I can award Dos Equis no points for the CD version and may god have mercy on its soul. However the DVD format is a slightly better experience, but still mediocre at best.

2 X's.

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

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