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ARENA

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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

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Arena: Live 2011 / 2012 TourArena: Live 2011 / 2012 Tour
Import
Ais 2013
Audio CD$17.85
$12.80 (used)
ContagionContagion
Import
Inside Out Germany 2004
Audio CD$8.68
$6.99 (used)
VisitorVisitor
Import
Inside Out 2004
Audio CD$86.67
$9.59 (used)
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ARENA shows & tickets


  • Arena at Borderline, London on 19 Mar 2015
  • Arena at The Citadel Arts Centre, St Helens on 20 Mar 2015
  • Arena + Karnataka at The Assembly, Leamington Spa on 22 Mar 2015
  • 20th Anniversary Tour "THE UNQUIET SKY" on 27 Mar 2015
  • Rock Ittervoort 2015 on 28 Mar 2015
  • Arena at Hedon, Zwolle on 31 Mar 2015
  • Arena at Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg on 1 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Zeche Carl, Essen on 2 Apr 2015
  • Arena + The No Name Experience at Chez Paulette, Pagney-derrière-Barine on 3 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Bergkeller, Reichenbach on 5 Apr 2015
  • Arena + Knight Area at Kinoteatr Rialto, Katowice on 9 Apr 2015
  • Arena + Knight Area at Proxima, Warszawa on 10 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Blue Note, Poznan on 11 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Z7 Konzertfabrik Pratteln, Pratteln on 14 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Le Marché Gare, Lyon on 23 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Divan du Monde, Paris on 24 Apr 2015
  • Convention Prog-résiste 2015 on 25 Apr 2015
  • Arena at Boerderij, Zoetermeer on 25 Apr 2015

ARENA discography


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

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

3.87 | 314 ratings
Songs From The Lion's Cage
1995
3.68 | 244 ratings
Pride
1996
4.07 | 511 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.91 | 348 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.20 | 470 ratings
Contagion
2002
3.61 | 326 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.49 | 207 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
2011

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

3.67 | 55 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
1997
3.83 | 63 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
2001
4.44 | 54 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.14 | 13 ratings
Arena: Live recorded 2011/12 tour
2013

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

3.89 | 35 ratings
Caught In The Act (DVD)
2003
3.82 | 49 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
2006
4.11 | 19 ratings
Rapture
2013

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

2.95 | 63 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.34 | 18 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
2006
3.95 | 15 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

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

2.23 | 7 ratings
Edits
1996
3.44 | 11 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
1997
3.39 | 13 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
1999
3.38 | 8 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2001
2.86 | 40 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.49 | 22 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.13 | 37 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Songs From The Lion's Cage by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.87 | 314 ratings

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Songs From The Lion's Cage
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

4 stars In my opinion ARENA carried the torch of Fish era Marillion when they arrived on the scene in 1995. Hogarth era Marillion just lost me big time as it sounds like a hollow version of what came before. I know others love his vocals and their light delicate sound but i personally want some rock in my neo-prog and that's EXACTLY what ARENA deliver on their debut album SONGS FROM THE LIONS CAGE. Just as Marillion took on the late 70s Genesis sound and ruled the 80s with that new symphonic prog renamed neo-prog, once Fish departed, it left a vacuum in the market for that very successful formula. Two neo-prog veterans took notice and decided that niche needed to be revisited.

Those two veterans, of course, were keyboardist Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer. Nolan who ambitiously has fronted Pendragon since 1986, Shadowland since 1992 and ARENA since 1995 simultaneously is an ambitious one having created some of the best offerings the neo- prog sub has to offer. Mick Pointer, on the other hand, was the original drummer for Marillion playing only on the first EP "Market Square Heroes" and the first LP "Script For A Jester's Tear" and pretty much stayed out of the musical world since. This connection is evident as much of this album sounds very much like 80s Marillion but to write it off as a mere clone would be erroneous since there is so much more to offer.

This is a profound album that sounds like it was done by true professionals in the field. All musicians are outstanding but it is Nolan's Wakeman-esque keyboard wizardry interacting with the outstanding guitar acrobatics of Keith More that really give this album an electrifying energy. The only ARENA album to feature John Carson on vocals shows him display a full command of every tender passage and then able to rock out at the drop of a hat. I particularly love his vocal phrasings and he is one of my favorite voices in this particular type of prog. The lyrics are beautifully poetic with traumatic life experiences such as the loss of love which are metaphorically represented by such images of historical horrors such as the album title alludes to.

This album has it all. It really excels at clever songwriting and delivers every single passage in a perfect way. The longer tracks cleverly alternate with the mostly instrumental "Crying For Help" interludes which embellish the atmospheric mood building to great success. The cream of this fine album comes with the finale "Solomon," a sprawling fourteen minute plus prog gem that displays all the goods in one track with lightning fast keyboard runs playing with virtuoso guitars and highly developed soft spoken melodies trading off with hard rocking segments.

I really love this debut album by ARENA. I get a 5 star enjoyment level out of this one but i just can't rate it that high because it is a bit too similar in sound with 80s Marillion at times and even though it is perfectly done i just can't bring myself to rate it higher. It is a super strong 4 stars though.

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 Pepper's Ghost by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.61 | 326 ratings

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Pepper's Ghost
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Gallifrey

4 stars 10 Years On: Arena's Pepper's Ghost

Modern neo-prog has always been an interesting scene to talk about within progressive rock. Long mocked as a 'poor man's symphonic', neo never really got all too much credit in the 80's, and for good reason. Marillion, they were good, but that was about it in terms of quality material from the new wave of bands. Even current favourites IQ and Pendragon were far from amazing in their original incarnations, really just playing weak Genesis knockoffs with a bit more synth and pop thrown in.

But despite hiding under the shadow of the absolutely incredible Fish-led Marillion for the first decade of their time, these bands, specifically the three that I call The Big Three of Modern Neo- Prog (IQ, Pendragon and Arena), somehow found their sound and compositional skill years after the genre's supposed 'heyday'. Today, if you were to ask anyone who the best bands making progressive rock today who have also been making it for 30 years, everyone would straight away jump to those three (or at least the first two, for reasons I'll get to soon). None of the symphonic bands can cut it anymore. All of the 70's bands that are still around suck, yet somehow three bands that were formed in the 80's (ok technically Arena were 90's) are making the best music of their career now.

The 90's and early 2000's saw the Big Three capitalise on the missing Marillion to make some pretty standard neo-prog that was nearly up to the quality of Marillion at their peak. Pendragon put out The Window of Life and The Masquerade Overture, IQ put out Ever and Subterranea, and even though they were a bit late, Arena's The Visitor and Contagion could be included in the list of 'essential neo-prog albums', over a decade after the microgenre had dissolved. But this sound couldn't last. The most impressive thing about these three bands is that they could stay relevant while simultaneously keeping their defining sound. Each album shifting slightly towards the new normal, but never losing their compositional style. By the early 2000's, neo-prog was beginning to sound ridiculously campy, ridiculously 80's. Floaty synths and Fish-impressions in 7/8 weren't cool anymore, even in the ultra uncool areas of modern prog. What they needed was a new sound, and although in 2015 we look at IQ and Pendragon as being the forerunners of old men understanding how to be relevant, the sound of modern neo-prog was actually an Arena invention, here, on Pepper's Ghost.

The point of this long winded historical introduction is that despite the fact that IQ and Pendragon took this sound and used it to put out albums that were consistently impressing fans, it was actually Arena who played it first. Pendragon jumped on the bandwagon with Pure, and IQ only half did with Frequency (although fully did with The Road of Bones), but it was Arena's Pepper's Ghost that first proved to the world that neo-prog could not only exist in the 21st century, but sound good. And although Arena's new material would pale in comparison to that which IQ and Pendragon put out afterwards, this album's importance is undeniable.

This was certainly the best time in Arena's career to shift their sound. Contagion, and its two additional EPs, Contagious and Contagium, were undeniably the band's best work, finally making their melodic style of neo-prog work on more than just a few tracks, creating 23 songs of which there was hardly a dud. 'Go out on top', they say, and this was certainly the best time to take a risk. Although Pepper's Ghost is hardly a big sonic change - the guitars are a touch meatier, the snare is absolutely deliciously punchy and the synths less corny, it demonstrated clearly how well neo-prog could be adapted into the 21st century, using 21st century production. Symphonic prog's organ worship never sounded truly natural amongst modern sounds, but give the guitars and drums some more oomph and the synths a dark texture and neo-prog suddenly sounds the best it's ever been.

Unfortunately, despite Pepper's Ghost being the flagship for this new way of making neo-prog, the songs themselves aren't anywhere near as influential or as fresh. The closing epic 'Opera Fanatica' is the only real time when Arena add new parts to their composition, as opposed to dressing their old style with a new coat. The song's 3-minute overture is played with punchy, almost metal distorted guitars and drums, and even the main body of the song has an energy to the instruments that neo-prog has simply never had.

But aside from that, and a couple of other choice moments, these are still standard Arena songs, at a slightly lower level than the ones from Contagion and its EPs. Arena possess the same quality melody-finding abilities as any good neo-prog band, but without anything new in their songwriting arsenal, these songs do drift into cliche a fair bit. All of them have strong melodies and riffs and ideas but they are presented in the same old way with the same old cliches, and the new, punchier production being the only thing stopping this from being a second-rate IQ ripoff or a weaker version of Contagion.

In the end, Pepper's Ghost is a landmark album for neo-progressive rock, but in itself is only decent. Like any Arena album there are some great moments, but nothing that really makes you sit up and pay attention. And even then, the new sounds aren't enough to make this a truly impressive album sonically - this is still miles away from the ridiculously dark synths on The Road of Bones. For Arena, it would be six more years and a new vocalist until the follow up to Pepper's Ghost, and by that time both IQ and Pendragon would have picked up the hint and adopted the same heavier undertones that are on this album, but to a much stronger degree, and with much better songwriting. Credit where credit is due for Arena pushing there first, but quite frankly, this was done better 10 years later with The Road of Bones and Men Who Climb Mountains.

6.9

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars The seventh album in their almost twenty year history, Neo-progger's Arena's `The Seventh Degree of Separation' from 2011 has proven to be a rather controversial and divisive album in their discography. While the British band have frequently offered a heavier take on the Neo sub-genre, this album presents a collection of shorter, more compact heavy AOR pieces, with fewer extended instrumental passages than found on their previous discs. While that is initially quite underwhelming and a disappointment, the trick here is to pay attention to the strong song-writing, catchy choruses and tightly reigned in but nicely implemented instrumental flourishes. Arena has offered plenty of stronger works in their career, but the idea that this is a dud of an album is completely false! Besides, any band that boasts Pendragon keyboard supremo Clive Nolan, John Mitchell of It Bites/Kino, John Jowitt of Jadis/I.Q and ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer will certainly deliver the goods. New vocalist Paul Manzi replaces Rod Sowden from the three previous Arena studio discs, and he makes a confident and memorable debut on this dark concept album about passing over to the other side.

There's so much confidence instantly on display throughout opener `The Great Escape', as Manzi sings unaccompanied before the band erupts into bombastic crunching heaviness. Instantly the sleek gutsy sound that will dominate this album is present, with plenty of bombast and heightened drama. Despite Nolan seemingly being quite low-key throughout the disc, he's constantly offering very subtle and classy contributions, and his gothic choir synths as the rest of the band flex their metal muscle in the up-tempo riffing finale is addictive! `Rapture' is all snarling riffs over cooled synths with a chest-beating chorus, and foot-taping driving up-tempo rocker `One Last Au Revoir' boasts an impossibly catchy chorus with an infectious and joyous classic Neo guitar and synth solo burst in the middle. `The Ghost Walks' is a chilly spoken word passage over spectral synth choirs, `Thief of Souls' moves back and forth between ghostly piano passages and brooding harder blasts (cool thicker bass from Jowitt leaping out in these spots too), and `Close Your Eyes' is an introspective AOR pop/rocker with a soaring vocal.

`Echoes of the Fall' is a frantic heavy-metal interlude with skittering electronic loops and pulsing bass, then the whole band bring immense power to `Bed of Nails', with plenty of sophistication from the chiming guitars, classical organ and a booming grand chorus. The reflective `What If' delivers another of the strongest chorus, sung with great conviction by Manzi over flowing symphonic synths from Clive, and John Mitchell's guitar solo following the vocal melody before taking flight in the final seconds is simply lovely. `Trebuchet' is a stream-of-consciousness outburst. Then, all in four and a half minutes, the gothic `Burning Down', another album highlight, works in ebbing electronics, a darkly crooned vocal and spiraling organ married to heavy riffing with not one, but two equally memorable choruses! `All signs are gone now of my tedious insistence' is a very bleak lyric in this piece. `Catching The Bullet' is the proggiest and longest piece here at almost eight minutes. The extended time allows for plenty of drama and tension to this mix of an emotional AOR chorus, overwhelming organ, cascading piano, Pointer's rolling drum fills, grumbling bass and a victorious guitar solo finale during the only extended instrumental passage of the album in the second half. The album closes on the somber yet hopeful power ballad `The Tinder Box'.

Although listeners should probably investigate most of their other albums before this one, and the hard rock/AOR direction may be a little too straight-forward for some, `The Seventh Degree of Separation' is still very recognizable as Arena, and it mostly maintains a strong consistency throughout. It contains a handful of Arena classics, plenty of worthwhile compositions and just a couple of throwaway moments, but it's still a worthwhile album all the same, one that proves to be a real grower and holds a very distinctive identity in the Arena catalogue. Don't write it off on the first few plays, give it several spins and let it reveal it's strengths, and you'll be rewarded with a fine, inspired album from this terrific Neo band. If you do enjoy it, also look into the `Rapture' live DVD where frontman Manzi proves to be a very charismatic presence and the band gives the music from this album a slightly pumped up proggy toughness!

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

(This review is dedicated to Archives member Progbethyname, aka Nick, who's the biggest Arena fan I know!)

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Arena - The Seventh Degree of Seperation (2011)

On this album by Arena, a major band of the neo-progressive rock genre, we get to hear quite a lot change going on. Vocalist Rob Sowden has left the group, which I myself though was a pitty. New singer Paul Manzi has a powerful modern prog voice, much less abstract and 'somewhere out there' then Sowden's. Another major change is the style of the material, which consists of shorts songs with relatively little progressive rock dynamics and originality. A third is the modern progressive metal sound with the heavy guitars of Mitchell put on the foreground and the keyboards of progressive rock veteran Clive Nolan quite timid in the mix. The effect is a less recognizable sound for Arena, which has grown a lot towards bands like Kamelot.

Former vocalist Rob Sowden often found ways to elevate songs to a degree that I thought of albums like 'Contagion' as significantly better then that of the competition in the field. Perhaps he just hit the spot for me personally. Now singer Paul Manzi sings lines that a clearly from Arena, yet distinctively more overproduced and less in the moment of the music. Most refrains are made up of vocal notes tightly bound to the rhythm and harmony and with little fantasy or liveliness. Moreover, almost every chorus has that dubbed poppy progressive metal vocal sound, which easily becomes a bore. In the couplet themes Paul Manzi proves to be more lively and slightly aggressive, which works for me.

The short songs don't seem to be out of place in the beginning of the album, but after a while the simple tight melodies on heavy, but simple chords start to become quite uninteresting. The songs are just a bit too much like the the one before it. Exceptions are mystical 'The Ghost Walks' and the up-tempo 'Echoes of the Fall'. Most songs have some great symphonic instrumental themes, but because the lack of advanced songwriting nothing falls in its right place. Even the better tracks like before mentioned 'The Ghost Walks' would have fitted better within a multi-part progressive rock track. To make things even worse, the only longer track of the album 'Catching the Bullet' fails to impress because of apparent lack of innovation or some original hook (like for instance Opera Fanatica had).

It must however be said that the band has made a good impression on the heavy metal community, getting for instance a 90/100 from Dutch metal magazine 'Aardschok' and 87/100 from online metal magazine 'metalfan.nl'. The band has most certainly not lost any of its professional sound and musicianship. So perhaps we can conclude Arena has made an effort to win new audiences in the booming progressive and symphonic metal genre.

Conclusion. This album shows the band going into a more straightforward symphonic metal direction, which I find significantly less interesting. Three stars. Still highly recommended to fans of the progressive metal genre.

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by tuxon

5 stars What a great album this is, it took me a few spins to apreciate it as much as it deserves to be apreciated. At first I just liked it because it was easy to get into and just listen and enjoy it. But after a few years of heavy rotating I still listen to it very regularly, and that has a reason. It's a very great record, it's intriging, melodic, almost popular even. Together with The Visitor and Contagion the Seventh Degree of Separation is my favourite album by Arena, and maybe it's even their best.

The best part of the album is that with each listening a little more of the beauty is revealed, like good wine it ages well over time.

The best songs are in no particular order: 1. The Great Escape (4:38) 2. Rapture (4:22) 3. One Last Au Revoir (4:34) 4. The Ghost Walks (3:19) 5. Thief Of Souls (3:52) 6. Close Your Eyes (3:25) 7. Echoes Of The Fall (2:26) 8. Bed Of Nails (4:39) 9. What If? (4;35) 10. Trebuchet (3:39) 11. Burning Down (4:29) 12. Catching The Bullet (7:42) 13. The Tinder Box (4:16) Listen in this order and completely for the best experience, oh and don't forget to put it on replay for the more listenings you get the better it gets, and of course play it loud, your neighbours deserve to hear some good music to.

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Fearabsentia

4 stars Arena-The Seventh Degree of Separation

'The Seventh Degree of Separation' is the seventh studio album by progressive rock/hard rock band Arena.

After Arena's well received 2005 rock opera 'Pepper's Ghost', it wasn't until six years later when Arena would release their next album. Upon it's release, many people were disappointed with the outcome of this album. Many complained that it was too bland and comparable to commercial hard rock, yet I find this not to be the case.

The vocalist has changed on this album, featuring vocalist Paul Manzi instead of Rob Sowden. They have very similar voices, so it doesn't change the feel of the music very much. I just felt like I had to point out this line-up change, even though it doesn't effect the music much.

This album is definitely hard rock-based, instead of the more progressive metal-leaning previous album, but that doesn't make this a weak album. Like usual, Arena gives us a powerful opener with 'The Great Escape' which shows Manzi's powerful vocals very strongly right at the start. The heavy booming guitar comes in at the perfect moment after the words 'Can Anybody Hear Me?'. 'The Ghost Walks' is another standout track, with a marching beat and a menacing atmosphere. 'Echoes of the Fall' may be only two-and-a-half minutes, but what a two-and-a-half minutes they are. This song is the heaviest song on the album, and is a metal song. The powerful fast riffing and catchy lyrics make this an instant classic for me. 'Burning Down' has a Dream Theater-like sound, so this will be of interest to fans of that band. The closing song 'The Tinder Box' is probably my favorite along with 'Echoes of the Fall'. 'The Tinder Box' is everything a closing song should be, a slow melodic beginning with great piano, a powerful steady build-up, and an epic finale.

The concept of the album is about the birth and death of the world, so it does have an overall darker tone; however, a lot of the songs and lyrics feel very empowering. Songs like 'Close Your Eyes' and 'The Tinder Box' are both songs that I feel are very empowering.

Overall, it is certainly no flawless album, there are a few forgettable tracks here and there. The very powerful songs make up for that though, and it remains my favorite Arena album. I recommend it to any fan of hard rock with some progressive qualities.

Hope you found this review helpful.

(Originally written for www.MetalMusicArchives.com on October 19th 2014.)

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Progulator
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The UK band Arena needs no introduction, although I'm not sure if this is exactly a typical Arean album. Although the band is generally known for its heavy brand of neo prog, The Seventh Degree of Separation goes even a bit darker. I wouldn't call it a metal album exactly, but it comes very close. The first thing that jumped out on this strange little album was the scary album cover that somehow kind of fits the mood of the album. Overall, the album had some gargantuanly awesome parts, a few let down tracks, and some stuff that was, well, different?in a good way. The opening track to the album really hooked me with its mega- creepy mood and awesome vocals. I also really enjoyed the rhythmic talking over the slowly marching chord changes of "Ghost Walks;" not quite rapping, but something close, but well done (not like when it happens in Dream Theater). "Thief of Souls" is another track that leapt out because of the great vocals that straddle the line between neo prog and power metal with a sort of Iron Maiden sensibility. To sum it up, really great vocal melodies drive this album in a very strong direction. There is a deep sense of narrative, sorrow and tragedy in the way the singer presents the words through melody and expression. His theatrics are just right and it's paced perfectly to where you feel like he's actually speaking to you as the intended listener; "Catching the Bullet" is exemplary of this kind of feel. The Seventh Degree of Separation shows a very logical progression in the evolution of Arena's music and I believe it won't disappoint their fans.

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 Contagion Max by ARENA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2014
3.95 | 15 ratings

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Contagion Max
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Progrussia

4 stars In 2002 Arena released Contagion - a great, dark, heavy neo-prog story-driven album. Tracks that didn't make it to CD were released as EPs. Now they have been put together and remixed. For a band with such limited commercial appeal, Arena, or, make it Clive Nolan, sure are adept at working their fan base. Getting them to finance a release of what was already available before (remix makes it clearer sound, but there isn't that much difference). But I don't mind. I like them. I was getting this mainly for the booklet. On to the additions. They are pleasant, each has at least a decent hook. But not much else. Not as developed as the original album tracks. I don't have a problem with that. The thing is that break down the flow of the songs. Whereas the original had great variation between heavy rockers, pompous ballads, some acoustic stuff and synthesizer workouts, all new tracks have the same mid tempo and make it really plodding. Since the original was great, I can't rate this lower, but neither its an improvement.

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 Contagion Max by ARENA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2014
3.95 | 15 ratings

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Contagion Max
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Arena - Contagion Max (2014) (fans release)

Contagion (2002) is an album I listened to while bringing newspaper as a fourteen year old kid, ten years ago. I've always had a weakspot for almost all songs on the album and I've never found a neo-prog album that was remotely as good as this one. It is just so mysterious and the combination of abstract and theatrical sounds never worked better. Futhermore, I find the vocals of Rob Sowden perfectly fitting on this album and I'd wish he'd still be around recording music with the band - albeit his performance on stage is not really 'for the poeple' to put it mildly.

This 2014 release is 2cd album with the tracks from the ep's reintegrated in the album, and as a result the overall concept of the album is enhanced and a storyline is said to appear. To be honest with you, I think all the additional tracks are of a lesser quality, with 'Vanishing Act' as an exception, and the overall album atmosphere is disrupted by the new songs that tend to have a more eighties prog sound. If I would have changed the original Contagion album, I would have rather withdrawn a few track like the perhaps misplaced electronic 'Riding the Tide'.

This is a release the band has made because it was asked to do so by the fans - who of course will find this album very rewarding. I myself will keep to the original, one of my favorites of alltime. Three stars for this release, though keep in mind that is because of my preference for the 2002 Contagion release.

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 The Seventh Degree Of Separation by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.49 | 207 ratings

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The Seventh Degree Of Separation
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Tom Ozric
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I've spent lots of time with this album. All I can say is that despite all the negative assessments, this album is definitely a slow-grower. My first few listens to this album were under-whelming. I certainly could hear the talent involved, yet, I could not understand why this arrangement would be considered 'top-class' within the Neo-Prog genre, as many have claimed Arena to be... All I can say is that throughout all the songs presented here is that : yes, they are catchy, almost commercial sounding to be honest, and there are some cheesy elements involved - like repetitive choruses and riffs and an almost throwback-to-the-80's sound. The band do take a certain 'metal' approach to this offering, it is quite heavy and I have to admit that guitarist John Mitchell does steal the show, whether it be crunching metal-chords or ripping solos. I have been familiar with Arena's Neo-Prog for years, yet I was never really 'sold' on them.

Immediately noticeable is that Clive Nolan's keyboards aren't as 'widdly-widdly' as one has expected - if you want this style, just spin some Pendragon .......he constructs a certain symphonic wall of sound that permeates the entire album, it's always there, it forms an amazing atmosphere, and is quite inspired. Pointer's drumming is all one would expect from a neo-Prog band, clever and, at times, intricate, but not virtuosic, nor does it really need to be. I have to say that John Jowitt's talents on bass are put to good use (leaving IQ, for whatever reason....) he really doesn't hold himself back, his amazing bass lines run throughout the album, rumbling busily or holding stead-fast to what the song requires. New singer Paul Manzi recalls those 'big hair' Metal vocalists from the 80's. He has a strong voice, he knows about structure and complexity, and he sings with a strong passion. I am brief as I'm sure my submission will be timed out (as sometimes happens). However, there's so many superb moments amongst the 'mainstream cheese' attributed to this album. Not so much tech-instrumental display (but it's present in certain pieces), this thing is a 'vision', and it doesn't necessarily take complex times sigs (though these are present) and glistening synth solos - (again, we'll go for a Pendragon album for that, shall we ??) to serve its purpose. This pretty intense and occasionally impressive album has given me much dilemma, is it an excellent 4, or just a good 3 ??? My conclusion is that it's a 3.5 star effort pushed up to a 4, because it just 'works'...... Top tracks - One Last Au Revoir, Trebuchet and the near 8 min Catching The Bullet, of which the last half is an instrumental stretch which all Proggers wish to hear....now this is the Arena styling that deserves attention. May I also mention that the imagery found on the inner sleeves is astounding, morbid, fascinating, disturbing, yet incredibly captivating, further adding to this 'last hour of life/first hour of death' concept.... .......oh yeah, for full effect, this one is best heard at a high volume........

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