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ARENA

Neo-Prog • United Kingdom


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Arena picture
Arena biography
Founded in 1995 in Virginia Water, Surrey, UK - Still active as of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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ARENA 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)

3.86 | 463 ratings
Songs from the Lions Cage
1995
3.64 | 371 ratings
Pride
1996
4.06 | 735 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.94 | 513 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.15 | 708 ratings
Contagion
2003
3.66 | 461 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.47 | 324 ratings
The Seventh Degree of Separation
2011
3.70 | 311 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
2015
3.75 | 269 ratings
Double Vision
2018
5.00 | 6 ratings
The Theory of Molecular Inheritance
2022

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

3.67 | 78 ratings
Welcome to the Stage
1997
3.78 | 92 ratings
Breakfast in Biarritz
2001
4.34 | 79 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.57 | 28 ratings
Live - Recorded 2011/12 tour
2013
4.00 | 3 ratings
XX
2016
4.42 | 12 ratings
Re-Visited: Live!
2019

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

4.01 | 55 ratings
Caught In The Act
2003
3.83 | 63 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
2006
4.10 | 33 ratings
Rapture
2013
3.56 | 31 ratings
XX
2016

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

2.99 | 81 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.26 | 25 ratings
Ten Years On 1995-2005
2006
4.16 | 37 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

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

2.06 | 14 ratings
Edits
1996
3.51 | 15 ratings
Welcome Back! To The Stage
1997
3.45 | 19 ratings
The Visitor (Revisited)
1999
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Story Of My Life
1999
4.67 | 3 ratings
Never Alone
1999
5.00 | 1 ratings
The Cage Unlocked
2001
3.50 | 14 ratings
Unlocking The Cage - 1995 - 2000
2001
2.90 | 55 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.70 | 30 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.15 | 51 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Theory of Molecular Inheritance by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2022
5.00 | 6 ratings

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The Theory of Molecular Inheritance
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by alainPP

5 stars Arena founded in 1995, a mega group at the time with members from Marillion, Pendragon and Asia initially. A powerful neo, the 3rd generation of prog rock after Genesis and Marillion. The heaviness of their sound has in my opinion oriented the prog towards metal for the greater good. This is their 10th opus with the contribution of Damien Wilson who has worked for Landmarq, Threshold, Headspace, Maiden United and Ayreon; it lacked a major group, it's done with Arena. 'Time Capsule' and synths forward, iron rhythm of Mick and Kylan, egosilated voice of Damian it goes fast and heavy! Uncompromising prog with this instrumentation and voice melting pot; Clive almost steps back to let John and his 6-string unleash a first solo that makes me shiver, it's still simple when the music is done well; hypnotic title with a warm, divine final ah ah ah. 'The Equation (The Science of Magic)' segues into my wood- burning piano to give way to Damien; Clive's break and Damien's revival, that's it, he's incorporated into the group as if he had been there from the start; a fat, viscous Moog reinforces the feeling of a job well done; the rhythm is heavy, nervous, makes you want to see them in concert...that's good the sound is between the sound of 1995 and that of 2022, magnificent. Damien uses his voice on different registers to break up the usual verse- chorus; the finale is explosive. 'Twenty One Grams' heartbeat, Kylan's dark bass, Mick is recognizable with his many caressed drums; Damian sings to a mermaid, castrato tune, I hope he will appreciate given the place of excellence they were given before; well, an angel, maybe it will be better. It goes up halfway with this Clive solo that makes me raise my last two hairs, it's really good at the instrumentation level, the atmosphere reminds me for a time of the dark metallic wanderings of the Riverside, I melt; final where the keyboard shows that it can be a centerpiece in a prog band these days. 'Confession' and the Genesis ballad on a piano-voice basis, the time to recover from the dose of unloaded musical adrenaline. I feared a lambda album, warned by a chronicler friend of the potential bomb that this album represented, I remain stuck for the moment. 'The Heiligenstadt Legacy' with Damien on a statement from Ludwig van Beethoven's will bequeathed to his brothers, an angelic voice boosted again by Clive's divine, solemn piano. An emotive voice, sensitive before explosion where it is found in its more usual register; John oozes his guitar notes, they fall from the sky; a crescendo where the power of the guitar goes hand in hand with the captivating voice.

'Field of Sinners' starts with oblivion, undead cries? Then a Marillion Fish-era synth, I like that already; it's latent, explosive, a pure product of Arena with the keyboard pads, with this feeling that Clive has 3 hands; the most progressive title in my opinion, less melodic, more search for musical atmospheres; I'm thinking back to 'The Visitor', it's well done, nervous, it makes my head move, I'm definitely seduced from the first listen, rare for me and John's machine-gunner solo isn't going to make me change my mind . 'Pure of Heart' ah this tune to The Passions, yes by far but the music has this fabulous thing that it brings back many memories; well it goes up and I find the energetic Arena with the intro that warms your ears, the one you don't know when it's not going to stop. Damien tumbles, choppy voice on a metallic riff then his high voice la Jon Anderson 'Drama' era; the synths deliver far then closer with a break before launching John; the final hard riff revives Damien on high choruses, explosion before 'Under the Microscope' and a robot comes to introduce the longest title; only 7 minutes but given the hook between each track, the pleasant impression of having long songs. Good 2 minute warm-up before the climb; fat, twirling synths, it flows everywhere, the guitar gets involved, we go full force into the world of Lewis Caroll with nursery rhymes that we suppose are extravagant but I don't want to go under the microscope; the final instrumental with endless Gary Moore air guitar; a chilling crescendical title. 'Integration' forms a clean break, title apart voice and piano, it rests the ears, Damien still in value; a ballad that nay a fight of keyboards and strings that starts suddenly; Clive does nervous Pendragon, Arena, neo-neo fruity prog, yes some will still say that I mix food and music? but music can be spiritual food. 'Part of You' classic riff with a majestic, emphatic hit; superb climb that reminds us that in prog there is progression, a moment of musical distraction where you don't know where the musicians are going to take you; it's composed, researched, John tortures his guitar, Damien sings on Clive's keyboards securing the atmosphere that Kylan and Mick have undermined; solo spurting on the machine-gunned bass, simple but perfect, gripping, bringing adrenaline, sweat, emotion. 'Life Goes On' on 'The Exorcist' not possible! Ah yes Mike? Oldfield is listening he might sit down and listen interested; culmination of this flawless album where each title is linked to the next, a concept that does not look like it; the most agreed title in my opinion, everything is in place and I feel like I have already listened to it.

Arena that I had never reviewed, I who fell into the pot with their 'Songs', I who always fear to review an album before its release, I started... and I did well. This album is in my top 2022, no matter what we say in view of the perfect millimeter association between the guitar, the keyboards, the rhythmic bass and the voice of Damien. I will listen to the other albums without any problem again, I feared too much vocal presence, I am doubly reassured and enthusiastic. Clive had to be sure to wink at me. Note the artwork of David WYATT who had already worked for 'Contagion' and 'Pepper's Ghost'.

 Immortal? by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.94 | 513 ratings

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Immortal?
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by A Crimson Mellotron
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Among Arena's best we have to mention 'Immortal?', the band's fourth full-length studio release, put up for the world to enjoy in the first year of the new millennium. This one is also the first record with vocalist Rob Sowden, who would record two more before parting ways with the band, and has the severely difficult task of following up the stellar masterwork of Arena, 1998's 'The Visitor'. Of course, the core of the band, in the face of Clive Nolan, John Mitchell and Mick Pointer, as well as the other two players do not disappoint and deliver the second installment of what could certainly be considered the 'Holy Trinity' of Arena albums, including 'Contagion' as well.

'Immortal?' opens with 'Chosen', a dark, heavy song, with a throbbing main riff and a haunting atmosphere, this is still Arena, but they dare to go to some even gloomier places than before, still focusing on atmosphere, as on 'The Visitor'. The 9-minute 'The Butterfly Man' is another highlight of the album - this is pure neo-prog mixed up with heavy metal, ultimately ending up as one of the most evocative songs in Arena's entire catalogue. 'Ghost in the Firewall' is pure emotion, always highly anticipated when playing the album, this for me is one of the band's all-time bests tracks. 'Climbing the Net' does reflect slightly Mick Pointer's Marillion days, as this one is certainly an homage to the 80s neo-progressive rock scene, reminiscent a bit of 'Double Vision', a song appearing on Arena's previous album. Then there is the great 20-minute composition 'Moviedrome', this one is epic and suspenseful, dark and melancholic, heavy and abundant, everything you might expect from this group.

'Immortal' is a great debut for Sowden, and a very strong release for Arena; It is, my least favorite of their classic three, but the album definitely has a lot to offer and serves impactfully as one of the better neo-prog releases of the early 2000s.

 The Theory of Molecular Inheritance by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2022
5.00 | 6 ratings

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The Theory of Molecular Inheritance
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by KansasForEver

5 stars To say that this tenth studio album by the British combo was expected is the most singular pleonasm and for various reasons, four years after the mixed "Double Vision", the Covid 19 pandemic having passed through there as for the whole world, musical or nope. The first of these reasons is obviously the change in the position of principal vocalist with the departure of the discussed but nevertheless honorable Paul MANZI and the arrival of one of the sizes of progressive music for a good twenty years, Damian WILSON.

This "The Theory of Molecular Inheritance" is conceptual as were before it "The Visitor" and to a lesser degree "Contagion" two of the most outstanding works of the Virginia Water combo, SURREY. Conceptual also means that all the titles follow one another, sixty-two non-stop minutes of a brilliant energetic neo progressive flirting regularly with our good old family hard rock.

From the first title "Time Capsule" it's big, very big ARENA beyond progressive music, everything is there the six strings of John MITCHELL, the metronomic rhythmic pair of Kylan AMOS and Mick POINTER and the voice, the voice !!!!! Damian WILSON what a throat?listen carefully, we are in the middle of the URIAH HEEP David BYRON period (the ah ah ah), limit it is Clive NOLAN the most discreet (10/10). "The Equation" same fight, calm start before John MITCHELL ignites everything, nice Moog solo in the middle of the piece, the rhythm tumbles my hen as we say at home, it's solid business (8/10 ). Twenty-one grams of music introduced by Kylan AMOS' bass is not much but it's only the title, quiet track (compared to others obviously), Damian plays it for us in the first half before a nice energizing dose in the finale, mister John of course (9/10). A welcome breath without drums, piano/voice, "Confession" to put everyone to sleep after the first eighteen minutes of high intensity (8/10), closes the first third of the work.

"The Heiligenstadt Legacy" for those who do not know the language of GOETHE, it is the heritage of the sanctuary, with a new (arch)angelic Damian between two rises of adrenalinic tension, where he gives it to us Ian GILLAN green years, superb piece that would not have denied the Deep Purple that we all know (9/10), my God it's good. If I were mean I would say that the next track "Field of Sinners" is probably the least interesting of all because the most basic, the most rock n'roll, a bit cultured, I'm still looking for the melody, an instrumental score a bit messy around the third minute in my modest opinion (7/10), on the contrary a piece that should rock on stage. "Pure of Heart" should have been a quiet piece according to its title but not at all, it's even the opposite, it pulsates severely, mister Clive's keyboards have a little trouble being heard, we're there we find with pleasure heepian choirs here and there and a John MITCHELL in fusion (8/10).

The sweet start of "Under the Microscope" the longest (by little) track of the album is a treat, it's calm but invigorating with Clive NOLAN who mooguizes thoroughly and finally an almost instrumental finale to sustain me largely, the exacerbated lyricism of John MITCHELL's guitar with a superb Celtic coloring (who remembers BIG COUNTRY?) from the first to the last second (10/10). We are already arriving at the last quarter of this "The Theory of Molecular Inheritance" with first of all "Integration", the only title under five minutes, if we except the breath of confessional air (see above), begins calm (piano / voice again) before a new simultaneous Nolanian and Mitchellian deluge, there's no way they know how to play the buggers (9/10). "Part of You" is coming, classic piece of a historic ARENA that we could have found on "Songs" or "Pride" concreted by AMOS and POINTER, radiophonic and hymnic at the same time, also cut for concerts (8/10).

The final point of this theory "Life Goes On" a sublime concluding track like the quintessence of a major work of progressive music of the decade, yes, yes... (10/10) a summit, ah this six-string guitar by John MITCHELL, this marvelous vocal phrasing by Damian WILSON and Clive NOLAN which coats the whole thing like a five-starred chef, I remain prostrate in front of this delicious dish. A word about David WYATT's artwork, the same one who had already worked with ARENA for "Contagion" and "Pepper's Ghost", it is simply up to the music, at the top level, original, not necessarily progressive primary sense, but at the top level.

 Ten Years On 1995-2005 by ARENA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2006
3.26 | 25 ratings

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Ten Years On 1995-2005
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Review N 526

"Ten Years On 1995 ? 2005" is a compilation of Arena and was released in 2006. Unlike their previous compilation, "The Cry", released in 1997, which is a very special compilation with all the eight parts of "Crying For Help" themes, taken from their first two studio albums "Songs From The Lion's Cage" and "Pride", released in 1995 and 1996, respectively, put together and reworked as a completely new single conceptual album, "Ten Years On 1995 ? 2005" is a traditional compilation with songs taken from their studio albums, until then, as a best off, to celebrate Arena's 10th anniversary.

The tracks chosen by Arena to be part of this compilation are: "Solomon" from "Songs From The Lion's Cage" from 1995, "Empire Of A Thousand Days" from "Pride" from 1996, "The Hanging Tree" and "A Crack In The Ice" from "The Visitor" from 1998, "The Butterfly Man" and "Chosen" from "Immortal?" from 2000, "Skin Game" and "Salamander" from "Contagion" from 2003 and "Smoke And Mirrors" and "Bedlam Fayre" from "Pepper's Ghost" from 2005.

So, "Ten Years On 1995 ? 2005" has ten tracks. The first track "Smoke And Mirrors" is a song that starts with Mitchell in an acoustic mode, before the band turns it on a mid tempo rock song with a very strong and catchy chorus which features some nice vocals from Sowden. The solo works from Nolan and Mitchell are wonderful and confirms perfectly well their skills as great performers. The second track "Skin Game" has a good start and an epic finish. It's a heavy track with some heavy passages that come and go. It has an abrupt beginning and has strong vocals too that are well supported by Clive Nolan's powerful keyboards. The guitar that follows sounds beautiful, as do the harmonies to the end of the song. The third track "The Hanging Tree" has a guitar lead that reminds a little of Joe Satriani leads. It's built on a nice vocal line and isn't very sad thematically. In general, the songs always capture moods that fit the thematic framework. The structure of the song is a reminiscent of "Jericho" from their debut album. It's one of the highlights of the original album. The fourth track "The Butterfly Man" is one of the two best tracks on the original album and one of my favourites too. It's a powerful song that reminds me "The Visitor". It's a song with a great guitar work and is one of the few songs not dominated by the keyboards of Nolan. It's a great song that moves perfectly well between the heavy and melodic parts. The fifth track "Chosen" is a progressive track that opens the original album in a bombastic way. It's a catchy song with great melody, nice keyboard work and a beautiful guitar performance. This is a track with a darker and heavier tone which leaves us the impression that the band's sound changed with a new progressive metal style influence into their music. The sixth track "Empire Of A Thousand Days" is a nice and good song. However, it sounds to me a less appellative and a less catch song than many of the songs on the original album and on this compilation too. It's an epic song with very good lyrics and nice guitar and bass works. It represents a great musical moment on the original album and here too. The seventh track "A Crack In The Ice" starts with a rather strange sound that immediately cuts into your ears and appears again and again on the original album in a modified form. The guitar takes over this sound passage and turns it in a typical Arena's song. The chorus never lets go. And then the break in the ice happens. It's a powerful song. The eighth track "Salamander" opens with keyboards and is another favourite of mine. It has the best chorus on the original album. The track contains some excellent keyboard work by Clive Nolan, both in the gothic sounding backing and his fantastic, if short, solo. It has also fairly good, nice chorus and guitar solo and a keyboard solo. The ninth track "Bedlam Fayre" is an excellent opener to the original album and appears in the same vein of many other great openers of Arena. It reminds me "Witch Hunt" of "Contagion" and "Chosen" of "Immortal?". It's nice to hear and can be considered an Arena's classic song. It's in vein of most songs on "Immortal?" and "Contagion". The tenth track "Solomon" is often considered as one of their finest tracks. It's a well structured song with a storyline, many time changes and a majestic keyboard work and a great guitar work too. This is the big highlight of the original album. With this song Arena made one their best songs and one of their most brilliant closing track numbers in their career, really.

Conclusion: As I wrote before, "Ten Years On 1995 ? 2005" is a retrospective over the first ten years of existence of Arena. For those, like me, who knows perfectly well all the entire career of the band, the quality of this compilation isn't a real problem, indeed. In reality, the track list is great. Of course we can always question the subjective choice of the tracks chosen to be part of it. We always can say that many other great tracks were left outside of it, or even that it isn't right to choose some tracks from a conceptual album like "The Visitor", since a conceptual album should be presented entirely. However, for newcomers to Arena, "Ten Years On 1995 ? 2005" is a good starting point with songs from their first six studio albums. But, if you have all this six studio albums, like me, in spite of be a very nice and interesting musical journey to the different stages of the band, it has nothing new to offer, really. So, this is good but non-essential.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 The Visitor by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.06 | 735 ratings

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The Visitor
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by A Crimson Mellotron
Prog Reviewer

4 stars In a sentence, Arena's third studio album, 'The Visitor', is one of the most exciting albums one might ever stumble upon. Rooted in the tradition of neo-progressive rock, Arena's sound may well be said to have strong influences from symphonic and hard rock, too, with a very 'strict policy' on crisp production and masterful songwriting, while sparing the listener of any excess noodling, always in control of how every single minute of their music is developed, and this very record is the proof of all of the above - gracefully written melodies, pretty cathartic and dramatic lyrical content, maestro-level instrumentation, and above all, undeniably good vocals.

Not only is this album flawless from beginning to end, but it marks the beginning of a very important era in the band's history - the introduction of John Mitchell on guitars, later on involved with Frost*, Kino, and his solo project Lonely Robot. His playing on this 1998 release is simply incredible! Dominating the sound of the album with his elegant but always powerful tone, Mitchell delivers one of the most impressive and comprehensive guitar performances ever recorded on a prog rock album, his style and energy being especially recognizable. This record also happens to be the last with vocalist Paul Wrightson, who is quite undeniable, too. Simply put, 'The Visitor' is one of these classic neo-prog albums that also mark the beginning of the sub-genre's shift towards darker territories, as the overall sound became heavier but no less dramatic.

'The Visitor' has to be at least loosely a concept album, although this is often hard to tell with Arena, as the storylines are pretty chaotic, should they be present. Starting with the grim electronic sequence that will reappear several times later on to reassure the listener that he is still embraced in the spooky atmosphere of the album, opener 'A Crack in the Ice' unfolds into the main riff, one that would easily fit on most of the 90s heavy metal records. Then comes a more Fish-era Marillion-esque song in the face of 'Pins and Needles', after which we hear the playful 'Double Vision'. The instrumental 'Elea' and 'The Hanging Tree' might be the pinnacle of the album, cathartic and beautiful, simply an emotional explosion that is elevated even more by the gorgeous vocal performance, both of these are certainly band classics (as are most of the songs on 'The Visitor'). Even up to that point, the album impresses with the music, the choruses, the riffs, and the solo section - everything is quite flawless, cerebrally memorable, and always resonating, staying in the mind of the listener long after the final notes have ceased to play. Other very strong tracks from the album are 'A State of Grace', 'In the Blink of an Eye', 'Enemy Without' and the title track.

Excellent from track one up until the end, 'The Visitor' is a towering achievement of neo-progressive rock, equally challenging and accessible, the album is packed with intense and very theatrical compositions, as one should expect from the genre. Mick Pointer, Clive Nolan and company deliver one of the most impressive collections of songs ever recorder, sincerely creative and defining a sort of trademark sound for Arena, that they would go on to develop on further releases.

 Contagion by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2003
4.15 | 708 ratings

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Contagion
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Argentinfonico

3 stars 1. Witch Hunt (3/5): The album starts with an unstoppable force! Right from the start you can tell how influenced the singer is by Mick Jagger. More like heavy metal than neo-prog. A powerful guitar riff and neat drums and bass.

2. An Angel Falls (3/5): Great poetry that is a bit wasted due to the length of the song, but it doesn't matter much because this is a concept album.

3. Painted Man (4/5): The power style of the beginning of the song reminds me of progressive rock or 80s hard rock bands like Asia. Although everything is more or less the same, the melody here is already a bit more catchy. At the beginning of the second minute there is an impressive solo! The guitar seems to go everywhere. Then there is an interlude by keyboardist Clive Nolan for a few seconds to decorate it and make it better, but half of the song belongs to the guitar, and it does it great. In the first 3 songs it is already more than clear that the philosophy of this album is not at all positive or optimistic.

4. This Way Madness Lies (3,5/5): The first instrumental song of the album. The idea remains the same: long stretches and riffs that are exploited to the maximum by means of solos, cadences, extended plucking and repeated verses. There is plenty of virtuosity here, but perhaps at times it can become a little tedious. The sound is excellently achieved and it is clear that they sound the way they want to sound. This is the end of the first conceptual part of the album.

5. Spectre At The Feast (3/5): I think this song is strongly influenced by Peter Gabriel's "San Jacinto" ("Security" album). I must highlight Arena's ability to keep the same energy throughout the songs pace. Definitely what appeals to me most about the album are the lyrics. Here the instrumentation is heavy and very electric (more of the same).

6. Never Ending Night (3,5/5): Everything gets more interesting here! The album really takes on a supreme power as soon as the song starts, through the instant introduction of existential lyrics and another remarkable guitar solo. This has a lot of Gilmour in it! I'd say it could be a song belonging to The Division Bell, which is why I don't score it above 4 points. Arena fans will hate to read this for sure, but I feel that this band is lacking in detachment from influences. Almost everything sounds very similar to other bands or other artists. The sound is not very progressive: as I said before, this could be a mix of heavy metal and alternative rock.

7. Skin Game (4,5/5): Well, this is an epic song. Surprisingly everything improves enormously here. And when I say everything, I mean everything! The instrumentation, the harmony, the vocal part, the structure of the song.... Everything is more striking and interesting and generates a euphoria that throws your fear into the void. So far it is by far the highlight of the album. Not only is it a concept album, but it's also very balanced, i.e. there are almost no high and low points. It all seems to be part of the same emotional planet.

8. Salamander (3,5/5): A circus style and a very characteristic strength of the 80s sound. The keyboards are spectacular here and are largely responsible for the atmosphere created.

9. On The Box (3/5): A constant and tense guitar that doesn't let the listener breathe with a dramatic riff, another guitar that plucks as it is used to, more phenomenal keyboard arrangements and a percussion the same as the whole album.

10. Tsunami (2,5/5): I like the bass and keyboard combinations here. Not much to say... It's a continuation of the previous song but with lyrics.

11. Bitter Harvest (2,5/5): It's not easy to pick up, but there's a lot of Supper's Ready here. At the beginning it starts with an effectless keyboard with nothing to stand out. I only like a few lines like "You can take away my crown but you'll never bring my spirit down".

12. The City Of Lanterns (4,5/5): 82 seconds very well used. This is one of the most beautiful interludes I've ever heard.

13. Riding The Tide (3,5/5): Well, this is proof that the album kicks in at the end. The previous song revived the album, paving the way for this one, which doesn't disappoint at all. The keyboards have never sounded so spectacular and memorable! The hammond is very well selected. The best instrumental section of this hour.

14. Mea Culpa (3,5/5): Everything calms down for the better. After so many heavy delusions and spiritual discharges, the protagonist painfully accepts reality with a beautiful keyboard accompanying him to lament. I must say that the end of the song puzzled me. It could have closed much better.

15. Cutting The Cards (4/5): An electro-acoustic guitar that never seems to appear shows up in the mess! The album has definitely been worth listening to thanks to the last few final tracks. It's just that everything just progresses. The electric guitar arrangements and plucking have much more personality and the singing is more symphonic than electronic (as it was throughout the whole album).

16. Ascension (4/5): As the name suggests, the album scales here to a level not yet known (this does not mean it is the best of the album). It could easily be a hit from some 80s supergroup. The percussion plays its best here, bringing more versatility to the beat and rhythm. The bass has some very interesting lines, rising and falling in a land of suspense and finality. A good ending to a super steady and balanced album.

It's not at all an album I would buy, but it could easily be an album that can be used as a reference to certain sounds... but not neo-prog! It's far from it. I would call it alternative rock. I'm a bit surprised to see the level of rating it gets and how many people love this piece, but if there's one thing that's true is that there's no accounting for taste!

 Pepper's Ghost by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.66 | 461 ratings

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Pepper's Ghost
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by ElChanclas

4 stars Pepper's Ghost is the 6th studio album by Arena and 3rd and final (unfortunately) with vocalist Rob Sowden... as per what I've read tells the story of five heroes in 19th century London, who fight crime and, ultimately, defeat a demon. They are an exorcist, a ninja, a scientist who travels through time, a count and a cowboy with Indian ways... obviously all lyrics written by genius Clive Nolan, no surprises there. The surprise for me comes in the reviews that are usually very negative and opposed to my experience, this is by far the heaviest Arena album and that is clearly established with the opening track Bedlam Fayre which immediately immerses the listener into frantic Pointer's galloping and Nolan's furious key playing, heavy riffs and tight bass playing.

Smoke and mirrors follow settling a more Arena-known sound and song structure, Snowden's singing is definitely at its best and Mitchell starts with his tasty guitar licks that will from now on and until the end of the record fight for relevance with Nolan's exquisite and magical playing, like a melodic war that never ends and with no specific winner. The Shattered room begins with the classic atmospheric sound that could easily be part of the previously positive appraised Contagion, only a little bit heavier and darker and with a new twist on the guitar playing by Michell, almost too pop-like for the band but never departing from the overall heaviness of the song, Nolan again brings everything together leading the rhythmic section to open doors for Michell's exquisite soloing, all work of genius and experimented musicians. 9 plus minutes of epic music presented in two rhythmically different episodes divided by classic instrumental atmospheric interlude, bravo!

 The Unquiet Sky by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2015
3.70 | 311 ratings

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The Unquiet Sky
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review N 455

Arena was formed in 1994 by Mick Pointer, the former drummer of Marillion, and Clive Nolan, the former keyboardist of Pendragon. With nearly as many line up changes, Arena was one of the dominant neo-prog groups of the 90's. Arena is a supergroup of sorts and has featured all over the years former members of Marillion, Pendragon, IQ, and Shadowland.

Their debut album 'Songs From The Lions Cage' was a strong neo-prog debut with aggressive playing that brought comparisons to Fish-era Marillion and contained lengthy tracks with long guitar and synth solos. It was followed by 'Pride', which built upon the sound the band had begun on their first album. Their third album 'The Visitor' is a concept album that found the band shortening their songs. Their fourth and fifth albums, 'Immortal?' and 'Contagion', were a move into a darker and heavier direction for Arena. Their sixth album 'Pepper's Ghost' is a dark and beautiful album with seven strange stories. Their seventh and eighth albums, 'The Seventh Degree Of Separation' and 'The Unquiet Sky', show a new change in Arena with more short tracks and is closer to prog metal, mainly due to the vocals.

'The Unquiet Sky' is based on a fantastic short story by M.R. James whose story takes place in 1911. The line up on 'The Unquiet Sky' is Paul Manzi (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Kylan Amos (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums).

The first track 'The Demon Strikes' is a classical very recognisable Arena's opening. It has the classic rhythm of the band with great guitars, nice keyboards and dramatic vocals, creating the atmosphere that will follow throughout the album. The second track 'How Did It Come To This?' is an intense powerful ballad. It has great vocals, one of the rare guitar solos in the middle and a beautiful background piano and arrangements. This is one of the most emotional songs on the album. The third track 'The Bishop Of Lufford' is one of the highlights on the album. It's atmospheric with many breaks and harder passages. It features a bombastic intro, followed by some breath taking guitar solos and excellent orchestral passages. The forth track 'Oblivious To The Night' is a short track mastered by typewriter strums and piano, plus tender vocals by Manzi. This is almost a quiet interlude between the previous and the following track. The fifth track 'No Chance Encounter' is a dark bombastic number with a good, melodic guitar solo and various sound samples with the darkness and the hardest sounds mixed in different rhythms. It also shows that Arena has harmonious choruses. The sixth track 'Markings On A Parchment' is an instrumental mainly produced by acoustic guitar sounds. It's a kind of a short essay where a little more pace is taken out, before you put a little more steam into the flowing title track. The seventh track is the title track 'The Unquiet Sky'. It begins slowly and calmly and builds up melodically in a typical Arena's style. It's a great theme with leisurely pace, perfect vocal performance, a great chorus and nice guitar work that appears facing the masterful keyboard work of Nolan. The eighth track 'What Happened Before', the piano is the common thread of the work, which is really great, but that disappears in the last part, in which the instruments burst in unison. It's a cinematic reminiscent of the epic instrumental finale. The ninth track 'Time Runs Out' is the rocker of the album. Here, Nolan can presents his repertoire more clearly with synths at the beginning and Mellotron sounding in between. Sometimes the vocals sound dramatically distorted. The tenth track 'Returning The Curse' remains in the style of the previous songs, but it's also here where Nolan's musical skills shine the most, since it incorporates a fantastic keyboard work in the best typical neo-prog style. The eleventh track 'Unexpected Dawn' is a strong ballad with a cheerful warm Hammond organ work and a relaxing acoustic guitar work too. It offers a more optimistic tone, as can be seen in the title itself or in the lyrics. The twelfth track 'Traveller Beware' is the lengthiest track on the album with staccato rhythms, marching sounds, quite straight prog sections and breaks that work towards the bombastic finale. It shows the aspects that makes of Arena such a special band, theatrics, changes of pace and powerful melodies.

Conclusion: With 'The Unquiet Sky', Arena rediscovers the path of a progressive accessible to the greatest number carried by the melodies, demonstrating with class that it's possible to produce titles with short durations without sinking into monotony. It's true that we will not find here a big originality, but the hearing happiness can also be satisfied with melodies and harmonies which catch the ear. In short, it brings us many things that are good in Arena's sound. It took some time to me to discover how rich it is, musically speaking. 'The Unquiet Sky' shows that the band is still on the rise and their creation still becomes better over time. For me, this album is a step up in comparison to its predecessor. Not as good as my favourite albums 'The Visitor' and 'Contagion', but a must have for every Arena's fan and other proggers. It's recommended for fans of the British prog rock music in the vein of Marillion, Pendragon and IQ.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Breakfast in Biarritz by ARENA album cover Live, 2001
3.78 | 92 ratings

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Breakfast in Biarritz
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by A Crimson Mellotron
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Breakfast in Biarritz' is the second live album by British neo-proggers, sometimes referred to as a supergroup, Arena, released in 2001, after four excellent and compelling studio albums filled with killer material. Several lineup changes up to that point, ultimately leading to the following five musicians playing on this release: John Mitchell on guitars and backing vocals, Clive Nolan on keyboards and backing vocals, Mick Pointer on the drums, Ian Salmon on bass, and the tremendously good Rob Sowden on vocals (to me the best incarnation of the band, although the contributions of all other members throughout the years could hardly be left unappreciated!).

If this live album had to be summarized in just a few words, they would sound something like this: an excellent set, a pretty balanced and interesting selection of songs from an already-rich catalogue, played flawlessly by five tremendous musicians that care about their craft, both musically and lyrically. Kicking off the evening is the 20-minute epic 'Moviedrome' - one of the more interesting longer prog songs of the new century, very sinister and gloomy, yet not as accomplished as something like 'Close to the Edge' or 'Foxtrot'; Needless to say, the band starts their concert on a high note!

This is followed by 'Crack in the Ice', or more of a shorter and faster version of it, pretty interesting and a bit unnerving. 'Double Vision' comes next, another song from 'The Visitor' album that leads to 'Midas Vision', one of the lesser-known tracks by the band, but a true gem in their catalogue. John Mitchell's solo moment, known as 'Serenity' introduces the nearly 10-minute 'Butterfly Man' from the then-new album 'Immortal?', which flows into another Arena classic - 'The Hanging Tree', a pretty regular number in their live sets. Time for more songs from 'The Visitor', as 'A State of Grace' and 'Enemy Without' make their appearance on the album, that will finish off with the anthemic 'Crying for Help VII', at the end of which the audience can be heard singing the chorus.

Of course, the band returns for three more songs (that are featured on the 'Bonus disc') and these are 'Chosen', 'Elea' and 'Friday's Dream'. Once again, interesting selection for the setlist focusing, as could be expected, on the band's most recent couple of studio albums. And to conclude, 'Breakfast in Biarritz' is highly recommended not only for fans of Arena and neo-prog, but to rock fans in general, and virtually anyone who might be interested in what this band sounds like... on stage!

 Contagion by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2003
4.15 | 708 ratings

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Contagion
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by A Crimson Mellotron
Prog Reviewer

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/

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

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