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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)

3.85 | 433 ratings
Songs from the Lion's Cage
1995
3.64 | 345 ratings
Pride
1996
4.06 | 698 ratings
The Visitor
1998
3.94 | 483 ratings
Immortal?
2000
4.16 | 668 ratings
Contagion
2003
3.66 | 434 ratings
Pepper's Ghost
2005
3.48 | 298 ratings
The Seventh Degree Of Separation
2011
3.67 | 285 ratings
The Unquiet Sky
2015
3.77 | 241 ratings
Double Vision
2018

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

3.68 | 75 ratings
Welcome To The Stage
1997
3.77 | 88 ratings
Breakfast In Biarritz
2001
4.34 | 79 ratings
Live & Life
2004
3.61 | 27 ratings
Live Recorded 2011/12 tour
2013
4.57 | 7 ratings
Re-Visited: Live!
2019

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

4.00 | 54 ratings
Caught In The Act
2003
3.83 | 61 ratings
Smoke & Mirrors
2006
4.08 | 31 ratings
Rapture
2013
3.54 | 28 ratings
XX
2016

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

2.98 | 78 ratings
The Cry
1997
3.38 | 25 ratings
Ten Years On 1995 - 2005
2006
4.16 | 33 ratings
Contagion Max
2014

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

2.15 | 15 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 | 53 ratings
Contagious
2003
2.67 | 30 ratings
Radiance
2003
3.13 | 47 ratings
Contagium
2003

ARENA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Visitor by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.06 | 698 ratings

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The Visitor
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

4 stars ARENA were a "supergroup", a conglomerate of layers of sedimentary rock of MARILLIONic, PENDRAGONian and ASIAtic musical epochs. Bearing a resemblance to all of these performers on this, their 3rd release, they concocted a canard that can be ignored or parlayed into a Master's thesis. Though "The Visitor" might be less complex than some of its influences, veering close to Arena rock at times, it also makes for a less frothy and denser statement, which can be construed just from the relatively brief track lengths that bleed into one. Most of the numbers offer succinct melodies and catchy choruses that nonetheless manage to avoid sounding forced or formulaic.

While the verbosity of the story necessitates that this be a vocal heavy project, and Paul Wrightson delivers with dramatic panache and angst, the excursions of guitarist John Mitchell have a voice all their own that complements Wrightson, in splendid evidence on "Serenity". Clive Nolan seems to understand this and only wrests power from his bandmates often enough to file any metallic edges that occasionally surface, as on "Pins and Needles". A few ballads, like "Tears in the Rain", also help to offset the type of unbroken intensity that unravels many a neo prog album.

Like any worthy concept work, a few of the most memorable themes, such as from the harrowing and hallowing "the Hanging Tree", perhaps the one track here that stands on its own as a masterpiece, do reappear just often enough to tie together any loose or frayed threads. "The Visitor" is a coherent statement that indulges the considerable egos involved without pandering to them.

 Pepper's Ghost by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.66 | 434 ratings

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Pepper's Ghost
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review Nš 369

"Pepper's Ghost" is the sixth studio album of Arena and was released in 2005. Despite "Pepper's Ghost" isn't properly a conceptual album, Clive Nolan has remarked that there is a pronounced English feel to the album. I think he means that Arena's sound has obvious echoes of the English prog rock bands of the 70's and 80's, but he also wants to means that "Pepper's Ghost" is very much a Hollywood Victorian view. It tells us the story of five heroes in the 19th century, in London, who fight against the organized crime and, ultimately, they even defeat a demon. The characters on the story are an exorcist, a ninja, a scientist who travels through time, a count and a cowboy with Indian ways. Apparently, each of the band's members is one of the comic book heroes. The story is told in the booklet through a small comic book.

"Pepper's Ghost" is their second studio album to feature the same line up such as with their previous fifth studio album "Contagion". So, the line up of the album is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass and acoustic guitar) and Mick Pointer (drums).

"Pepper's Ghost" has seven tracks. All songs were written by Clive Nolan, John Mitchell and Mick Pointer except "Opera Fanatica" which was written by Clive Nolan. All lyrics were written by Clive Nolan. The first track "Bedlam Fayre" is an excellent opener to the album and appears in the same vein of many other great openers of Arena's studio albums. This is a typical first track for the band that reminds instantly "Witch Hunt" from "Contagion" and "Chosen" from "Immortal?". It's a track very nice and pleasant to hear that can be considered an almost an Arena's classic song, which is perfectly in the same vein as most of the songs on "Immortal?" and "Contagion" albums. The second track "Smoke And Mirrors" is a song that opens with Mitchell in acoustic mode, before the band turns 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 third track "The Shattered Room" is one of Arena's lengthiest tracks and where we can hear some of the best and finest keyboard works by Nolan. This is a song that reminds me quite a bit "The Butterfly Man" from "Immortal?". The song moves through a series of different musical sections with a very intense and dramatic chorus. Once again the highlight goes to Nolan and Mitchell with their excellent work in the extended instrumental section. The fourth track "The Eyes Of Lara Moon" is in general considered the weakest of all but I like very much of it. Its name reminds me immediately the 70's film "The Eyes Of Laura Mars", what I really liked very much. It's a song built around a very simple yet effective and extremely catchy melody from John Mitchell. This is a song with good vocal chorus, nice guitar playing by Mitchell and some beautiful keyboards by Nolan. The fifth track "Tantalus" is a track that opens as a dramatic ballad with Nolan's piano being the dominant instrument. The song progresses with some nice keyboards and vocals works until the heavy parts that follow. The orchestrated backing vocals on the chorus are great and the end section, where there is a real edge to Sowden's vocals, is particularly strong. Moreover, the ending of the song is one of the heaviest parts of the album. The sixth track "Purgatory Road" is another excellent song with nice lyrics. It's a very powerful track with very fast changes, great singing, heavy guitars and great keyboard solos. Again the chorus is solid and there's also a good guitar work by Mitchell and a typical keyboard sound runs from Nolan. The song is in general excellent and became as one of the album's highlights and represents the heavy metal side of Arena's music. The seventh track "Opera Fanatica" reminds me "Moviedrome" from "Immortal?". It's one of the heaviest tracks on the album and opens with some beautiful operatic vocals, as its name indicates. For the most part we have the grandiose and bombastic pomp rock at its best, with several memorable sections with great chorus where Sowden shines. This is doubtless the great highlight of the album. Ccuriously and surprisingly it was the only track written solely by Nolan. It closes the album at a very high note.

Conclusion: "Pepper's Ghost" is a very strong release from Arena and remains as one of their best studio works. It's one of Arena's heaviest albums and we may say that it's very close to their fourth studio album "Immortal?". The heavier sound of the album is probably due to Karl Groom of Threshold who co-produced the album with Clive Nolan. The same thing would happen with the eighth studio album of Galahad, "Empires Never Last" which would be released in 2007, and that was also produced by Groom. So, the change on the musical direction of both bands isn't probably a simple coincidence. The album artwork deserves a special mention. It has an excellent digipack packaging that includes excellent cartoon strips drawn by David Wyatt, an English commercial artist. On it, each strip is designed to illustrate each song of the album. This is an excellent artwork that can only improve the magnificence of this album.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 The Visitor by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.06 | 698 ratings

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The Visitor
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Hector Enrique

4 stars Arena's kickoff as a relevant group inside the neo-progressive genre was due to the release of The Visitor, their third album.

It is pervaded with an obscure melancholy because of the constant death references. This topic is ideal for slow-paced songs fraught with deep emotions. That is the case of Hanging Tree, the album's ever-lasting paragon; or the hurting Tears in the Rain, which consists of a flawless blend of keyboards and guitars.

The guitar work of John Michell, a recently added member of Arena at that time, is astonishing: he stands out in the instrumental bits of Elea and Serenity, as well as in The Visitor's final solo, whose style is influenced by David Gilmour.

The rest of the songs keep a considerably good level, like in the case of A Crack in the Ice or the dynamics Pins and Needles and Double Vision. Maybe Enemy Without is the only dissonant part of the album due to its light sound: it doesn't add much to The Visitor, but it also doesn't decrease the album's quality as a whole.

Without a doubt, The Visitor is one of the best productions of the magnificent group formed by Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer.

 Immortal? by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.94 | 483 ratings

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Immortal?
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by Hector Enrique

4 stars Immortal? is a forceful work, vitalized by the incorporation of Rob Sowden in the voices, who fit in seamlessly with the band. Rather, it brings overwhelming expressiveness and drama to the theme of the album.

Proof of this is the disturbingly intense The Butterfly Man, the martial and heartbreaking Ghost in the Firewall, and the almost unmissable 20 minutes of the stupendous Moviedrome, all linked by the same dark thread, and the best of Immortal?

But it is not all, Chosen continues in the same spectral line, Climbing The Net brings to mind some air to the song Incommunicado by Marillion, they let us breathe a little with the delicate and thoughtful Waiting For The Flood. Finally, with the hopeful Friday's Dream, the album concludes in great shape.

Without a doubt, Immortal? is at the top of Arena's discography and highly recommended listening, especially for neo- progressive fans.

 Immortal? by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.94 | 483 ratings

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Immortal?
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review Nš 351

Arena was born in 1993, when former Marillion's drummer Mick Pointer was introduced to Clive Nolan by Richard Jordan, editor of Silhobbit Magazine. Pointer had been thinking about recording an album for a while and Nolan seemed to be the right person to re-introduce him in the world of prog music taht had changed since Pointer has left Marillion.

'Immortal?' is the fourth studio album of Arena and was released in 2000. This is the first studio album of Arena to feature the presence of their new vocalist Rob Sowden, who replaced their previous vocalist Paul Wrightson. This is also the album with the presence of their new bassist Ian Salmon, who replaced their previous bassist John Jowitt. John Jowitt would return to the band in Arena's seventh studio album 'The Seventh Degree Of Separation', released in 2011. Curiously, this time he replaced Ian Salmon. So, the line up on the album is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums).

'Immortal?' has seven tracks. All songs were written by Clive Nolan, Mick Pointer and John Mitchell, except 'The Butterfly Man' which was only written by Clive Nolan and John Mitchell. The first track 'Chosen' is a progressive track that opens the album with a bombastic way. It's a very catchy song with great melody, nice keyboard work and 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 second track 'Waiting For The Flood' is a more traditional neo-progressive song in the same vein of the music on their previous studio album 'The Visitor'. The Rob Snowden's vocal performance it seems to me a truly reminiscence of Paul Wrightson and of the sound of their previous studio album. This is a song that features some fantastic acoustic guitar work, melodic keyboards and great vocal performance. It's an excellent powerful acoustic track with dark and apocalyptic lyrics, in the same vein of the entire album. The third track 'The Butterfly Man' is simply one of two best tracks on the album and is also one of my favourites too. It's a very powerful song that reminds me, once more, their album 'The Visitor'. This is a song with a fantastic and great guitar work and represents one of the few songs not dominated by the keyboards of Nolan. It's a fantastic song that moves perfectly well between the heavy and melodic parts. The fourth track 'Ghost In The Firewall' is a kind of an experimental Arena track that is driven almost exclusively by Nolan's keyboards. It's a song that begins with a very industrial way that reminds me Pink Floyd in some musical parts. With this kind of songs Arena proves that they are able to change their music, experiencing a new and modern sound to the neo-progressive music. The fifth track 'Climbing The Net' is a very accessible song and represents, in a certain way, a musical retrospective of their old days. It's a very good song with nice lyrics, great melodies and a good musical development. However, and in my humble opinion, 'Climbing The Net' is probably the less interesting song on the album. The sixth track 'Moviedrome' is the biggest song on the album and represents the great epic of it. This is in reality, a true progressive song with multi parts that contains many styles of music with influences of symphonic music and progressive metal. It represents one of the best examples of the contribution of Arena to a new progressive sound. It's a very cohesive song with beautiful and excellent harmonies and remarkable individual performances by all band's members. This is the second highlight of the album. The seventh and last track 'Friday's Dream' is a very simple, calm, beautiful and powerful ballad, mainly performed by acoustic guitar, which closes the album nicely and harmonically, and is definitely better than 'Climbing The Net' is. This is a song that reminds me the short tracks called 'Crying For Help' from their debut studio albums 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' and 'Pride'. It's a nice and a pacific way of Arena to close this excellent studio album.

Conclusion: 'Immortal?' is another excellent album of Arena and represents another change into their style of music. With their two first studio albums 'Songs From The Lion's Cage' and 'Pride', Arena's music was very reminiscent of the musical influences of Marillion and IQ. With their third studio album 'The Visitor', Arena's music changed and could be perceptible an attempt of the group to create and individualize their new sound. With this fourth studio album Arena managed to create a new sound in a very own way. This is very remarkable and made of Arena a band with a very distinctive sound in the neo-prog bands. They managed with 'Immortal?' what Galahad managed several years before with their studio album 'Empires Never Last'. However and despite 'Immortal?' be an excellent album, personally, I sincerely think that it isn't a masterpiece despite it was very close to be it. Anyway, 'Immortal?' is Arena's second best studio album of their four previous studio albums. So, in my humble opinion, 'Immortal?' isn't a perfect album. It has some weak points, namely 'Climbing The Net'. Thus, 'The Visitor' remains to me as their greatest masterpiece till now.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 The Visitor by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.06 | 698 ratings

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The Visitor
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review Nš 335

"The Visitor" is the third studio album of Arena and was released in 1998. It's their last studio album to feature vocalist Paul Wrightson. Bassist John Jowitt also quit the band after its release. He returned in 2011. It's also their first studio album to feature the presence of their new guitarist John Mitchell, who replaced their founder guitarist Keith More that participated on their two first studio albums "Songs From The Lion's Cage" and "Pride". So, the line up on the album is Paul Wrightson (vocals), John Mitchell (guitars), Clive Nolan (keyboards), John Jowitt (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums).

"The Visitor" is considered by many fans, critics and reviewers as the best studio album released by the band. The idea for this album was born in the mind of Clive Nolan, and the lyrics of "The Visitor" resulted very dark and intense. The music all over the album complemented by some excellent graphics on its cover, empathize the general mood of the album. "The Visitor" had great reviews when it was released and resulted in a very well successful live tour of Arena.

"The Visitor" is a conceptual album. An angry and disillusioned man chooses to walk across a lake that has recently been frozen. As the ice breaks, he sinks down into the freezing water. As time passes, his thoughts come to his head, about himself and his life, and so, he faces "the visitor" examining his inner being and relives certain elements of his live. In the end, our protagonist gets pulled out of the water, thought we never know if he was helped by someone. So, all over the album we experience the man's thoughts on the lyrics and the music. So, "The Visitor" is an epic concept, focused on pain, death, redemption, human's kind purpose, the nature of the knowledge, and all this things seen with a kind of a religious slant. "The visitor" is an idea, a metaphysical concept or a spirit being, travelling through the time.

As with many of conceptual albums, the length of the tracks is very different being some very short and others bigger. The music moves and flows beautifully all over the album, as the story goes throughout the album. So, I'm not going to review the album track by track, which is usual by me when I review studio albums, but only to do a global review of it.

"The Visitor" has fourteen tracks, together forming one piece of music of about 60 minutes long. All songs were written by Clive Nolan, Mick Pointer, John Mitchell and John Jowitt. The musical success of "The Visitor" is probably the result of the co-operation of the four writing members of the band. John Jowitt was responsible for large parts of the stunning opener of the album, "A Crack In The Ice", as well as the beautiful epic "The Hanging Tree". This track is preceded by the instrumental "Elea", which was written by John Mitchell. With his brilliant Gilmour-ish guitar playing in both "Elea" and the other instrumental "Serenity", he's really put his mark on this album, just as Paul Wrightson did during the vocal performance of "The Visitor". The expressive nature of Clive Nolan's lyrics and the change of atmosphere throughout the album, varying from the melancholic "Tears In The Rain" to the fierce and bombastic "Running From Damascus", form a fertile soil for a great album. These ingredients nourish for thought about the meaning of the story.

One thing that is more notable about this album that on the previous two is the slight toning down on the aggressive parts. There are still borderline metallic riffs that make their way into the seamless parade of moods and synth runs but nothing feels forced and enters the stage only when appropriated. The production values are impeccable with beautiful swirling synths providing the expected backbone around the vocal delivery and the rest of the band following their lead. I also want to mention how important the Floydian space guitars are on this album. While Genesis rightfully gets the credit for inspiring the neo-prog sub genre, it's the brilliance of the guitars that meld, in genearl, the neo-prog approach well into the space rock world, only one approach Arena utilizes effortlessly in their evolution in this specific sub-genre.

Conclusion: "The Visitor" is a great studio album and represents the first masterpiece of Arena. The two previous first studio albums "Songs From The Lion's Cage" and "Pride" are both great albums, especially "Songs From The Lion's Cage", but "The Visitor" is better and represents their finest studio work, till now. With "The Visitor", Arena made a classic concept studio album, in the same vein of many released in the 70's. "The Visitor" was made of 14 great musical sections that worth as a whole. It sounds very close to Marillion and IQ but the final result is a neo-prog album with a metal touch. I know that many people don't like the neo-prog style. They think neo-prog is a rubbish style of music, very pompous and empty. I can't disagree more. I don't like to consider neo-prog as an individual sub-genre. I think neo-prog is nothing more than a branch of the symphonic prog style, more modern and simple. It's a kind of a symphonic style less complex and much accessible. It's especially recommended for those who aren't accustomed with very complex progressive music. With "The Visitor", Arena had the honour to ascend to the rare status of be one of the most important modern prog bands. For me, "The Visitor" can be considered as one of the best neo-prog albums ever made.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Contagion Max by ARENA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2014
4.16 | 33 ratings

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Contagion Max
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review Nš 300

"Contagion Max" is a compilation of Arena which was released in 2014. "Contagion Max" is nothing more than the inclusion of "Contagion" plus their two EP's "Contagious" and "Contagium" in only one double album package.

In 2003, Arena recorded their fifth studio album "Contagion", their second conceptual album after the critically acclaimed "The Visitor" of 1998. At the time, it was released as a single album containing almost one hour of music. However, Arena has recorded more music for this conceptual album, but the band felt that nobody was really interested in listening to ninety minutes of music spread over a double album. So, the band decided to put the additionally recorded material on the two EP's, "Contagious" and "Contagium", both released in 2003 as well. Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of "Contagion" in 2013, it was decided to release a double album including those three releases.

"Contagion Max" comes in a digipak containing two discs including the regular album complemented with all the missing tracks that were released on the EP's. These tracks were placed in the correct order in the concept. The definitive master track list follows the chapters of the story, and for that reason it differs from the original version.

It's a well documented fact that when Arena released "Contagion" back in 2003 it wasn't the full story that we can hear on the original album. So, this new double album's release now includes the entire apocalyptic short story created by Clive Nolan which is interspersed throughout the lyrics within the CD booklet. In a nut-shell, it tells us of a deadly virus, unleashed by the main protagonist Noah Kemp, which is destroying the world and all living things. But Noah is also the world's saviour as he searches for a little girl (Una) who shares the same birthmark, is immune to the blue-flame virus and who has the power to cleanse the world of this deadly plague. Thus, clearly there are biblical undertones here.

In short, "Contagion Max" holds a 28 page booklet including the lyrics as well as the story and additional new artwork.

As I've already reviewed all these tracks in a detailed way on Progarchives when I reviewed "Contagion", "Contagious" and "Contagium", I'm not going to do it again. So, if you are interested to know, in more detail, what I wrote about them before, I invite you to read my three reviews of those albums. So, I'm just only going to do a global appreciation of it.

Thus, I'm going to focus my attention only on some tracks that certainly need some more attention. For example the three instrumentals "This Way Madness Lies", "On The Box" and "Riding The Tide". The first piece starts as a kind of bass solo by Ian Salmon. The subsequent guitar solo is one of the lengthiest ever performed by John Mitchell. On the second instrumental the Hammond organ has a leading role, while "Riding The Tide" is a real roller coaster on which Nolan excels on the keyboards playing some amazing synth solos. The changes in keyboard sounds and in the dynamics between the sections work out great. On "Skin Game" Mike Pointer plays an excellent drum work in the same vein of the good old days of the 70's. On numerous songs Rob Sowden proves to be a brilliant singer when he still fronted the band. Throughout the album he sings full-heartedly and with a lot of passion and emotion. But, for those who never heard the EP's, it's maybe wise to tell what you can expect from these missing tracks. The first one is a left over from "The Visitor" sessions originally called "Sacrifice". They now rearranged it and called it "Vanishing Act". It's a great instrumental piece based on a sequencer beat with a fine guitar solo played by John Mitchell. "The Hour Glass", is a sort of prog rock ballad marvellously sung by Rob Sowden. Ian Salmon's bass has a leading role here and lifts the song to a higher level. "I Spy" contains some nice music influenced by folk. "On The Edge Of Despair" starts with the theme of "This Way Madness Lies" and then changes into a kind of acoustic ballad. The strong instrumental piece "Contagious" begins with sirens and themes from the "Contagion" album. Again Mitchell shines on this piece playing an excellent electric guitar solo. "March Of Time" is a more up-tempo with great solos by John Mitchell and Clive Nolan. The last track "Confrontation" is another fine instrumental piece and again with a fantastic guitar solo by John Mitchell.

Conclusion: I think we can guess that with the 2003 release, Arena had to pick the best of the bunch and leave out those tracks they considered inferior. However, in the context of the bigger picture, these tracks combine perfectly well with the 2003 release and give to the whole album a sense of fulfilment or closure towards a better understanding of the story's concept. And while listening to this new version of "Contagion", I realized that everything sounds even better than on the original one. The music sounds very dynamic and the instruments blow out of your speakers. Especially the keyboard choirs have been mixed much more to the fore. So, I have to compliment Arena for making time in their busy schedules to realize "Contagion Max", a superb sounding album. When you take in to account the artwork, the 28 page booklet with Nolan's story and the great music and musicianship, this is pure unadulterated classic prog that we love.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Contagium by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
3.13 | 47 ratings

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Contagium
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Review Nš 299

'Contagium' is an EP of Arena and was released in 2003. It's the second of the two EP's made to complement their fifth studio album 'Contagion' released in the previous year. The other EP is 'Contagious', also released in the same year.

'Contagium' contains four tracks plus a multimedia section. One of the most interesting items from the 'Contagion' live tour merchandising is this EP, a reasonably necessary EP that complements the studio album. It includes three brand new songs 'On The Edge Of Despair', 'The March Of Time' and 'Confrontation', and a new special remix of 'Salamander', a track included on their studio album 'Contagion'. The multimedia section contains some interesting extras: 'Painted Man' special video footage from the 'Contagion' live show, Ghost Vocals featuring John Mitchell, 'Contagion'The Story', Tour Photo Gallery, Lyrics Page, 'Contagion Screensaver' and a Master Track list. As with 'Contagious' EP, it also contains the instructions where must insert the new tracks of the EP, into the original album.

The line up on the EP 'Contagium' is the same line up of the studio album 'Contagion' and the EP 'Contagious'. So, the line up is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums). It has also the collaboration of the March of Time Choir with Les Wardle, Chas Allen, Mark English, Paul Brown, Jon Stralding, Mike Orlev, Olga Orlev and Slan Robert.

'Contagious' has four tracks. Arena loves to bring to any album even more special encores, like Maxi's or EP's under the fans. Most of these gifts are made visually appealing, musically but usually modest and important only for the most die hard fans. This is no different with the two EP's of them, 'Contagious' and 'Contagium'. The structure of this EP is pretty much similar to 'Contagious'. This work is better than 'Contagious', but my conclusion will almost be the same.

The first track 'On The Edge Of Despair' is a very good track that sounds to me very familiar as other several themes from the album 'Contagion'. Like with 'I Spy' from their other EP 'Contagious', I sincerely think this is really an excellent track that could be perfectly part of their studio album 'Contagion'. I'm also convinced that 'On The Edge Of Despair' is, without any doubt, the most elaborated and the best track of the whole EP. It uses the same familiar riff of the 'This Way Madness' instrumental of their album 'Contagion', but combines it with semi-acoustic vocal sections. The second track 'The March Of Time' is another excellent track very powerful and melodic in the same line of the previous track. This is a very catchy song magnificently balanced between the acoustic and gentle parts and the electric hardest and darkest parts. It's a very typical Arena song that sounds as a remake of many other songs from the band. However and despite being a great Arena's song with some excellent vocal performance, some great guitar work and beautiful heavy keyboard playing, I really think that it lacks to it some quality and originality to be a great song. The third track 'Confrontation' is another fine instrumental track like so many others we can found on 'Contagion' and 'Contagious'. As the others two previous tracks, this one is quite heavy and bombastic, although it also features a break with acoustic guitar and mellotron. Once more John Mitchell and Clive Nolan plays fine guitar and keyboard parts, throughout the song, showing their great talents and skills. The fourth and last track 'Salamander' is a special remix of an original song taken from their fifth studio album 'Contagion'. Unlike the remix of 'Witch Hunt' on 'Contagious', this new version of 'Salamander' is quite a nice surprise. It perfectly shows that is possible to turn something into a techno track and when remixing the song, the rock style can be maintained and give to song its own identity. For instance, this new version includes completely new riffs and breaks. Still, as happened with 'Witch Hunt', I can't see interest in remix those songs. It seems to be a truly completely useless thing. It could have been avoided too.

Conclusion: As happened with 'Contagious', 'Contagium' is an EP with leftover songs from 'Contagion' plus a remixed song from that album. So, it seems to be made as a complement to 'Contagion', and because of that, is able to make the most of this EP. Probably the right things to do would is following the instructions of the band and hear the album 'Contagion' inserting the four tracks into the EP in the right places. Still, and unlike Easy Livin, I must confess that I didn't have the courage or the patience to do that, as he did. So, my final words about this EP are merely dedicated to the songs in that context. Like 'Contagious', 'Contagium' is an interesting and good EP of Arena. The three new tracks are good extensions of the 'Contagion' album but, in my humble opinion, they're in general less good and less creative than the tracks on that album. In relation to the remix track 'Salamander', it's also, without any doubt, better than the remixed track of 'Contagious', 'Witch Hunt'. Concluding, 'Contagium' is definitely better than 'Contagious' but my conclusion is almost the same. This is a good complement of 'Contagion' and a good companion to 'Contagious' but it's only a very interesting item for Arena fans with some new things to enjoy and explore, really.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Double Vision by ARENA album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.77 | 241 ratings

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Double Vision
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by friso
Prog Reviewer

2 stars The English neo-progressive group Arena has been a favorite of mine since age 14. The band had just released 'Contagion' and I read about it in a Dutch metal magazine (it gave it 87/100 I remember!). It's follow-up 'Pepper's Ghost' has grown on me, but the albums after that have been real hit/miss experiences. Only 'The Unquiet Sky' has struck a chord with me. The band has shifted from a front-runner in keeping the neo-prog genre alive and innovative - or at least reflective - to a prog-metal or even crossover prog band. As progressive as for instance present day Saga. That's a pity for a band that once could easily match IQ en Pendragon's best albums with its Visitor / Immortal / Contagion / Live & Life winning streak.

Arena's 2019 release 'Double Vision' is another rather predictable song-based symphonic metal album. More like 'Tinder Box' than 'The Unquiet Sky'. Very well produced and well-sounding, but tiring and formulaic. A lot of melodies and riff you kind of heard before. Suitable for a wider range of public perhaps, but never suited to be a well-remembered and inspiring record. Paul Manzi is a very competent singer and Joh Mitchell is still one of my favorite guitar players of the genre, but they don't shine on these songs because lack of stand-out moments and ideas. The guitar solo's of Mitchell that once made them stood out are almost absent.

The epic of the album, 'The Legend of Elijah Shade', has a little more going for it. More ideas at last, some contrasts between the separate parts. Again, the band fails to step out of the solid rail that has become their house style - it rather expands on it in length. The last eight minutes are however quite strong and imaginative and finally we get an outbreak of Mitchell's guitar (which is cut short by a fade-out into a senseless piano loop).

If you'd compare this work to IQ's 'Resistance' and 'Road of Bones' there's not a lot going for Arena's 'Double Vision' - in an artistic sense. Who's to say what is most enjoyable for you? I sure hope the band keeps releasing their earlier albums on a vinyl, like the decent (but pricey!) vinyl release of 'The Visitor'. I've read the other reviews and chances are many listeners of neo-progressive music (and before mentioned bands) will actually like this album a lot more then I do. Two and a halve stars for this one, but do listen to the epic before casting your judgement!

 Contagious by ARENA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2003
2.90 | 53 ratings

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Contagious
Arena Neo-Prog

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Review Nš 298

'Contagious' is an EP of Arena and was released in 2003. It's one of the two EP's released to complement their fifth studio album 'Contagion', released in the previous year. The other EP is 'Contagium', also released in the same year. 'Contagious' contains five tracks plus a multimedia section. One of the most interesting items from the 'Contagion' live tour merchandising is this EP, a reasonably necessary EP that complements the studio album. It includes four brand new songs 'Vanishing Act', 'I Spy', 'Contagious' and 'The Hour Glass', that come with instructions on where to insert them into the original album, and a new remix of the opening track from 'Contagion', 'Witch Hunt'. The multimedia section contains some interesting extras: Skin Game special video, footage from the 'Contagion' live show, Ghost Vocals featuring John Mitchell ('An Angel Falls', 'Spectre At The Feast', 'Salamander', 'Bitter Harvest', 'City Of Lanterns' and 'Mea Culpa'), Floodgate Choir Photo Gallery, Lyrics Page, 'Contagion' Screensaver and Website.

The line up on the EP 'Contagious' is the same line up of the studio album 'Contagion'. So, the line up is Rob Sowden (vocals), John Mitchell (backing vocals and guitars), Clive Nolan (backing vocals and keyboards), Ian Salmon (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums).

'Contagious' has five tracks. About the new compositions, they're all quite good songs, with the main characteristics they're inserted on the whole of 'Contagion'. Compared to previous original studio album 'Contagion', the remaining material was considered too good to just be thrown away by the band. The first track 'Vanishing Act' is a very good opener and a very strong instrumental number. This very powerful piece of music starts as a calm and floating song due to its floydian guitar solo but soon it turns into a real strong progressive rock song, almost turned into a hard/metal rock song. In reality it features a fine guitar and keyboard works throughout the song. However and despite being a very good song, I sincerely think that it's too much repetitive and hasn't great creativity. The second track 'I Spy' is very different, an almost folky acoustic affair with lots of backing vocals. This is, without any doubt and in my opinion, the most elaborate and the best track of the whole EP. This is really an excellent track that could be perfectly part of the album 'Contagion'. It's slower than the previous track and is a majestic song with superior and superb guitar and keyboard performances. We may even say that 'I Spy' can do perfectly part as one of Arena's truly greatest pieces of music, in the same line of their greatest epic songs. The third track is the title track song 'Contagious'. It's a less powerful song than the two previous songs and has a very dark mood. It includes great guitar work, a nice keyboard solo by Clive Nolan that reminds me Tony Banks style, and it also features a prominent bass line. It also features a prominent bass slap. This is another instrumental track that despite being a good musical number it isn't as touchy as the two previous songs. The fourth track 'The Hour Glass' is a very interesting typical dramatic Arena mid-tempo song with an excellent vocal work by Rob Sowden. It could be perfectly a good companion to 'Spectre At The Feast' or 'Salamander' songs from their album 'Contagion'. However, I think it has some weaknesses and probably it might lack also some originality. When we heard the song it sounds a bit too familiar leaving us the d'j' vu feeling. The fifth and last track 'Witch Hunt' is a special remix of the original opening song taken from their fifth studio album 'Contagion'. While the original version of the song was a very dynamic and solid piece of music, this new version was made to work as a dance beat music. In reality, we sincerely can't say that we are in presence of a bad version of the original track. We even can say that it's indeed well made and that it sounds nice. However, I sincerely can't see any kind of interest in doing that. So, in the end, it seams to be a truly completely useless thing. Definitely, this isn't my favourite cup of tea.

Conclusion: As I wrote above, 'Contagious' is, nothing less than an EP with four leftover songs from their fifth studio album 'Contagion' plus a remixed song from that album. So, it was seems to be made as a complement of the original studio album 'Contagion'. Thus, and because of that, to be able to make the most of this EP, probably the right thing to do would follow the instructions of the band and hear the album 'Contagion' inserting the four tracks into the EP in the right places of that album. So, my final words about this EP are merely dedicated to the songs in that context, since I've already reviewed the original album 'Contagion'. 'Contagious' is an interesting and good EP of Arena. The four new tracks are good extensions of 'Contagion', but, in my humble opinion, with the exception of 'I Spy', they're less good and less creative than the tracks on that album. In relation to the remix track 'Witch Hunt', as I wrote above, I don't like particularly of it. So and concluding, 'Contagious' despite be a good EP isn't a must have purchase for any prog rock fan. Anyway, this is a very interesting item for Arena fans with quite some new things to enjoy and explore. In short, we may say this is a brief but interesting release for any Arena collector. And don't forget the great artwork of David Wyatt.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

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