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Arena - Contagion CD (album) cover





4.16 | 667 ratings

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5 stars Review Nš 297

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 5/5 |


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