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Arena - Contagion CD (album) cover





4.14 | 642 ratings

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5 stars In My Not so Humble Opinion:

Contagion by Arena is the best release in the Neo-Prog top twenty with the only possible exception being the new release by Martigan (and I only offer that exception because I don't have that one).

Let me start with a brief story. As my prog resurgence grew over the last two years, I noticed that I leaned heavily towards Neo and Symphonic. I picked up a lot of CD's during this time, most of the time from deals that I was able to find on either Amazon or in used CD shops or downloads from iTunes or e-Music. Arena was one of those bands that I just couldn't find a CD of theirs for under $20. Not that it wasn't worth it, but when I could pick up two or three Marillion CD's for the same price, I had to go for the quantity.

Finally, around Christmas time, I finally found a used copy of Contagion on Amazon, with a certain amount of excitement I ordered it along with a few others and eagerly awaited their arrival. First came Aenima, then Ever by IQ, two additional CD's that I'd been eager to get my hooks into. When Arena came, it was certainly used, a little on the beaten up side. The very next day, "A Street Between Sunrise and Sunset" by Satellite arrived in it's nice and shiny new package and I'll admit, I kind of forgot about Contagion for a month or two.

I started listening to it in about March. Since then, it's been my most listened to album, easily. Now, it's number three on my Last FM chart behind "Snow" and "Stardust We Are", both double albums that I've had for two years. My point, this is a great CD.

On to the review proper:

I have no complaints about this album; this is as close to a perfect album as we get in my mind. The production is wonderful; Clive Nolan is at his best here. His choice of keyboard patches is spot on and his solos, particularly on the showcase piece "Riding the Tide", are both beautiful and tasteful. A magnificent solo is not based on how many notes you can play but when you choose to play them.

Rob Sowden's powerful and soulful voice adds another layer of energy as he plays the part of patient zero of the plague that takes out humanity (at least that's my interpretation). His mournful plea in "Mea Culpa" almost makes you cry while his gentle urging of "Oh my brother, kneel with me tonight" in "The City of Lanterns" gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. Rob sounds amazing on this album.

. . . and let's face it, John Mitchell is no slouch either. John's showcase piece, "This Way Madness Lies" shows his ability to solo tastefully while the last part of "On the Box" shows that he can shred when necessary. When he isn't luxuriating in the spotlight John Mitchell adds to the general ambience, blending with Clive seamlessly.

Finally, the rhythm section of Mick Pointer and Ian Salmon is tight and solid the whole way through, providing the foundation that allows the other three to shine. They really add to the "Cinema Show" feel of "Riding the Tide".

There are no weak tracks on this CD. The highlights include the previously mentioned "The City of Lanterns", "Riding the Tide" and "Mea Culpa". In addition, "Witch Hunt" starts the CD off with a driving bang, Mitchell's crashing guitar commands your attention from the first note until Sowden comes in with an angry growl a few seconds later. "Cutting the Cards" is another great song with some very tasty acoustic guitar allowing the beginning vocal harmonies to take the center stage until the full band crashes in.

The biggest highlight of the album is the run of "Spectre at the Feast", "Never Ending Night" and finally "Skin Game". Spectre is pretty and a good set up to "Never Ending Night" which starts out beautiful and just plain ends up spine tinglingly evil. "Skin Game" continues the evil vibe through the first half until about the two minute mark when it starts a 40 second build up to the most beautiful moment on this album. When Rob Sowden cries of the "quirk of fate, yielding to my DNA", the band follows with a hauntingly beautiful chord progression that, like many other points on this album, makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

In sum, I love this album and highly recommend it to any fans of Neo progressive music. This is as close as it gets to perfect for me.

Roland113 | 5/5 |


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