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Arena - Contagion Max CD (album) cover





4.16 | 33 ratings

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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*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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