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ARENA ‘Contagion’ (Verglas 2003)

Arena are the veteran UK prog rock band formed around former Marillion drummer Mick Pointer. The line-up on this album includes vocalist Rob Sowden, Pendragon’s Clive Nolan on keyboards, bass player Ian Salmon and guitarist John Mitchell.

‘Witch Hunt’ is very heavy with guitar to fore and vocalist Rob Sowden putting in a strong performance. He has a good range from powerful rock like this track to the more mellow refrains of ‘Spectre at the Feast’. He reminds me in parts of Threshold’s Karl Groom. The other big highlight of this album has to be the keyboards of Clive Nolan - absolutely top notch. Ranging from the driving Hammond keys on ‘Painted Man’ to the smoother keys on the instrumental ‘This Way Madness Lies’.

‘Skin Game’ is a fine example of melding the vocals of Rob Sowden with the crunching guitars of John Mitchell. Again Threshold come to mind as a comparison on this particular track. ‘Salamander’ has the catchiest hook on the album with its sublime chorus making it an album highlight. All the songs are built around the lead character’s travels through a bleak world. The instrumental ‘Riding the Tide’ again highlights Clive Nolan’s keyboard work underpinned by the solid rhythm section of Mick Pointer and Ian Salmon. ‘Cutting the Cards’ starts with nimble acoustic guitar before building into a bouncing rocker. The good thing about the album as whole is that melody takes priority as opposed to filling the songs full of time changes and intricate musicianship just for the sake of it.

Although only out in January I am sure this release will feature on end of year polls. High quality progressive music and highly recommended. Don’t be put off by the progressive tag as this album will appeal to a wide range of rock fans. Buy it just for the keyboard playing of Clive Nolan and the vocals of Rob Sowden!


Review by Jason Ritchie

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Buy this CD

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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