"Contagion" is the new dashing work from Arena, a group which it doesn’t need to be introduced, almost everybody or many people has listened to some of their records. 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.
Although I have to say that they have worked out a nice musical space and deserving to be one of the most important groups of modern prog rock. After being through several changes inside the band and releasing a considerable amount of records of different style and quality, the guys seem to have taken a nice trace to follow and a track that leads them to a good end, ready again for another ride. The production is carried out by John Mitchell (guitar) and of course Clive Nolan (keys), and that can give you a more or less clear idea about the path that the record is taking; big guitar sounds, a lot of symphonic environment and great keyboard playing, more keys than ever, perfect for fans of big productions. All that, of course, diminish a bit the craft work and the handmade music and composition that progressive music is mainly about. But as I said at the beginning, Arena hasn’t been a group of marvelous music artists. A band that has failed when trying to elaborate too complicate music beyond their possibilities. I think their best play is when making it all simpler and focusing on the production, like Pallas, and like this obtain quality. "Contagion" is all that, and everything sounds much better.
By the moment the members of the band haven’t changed; Clive Nolan (keys), John Mitchell (guitar), Mick Pointer (drums), Ian Salmon (bass) & Rob Sowden (lead voice).
The record is full of many songs, sixteen pieces grouped up in different sounding moments, and that’s something that gives a good and varied range of songs. From the beginning the sound is stunning, similar to "The Visitor’s" beginning, with a flurry of powerful guitar riffs and keys. As we carry on with the listening we find different moments of soft and calm periods that burst into sounding supernovas, the music explodes in our ears soaking the whole record with emotion. “Witch Hunt”, “An Angel Falls”, “Painted Man”, shape a first part of strong guitar playing and drums inside a typical-Arena mid-tempo. Then we go directly to the dynamics of “This Way Madness Lies”. Sweet pieces with power house guitar flashing wrapped up in thick coats of keyboards and nice melodies, such as “Never Ending Night” or “Skin Game”. “On the Box” is one of their best songs, a piece made out of brilliant keys and great passages full of imagination, a good example of Anglo-Saxon prog rock. The truth is that the best songs are the instrumental ones like “Riding the Tide” where the producers shine brightly. There are many pieces and they all follow a thread of impressive production work. Therefore i guess we can all find the record a bit exhausting.
Anyway, I have to admit that this new work of Arena has surprised me quite a lot. A CD that maintains them in a status of important band and a record that I sincerely think that can regain those old fans that used them to get inside modern progressive rock and give them a new opportunity. Many of us discovered new prog rock through them and soon after we forgot about their new releases drawn into a world of virtuosity.