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Arena - "Contagion"
Verglas 2003

Ouch, this rocks! Opening "crunchy" sounding guitar riffing drive is not a common thing to expect from Arena. This is an amazing record with typical island production. Guys did it in three different studios. A record that is written for Rob Swoden's singing style. He's at home here. He's colorful approach takes the dynamics inside the songs on a higher level. He constantly raises the dramatic climax (Mea Culpa, Ascension) by adapting to the themes and poetry inside the songs. Mitchell's guitar really shreds this time, more than ever. Result is different (the heaviest so far), but still pure Arena album. Guitar accompanied with Nolan's massive keyboard lines contributes to a great atmosphere through entire record (for example Skin Game or Fallow Ground). This album searches for an absolute freedom, just letting a pure feeling inside music to express. The band puts some dramatic conclusions that are sending shivers down the spine. Full of unpredictable motive changes and great crossing fire between guitar and keyboards with some typical Arena double attacks (Riding the Tide). With very alive melodic thick bass line, that's spicing things up. Bass gives a feeling of being a great counter-weight to keyboards especially on parts where keys carries the main melody themes (for example in Spectre at the Feast).

"Contagion" is conceptual album. All things must be renewed. Infected by virus of social decay we're living death. Beneath clouds of a cover artwork you can see the ruins (it looks like Brooklyn's bridge) that we have left behind. The man faced by all his sins tries to step back into the light. He's one of many in the crowd. But can he kill his hate and stop to spread the disease that grows inside his hatred-poisoned heart? Is he capable of loving and learning to fly once again (Ascension)? Now I am really asking myself if we are finally reaching the critical mass, 'cause this revealing is happening for more than thirty-five years now. Here lies the key to ascension!

Compositions are still compact and themes are not complex. Due to the fact that there are so many diverse motive changes, everything is fluidly put together and easy to eat and digest. Pure feeling overrules the musical school knowledge. That's what I'm missing many times at U.S. prog acts. The band takes with "Contagion" another evolutionary step forward! As I mentioned, refreshing and different but still capturing all band's trademarks! Just marvelous!

Author:   Aleš

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