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Review series: "Contagion"

Started by PH, Mon, 2011-11-21, 06:29:20

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Hello all!

You have entered the fifth part in the review series! ;D Time to listen to "Contagion" this week!

If you're just jumping in, and have no idea of what I'm talking about, I suggest you take a look at the "Songs From The Lions Cage" reviews thread.

24 October - 30 October: "Songs From The Lions Cage"
31 October - 6 November "Pride"
7 November - 13 November "The Visitor"
14 November - 20 November "Immortal?"
21 November - 27 November "Contagion"
28 November - 4 December "Pepper's Ghost"
5 December - 11 December "The Seventh Degree Of Seperation"


From today (21 November) till Sunday (27 November) we will review Arena's much praised fifth studio album! Make it a good one!


Contagion is Arena's second concept album and my absolute favourite Arena album.

Again, many memories. This time it started, after some promising artwork teasers late 2001 and early 2002, with a trip to England together with fellow Cagers Marcel and Marcel, while the band is still working on the album. We're staying at Clive's place Shutteroaks and the first item of business is a listen of the rough Contagion demo, with vocals by John Mitchell. It's the first time Arena have made a full album demo before going into the studio, to get the structure of the album right before starting to record it. Mick warns us that it's a rough demo only and we don't hear all the "colours" and instruments that they know will be added, but nevertheless it's quite clear that Arena are making a stunning, classic album.

It gets even more exciting when we make a trip to producer Mike Stobbie's studio in London. Now we get to hear some real recordings, such as the vocals of Mea Culpa (I'm blown away and hooked on this song from the start, amazing performance by Rob) and the bass lines of Madness Lies (Wow!!! Ian, you rock!! He plays a Rickenbacker on Contagion by the way).

Later in 2002 Clive sends me the lyrics of the album and I get to interview him about the story. He explains it's based on a short story he has written, that he won't reveal yet but will be on the second EP, so that people can find their own meanings and interpretations first. It will fill in many gaps that are not explained by the lyrics.

Then, the album itself. It clicks easily having heard the demo a lot and some finished parts at Mike Stobbie's. It's an even more accomplished and mature album than The Visitor and again it's a journey, a great flow of music with recurring themes from start to finish. So many stellar moments and no weak ones. There's more material on the Contagious and Contagium EP's and although the (still unreleased) two disc version is really great, I think Arena made the right decision to restrict it to a single disc album. Double albums are just too long, you don't often find the time to listen to it from start to finish, a single disc keeps your attention better and there's no filler, no weak moments. So although they're all great, I prefer say Misplaced Childhood and Dark Side Of The Moon over The Lamb and The Wall.

All band members shine on Contagion, but Rob's vocals I want to mention specifically. Simply the best he has done with Arena, powerful, emotional and warm. The production and sound of the album are great and when you've finished listening you want to hear it all over again. The heavy, catchy opener Witch Hunt, the beautiful ballad Angel Falls, the soaring, thunderous Painted Man, the brilliant instrumental Madness Lies, the moody, shifting Spectre At The Feast, the subtle Never Ending Night interlude with its beautiful guitar solo, the unusual, powerful track Skin Game with its multivocal ending, the pumping and sinister Salamander with it's great chorus, another brilliant instrumental, On The Box, the dark tones of Tsunami, the marvellous ballad Bitter Harvest, the angelic prayer City Of Lanterns, yet another brilliant instrumental, Riding The Tide, the emotional Mea Culpa, the fast driving Cutting The Cards and the majestic, emotional finale Ascension.

What a stunning album. I have to put in on again right away.
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..


Nice review Erik! What a fantastic story there! I love it!
I'm not ready to write a review... Gotta find some time...


Thanks Paco! It was fun to write, looking back and reminiscing, great times!!
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..

Draco chimera

Don't have the time for a full review right now, but I'll write one by the end of the week - mentionning Contagium and Contagious too  ;)
Let your conscience decide !

Draco chimera

Ok, now I have time !  :P :P


So, the album begins with Witch Hunt. After the ambient noises of the first 49 seconds (very precisely  ;D), loud and heavy chords introduce us to the Contagion universe and set the darkness for this journey. Rob's vocals are very powerful, the lyrics rather pestimmistic. And here comes a killer solo by John Mitchell! What a great way to begin an album.  *horns*

We are given a small break with An Angels Falls. Beautiful lyrics call to us with a nice melody on piano.

Then, we have the excellent The Painted Man. The instrumental introduction reveals the main musical theme for the album and sound very powerful. We continue our journey further into doom, and Rob tells us of this strange man who knows the future with impressively dark vocals.

This Way Madness Lies makes a nice transition. We get a great piece of playing by John Mitchell, and also a great piece of bass thanks to Ian Salmon. The instrumental is a bit faster than previous songs, and has great rythm.

We go on with Spectre At The Feast, with awesome lyrics.
My rainbows turn to grey...
Hey, don't fall asleep,
Don't close your eyes, and drift away to some foreign land...

So beautiful ! And a frightening overdriven guitar. Are you so pure? We are put in doubt as Noah questions man's self-confidence.

Then comes Never Ending Night, with the piano theme of An Angel Falls, with a more pestimmistic touch maybe. The protagonist realizes his fault: we can hear II will never wipe the bloodstains from my hands instead of We will never...
I find it awesome to use a tune that was at the beginning to make a transition between two parts of the album. To me, the first part was real story-telling, whereas the part we are about to enter rather tell nightmares and visions of apocalypse.

Skin Game begins with frightening heavy guitar, and dark lyrics, whereas the second part goes on with lighter acoustic guitar. It's great to have a song with a non-linear scheme. Beautiful lyrics on this one, too, as the protagonist tells us of his living with such terrible secrets. I think of it as some kind of flashback, with the sentence "The problems of the world, are there for others to debate / I prefer to face my days alone explaining the guilt he bears; he tried to put behind his responsibilities, and we know he failed.

Salamander begins with a hyptnotic synth melody. Apocalypse burns the world, and it feels like we don't try to fight it. It was one of the songs I loved most when listening to the album for the first time.

I especially appreciate the fast rythm in the instrumental On the Box. When hearing this, I always imagine newspaper headlines, financial panic, politics trying to reassure the people that they have the situation in hands - the world facing imminent disaster. And then, with the final morse code, I imagine them all stopping whatever they were doing, freezing as they watch fate fall upon them.

Despite the fact that Tsunami is not the most appreciated song on the album, I still think it was needed. After the morse code of On the Box, we needed some apocalyptic tune, with a hypnotic bass line. I also think the structure fits the song title perfectly; when the music stops, and we only hear a choir in the background and a few bass note, we can feel the world holding its breath; and with the final glissendo between two chords on the guitar, we imagine well the waves coming up and down the shore after wasting everything on ther way. At least, that's my apporach of the song.  ;)

We return directly into the present time with Bitter Harvest - or Fallow Ground, though I think the first title fits better. After a great ballad intro, we travel around wasted cities, and watch as the world slowly gives up - while the protaginst keeps his faith. The lyrics are just so beautiful - Time may fly...

Don't have much to say about City of Lanterns, as it is quite short. a necessary transition, and a nice prayer.

Now, here comes Riding the Tide, with awesome synth from Clive Nolan!! Very melodic. To me the best instrumental on the album - if not the best in Arena's dicography. The main theme really gives hope. Can't find the words.  ;D

At first I wasn't quite into Mea Culpa. Found it a bit "too much". But I really appreciate it now, especially the final chorus and the lines But I can't help you...

Cutting the Cards is, once again, a killer song. After a very beautiful intro on folk guitar, we are taken away by the fast rythm and the addictive  guitar riff and anthemic chorus. Fantastic.

And we finish with Ascencion. A powerful song, with a feeling or redemption. Great lyrics, once again, and the best way to finish this album. Rob shines on the whole album, but this song is really the one when you appreciate his vocals the most.

To sum up, this album is absolutely fantastic. Very dark, but not denuded of hope. To me it is simply the best of Arena's discography.


Vanishing Act is a great instrumental. The main riff is addictive, and we get some really nice keyboards from Clive.
The Hour Glass is really frightening in ly opinion. The introduction makes me imagine deserted towns, with vegetation growing -well, a bit like NYC in "I am Legend". Great song, in my opinion.
Contagious uses riffs from the album, and feels very expeimental. I find it really cool, but it sounds more like a musical research, some kind of rough shape for the album. I understand why it was not on the album, but I do think it could fit on Contagion - The Max  :P :P :P. Very nice solos on it.
I spy is a nice song too. Not in the same way as most others, as it is much more optimistic. I really enjoy the keyboard theme that comes with the bridge.


On the Edge of Despair is a good piece of work. I like the way the song begins with dark tunes and then shows hope, in the music as well as the lyrics. The only reproach I could make is that I find the outro a bit too long.
The March of Time begins with an addictive guitar riff, which feels really frightening. I like that the lyrics connect to The Hour Glass, as both songs evoke time. Same thing as the previous song, the outro is a bit too extensive in my opinion.
And here comes Confrontation. A great instrumental, with very nice guitar. I love the mix of choirs, acoustic and electric guitars, and the almost tribal rythm in the intro. Awesome.  *horns*

A short word about the remixes: usually, I'm either very excited about remixes or just plain disappointed. I was kinda scared by the notion of remixing Arena. The special remixes on the EPs surprised me, as even if I didn't find them as good as the original songs, they remained enjoyable. Salamander is a bit long, but more ambitious than Witch Hunt. Those are fine remixes.
I also enjoyed the presence of special content on the EPs. Great idea. *horns*

About Live & Life, Caught In The Act and Radiance, I won't say much more (I already talked too much!) than this : those are great releaeses, and I couldn't be happier to have more Conatigon-related content available.  ;D

Woah. My longest post on the forum so far, I think!!  ;D ;D
Let your conscience decide !


Great review, Draco! Great to read and share our enthusiasm for Contagion, for me also the best album in the Arena discography!
We stare at our screens
All our lives
What a waste of eyes..


Fantastic review!!!

For me Contagion is not only the best Arena's's my favourite prog album ever!!
We have been chosen...


What can I say about this album what hasn't been said before? Indeed, it's my favourite album as well as you can see. It's one of the first albums I pack when going on holidays.
I like the versatility of this album. A cracking opening track with 'Witch Hunt', followed by a melodic 'An Angel Falls' with a beautiful guitar solo by JM himself. I just love the change over between the tracks, just brilliant. It's difficult to mention favourite songs, but with a knife on my throat: 'Whitch Hunt', 'Spectre at the Feast' and 'Ascension'. It really is one of my favourite prog albums ever!  *horns* 8)
'I will surrender my heart to the sky
Oh, our love doesn't end here, it lives forever on the wings of time'
Toto - Wings of time (Kingdom of Desire)


Quote from: Teunis on Wed, 2011-11-30, 20:26:58
'Witch Hunt' ... 'Whitch Hunt'

Which Hunt, Teunis ?  ;D

Yup, we seem to be quite a lot of Roomies who regard Contagion as the best Arena album, iac up to Seventh Degree .....  8)

So you've come of age
And so you want to meet God
Sure you can
He's right here next to me


My favourite Arena album and one of my all time favourite albums, not a sign of filler anywhere. Every note has it's place and it's place is to shine. Well, up until a couple of weeks ago anyway, but then this new album drops through the door and totally blows me away :)


Will get back on this one but the first time I listened to this album I was disappointed.
I really didn't understand the album, thought it was too mixed-up.
But after a while I had to reverse my opinion when it suddenly clicked.
It took a while, but still. ...
Cause of Injury: Lack of Adhesive Ducks.