ARENA – Live & Life

ARENA - Live & Life


Release date: November 1, 2004

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Live albums seem to be the trend among several bands as this year is drawing to an end. Arena recorded their Live & Life album during their 2003 Contagion tour, so the material is not exactly fresh. However, they are serving up a solid album, proving their well-acclaimed position in modern Progressive Rock. Furthermore, this is a double CD: The first CD is entirely devoted to the Contagion album, while second CD nicely covers the rest of their extensive recording career.

The sound quality of this pack is remarkable. It is certainly very live, but also surprisingly clear and dynamic. All this adds a distinct vitality to the album; a vitality which is absolutely crucial to make it a live album worth remembering. Talking about production, there are a few catches, too. One is the slightly exaggerated echo on vocals. Another is the occasional pompous sound of the keyboards — it gets smeared all over, kind of like looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Mona Lisa” through a Vaseline coated lens.

Arena has been through a handful of line up changes since they formed in 1995. The most noticeable changes have probably been on vocals. Present singer Rob Sowden is the third in line, and that’s probably why the first CD sounds better that the second, since that one covers “his” material. He sure does a good job with the back catalogue, too, but fails to reach successfully into the same register as of his predecessor Paul Wrighton (especially). This is most apparent in the classic “Solomon,” where he cracks into falsetto with a rather embarrassing outcome. Undoubtedly, Sowden’s comfort zones are in the mid and lower registers.

As far as the other members are concerned, they all perform with bravour! Perhaps the most impressive jobs are carried out by drummer Mick Pointer and bass player Ian Salmon — simply put, they lift the up-tempo songs into the freaking sky! Listen to “This Way Madness Lies” or “Riding The Tide” and you’ll see for yourself. In fact, Arena is generally better when they speed up a little, allowing the groovy collaboration between drums and bass to bring the music up and forward, lifting the audience with them up where dragons soar the misty skies.

Still, they can spellbind you even when keeping tempo and level down, much thanks to forming member Clive Nolan on keyboards. In spite of the overproduced keyboard sound, his effort is essential to majority of the songs as well as the band’s fairly unique sound.

Hats off also to guitarist John Mitchell! His solo effort in “Serenity” is admirable and his all over backing capabilities are rich and powerful. Pity, however, that the music loses some of it’s pace and impact whenever he drops his power chords in favor of a solo. It’s a bit strange that Arena haven’t figured out a way to make their way around the dilemma of just one guitarist when both backing and solo guitar work is required. Maybe they should call that trio over in Canada and ask for a trick or two? Anyway, this is knit-picking.

Live & Life is a wrap. Yes, there are snags, but it sounds good and the band delivers a good selection of songs with all the soul needed. It’s an album which might need some time to grow on you (unless you’re a devoted fan…), but the reward in the end is a truly enjoyable good two hours of music, likely to be played again and again…


  • Frode Leirvik

    Frode was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Norway. His headbanging experience started when his brother-in-law gave him Deep Purple’s Fireball at the age of ten. Since then, he has also been a fan of and active in several other musical genres, resulting in a deep and profound interest in music. Some of his favorites, among all of those who have somehow managed to tap into the universal force of Progressive Music are (in no particular order): Thule, Dream Theater, King Crimson,Pink Floyd, Rush, Spock’s Beard, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman, Ekseption, Focus, The Beatles, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa.

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