Arena - Songs From the Lion's Cage

Year of Release: 1995
Label: Verglas
Catalog Number: VGCD001
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:22:00

Arena were put together by ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer and the versatile and much travelled Pendragon keyboard maestro Clive Nolan. They teamed up with Cliff Orsi ex-Sleepwalker on bass guitar, Keith More, ex-Asia, on guitars and the equally much travelled John Carson on vocals. Songs From The Lion's Cage is the band's highly successful debut album which was released in 1995. They have since parted company with Cliff, Keith and John, and recorded follow up Pride in 1997. Later that year after a successful world tour, they also released the live album entitled Welcome To The Stage. Songs From The Lion's Cage also includes a guest appearance from Steve Rothery of Marillion as well as a "crowd" consisting of John, Cliff and Clive with Tracy Hitchings, Tosh McMann, Martin Albreing and Marc van Dongen. The album was engineered by Clive and mixed at the aptly named Arena Studios by Teo Miller.

The album opens with the powerful "Out Of The Wilderness." This is a great up-beat track to open an album with Keith's soaring guitars setting the scene for the album. There are no half measure here. John's vocals are well suited for the songs, and the whole things really kicks off on a high note. Interspersed between the five "full" tracks are four fillers, bridges, or whatever; four sections which bearing little resemblance to each other, other than their shared titles "Crying For Help" (parts I to IV). Part One links to another epic track "Valley Of The Kings." On any other album, this would get the vote for track of the album. It towers over the listener like the Egyptians pyramids, and has an awful - as in "full of awe" ambience to it. And it has some great lyrics too from the powerful "Keeping the faith, too much at stake, do what the Gods say," as the Pharaoh builds his tomb to the second section "jewels lie thick as far as the eye can barely see." One cool track.

After "Crying For Help II" we are moved on to through history a few hundred years to "Jericho." This is even better than "Valley." Some nice harmonies here, as John shows his mellow side, but once we get into the song you see his aggressive raw side with some really superbly sung lyrics as the end. The final chants of "Jericho - I'll bring those walls right down on you!" leave you breathless and wanting more ... and we are only half way through the album! "Crying For Help III" leads us into "Midas Vision." Actually by now, the bridges are getting to be the same length as the tracks. "Midas Vision" is the shortest of the "full" tracks and probably the weakest - but again, it would probably shine on any other album. John manages to clutch at the lyrics with pain and anguish - and this sets the scene nicely for the final track.

Before then we have "Crying For Help IV" which includes some nice guitarwork from Steve Rothery, but all that is left behind when we launch into "Solomon." I often bandy around the word "epic" - indeed anything over ten minutes slots into the epic category usually; however here we have a song which really deserves the title. This is more, a magus opus, or as our American cousins might say - A mutha for a track! Almost fifteen minutes of superb prog rock to rival anything Marillion, Genesis, Floyd or Genesis produced at their peak. This is the title track around which the band's name and the album's name revolve. And the last section is one of those pieces that will get the hairs raising on my neck every time. I am reminded of the section from Marillion's track "Script For A Jester's Tear" - the section that opens "The fool escaped from Paradise..." "Solomon" has the same ambience to that. The lyrics:"Throw away my life in the fireplace with the old love letters and the Nottingham laces; trying to forget the warm embraces, video suppers and funny faces. Does it matter to you?" leaves me with a lump in the throat. It may not sound much written down, but I advise you to grab a listen to the pain and power, to the anguish and aggression in this song. Maybe having broken-heart memories of my time in Nottingham may have something to do with that of course - but that was years ago...

What can I say about this album? This, along with Galahad's Nothing Is Written, was what brought me back into the fold after too many years in the prog wilderness. Listening to this album revived all those memories of great prog albums of the Eighties - and as a result it is probably responsible for the launch of Alternate View. I will happily ignore all those people who tell me that there is nothing new here, that Arena have not progressed anywhere since Marillion released Jester's Tear. But with great songs like this, who cares. And I am not the only person to think so; Songs From The Lion's Cage was the Classic Rock Society's Album of the Year in 1995. If so-called "neo-prog" is your thing, then this is album is an essential purchase. Stop reading this review, and go out and buy it now.

This review courtesy of Frank Blades and Alternate View ... an ezine that has disappeared sadly (as of August 2005) - ed

Out Of The Wilderness (8:02) / Crying For Help I (1:22) / Valley Of The Kings (10:10) / Crying For Help II (3:08) / Jericho (6:50) / Crying For Help III (4:24) / Midas Vision (4:36) / Crying For Help IV (5:05) / Solomon (14:37)

John Carson - vocals and backing vocals
Keith More - guitars
Clive Nolan - keyboards and backing vocals
Cliff Orsi - bass and backing vocals
Mick Pointer - drums
Steve Rothery - guitar (8)
Tracy Hitchings, Tosh McMann, Martin Albering, and Marc Van Dongen - backing vocals

Songs From The Lion's Cage (1995)
Pride (1996)
The Edits (1996, OOP)
Welcome To The Stage (1997)
The Cry (EP, 1997)
The Visitor (1998)
The Visitor - Revisited (1999) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Immortal? (2000)
Unlocking The Cage - 1995-2000 (2001) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Breakfast In Biarritz (2001)
Contagion (2003)
Radiance (2003) (fan club only release)
Live & Life (2004) (box set)
Pepper's Ghost (2005)
Ten Years On (2006)
The Seventh Degree Of Separation (2011)
Live 2011/12 Tour (2012)
Arena XX (2016)
Contagion Max (reissue of Contagion) (2014)
The Unquiet Sky (2015)
The Visitor - 20th Anniversary Remastered Edition (2018)
Double Vision (2018)

Caught In The Act (DVD) (2003)
Smoke And Mirrors (DVD) (2006)
Rapture (DVD) (2013)
Arena XX (DVD) (2016)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Frank Blades

Artist website:
Hits: 2190
Language: english


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