This debut album by Arena feels like an important progressive rock release. Arena’s keyboard player Clive Nolan is probably best known as being a longtime member of Pendragon and the drummer, Mick Pointer was part of the original Marillion line-up.
The lengthy album opener, ‘Out of the Wilderness’ is a good indication of Arena’s musical ability. At over ten minutes, ‘Valley of the Kings’ follows a similar neo-progressive musical path and has a mid-section which sounds like Marillion’s ‘Forgotten Sons’. As a consequence, vocalist John Carson tries his best to sound like Fish. Sadly, this is the album’s main deficiency: Mick Pointer seems intent on capturing his former glories and as a result, all of the best bits sound like they’ve been all but plagiarized from ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’.
The conceptual ‘Crying For Help’ could’ve provided the band with an interesting centrepiece. Unfortunately, it’s nearly all instrumental keyboard work and when added together, its four parts total nearly fifteen minutes and very little of it holds the attention. The only part of ‘Crying For Help’ which shows any real promise is the final part which features a guest solo from Marillion’s Steve Rothery. But, again, on the down side, the track closes with a ringing telephone and a message saying “…this is the problem line.” Sound familiar?
On the whole, ‘Songs From The Lions Cage’ lacks originality and is only worth a listen if you’re a diehard Marillion fan. Otherwise…
Originally written for Fastlane magazine, 1994