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Arena rock takes its sound from hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock. Arena rock is "heavy", but it is not as hard and is "more commercially oriented" than other subgenres of hard rock and heavy metal. Songs are often linked by concept albums, a trait inherited from progressive rock. Other features include "slick productions", an emphasis on the verses, and an "unnatural emphasis on big, anthemic hooks and choruses", the last trait "set[ting it] apart from its influences".

Arena rock is not only defined by its sound, it is also defined by its concerts. It "is music designed to be performed live in stadiums and arenas". Arena rock shows often feature "smoke machines, laser light spectaculars, two-story mega-amps, and JumboTron video screens", as well as "guitar pyrotechnics". .

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