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Friday, July 22, 2011

Pallas – ‘XXV’ album review

Pallas – ‘XXV’ album review
Released on : Music Theories Recordings (Through Mascot).
Release date: Available now.

So, to many reading here, this may be a surprise to you seeing me covering a review of an album by a Prog rock band!
Pallas is actually a band whose first album, 'The Sentinel' that was released in '84, appealed to me in a big way. The band came out amidst a few other UK bands of significant note at the time, such Pendragon, Twelfth Night, I.Q. and yes - No, not Yes! - Marillion.
Editor's Note: Prog rock fans, yes, I know there were others, but these five acts, I remember seeing them all back at the time!

I don't know what it was that grabbed me, but it was different and I thought that was an excellent release.
When two years later they released 'The Wedge,' I don't what it was but the appeal for me was just ..., not the same.
For whatever reason, thereafter, the band dropped off my 'interest' radar and now look, here we are it's 2011 and the band is about the release it's sixth album!

Yes, surprising to me too that after twenty five years have passed, there has not been more output from the band ... Let's see, only three albums in twenty five years after two were released with two years of each other ... There's progression for you! Cough, cough!
No seriously, shame on me as not so long after 'The Wedge' they split or went on hiatus until 1999 and since then it's been a sparse forward move from the band or it's remaining original members.

So, having the title 'XXV' has more meaning - certainly - to me now, without doubt but what does it bring and why should I choose to now review a Pallas album? What drove it, right?

Well, talk of it being the sequel to 'The Sentinel' certainly had me curious as well as the fact that this release came through part of the Mascot Records group, the label that signs many of the musician's musician type act, was very encouraging.
Original members here are bassist / vocalist Graeme Murray, keyboard genius Ronnie Brown and guitarist Niall Mathewson, augmented by drummer Colin Fraser and newest member Paul Mackie on vocals.

‘Falling Down’ opens the album and it starts with a radio broadcast, some strong keyboard notes and then ‘Go!’ The band joins in and in comes a huge sound, very reminiscent of hearing ‘The Sentinel’ for the first time, massive sound!

It’s funny that since the first album was released, I’ve come to listen to a lot of other prog kind of stuff and another band that I find very similar in styles to Pallas is Canadians Saga. Why do I mention Saga?
Well, I know a lot of my readers are US / Canadian based, so in trying to give some folks over here a hint into Pallas’ sound, I felt Saga is possibly as close a reference that people could relate to. I would also add without a doubt though, the big UK type prog style is present here overall in a big way.
I am also reminded here in places of the likes of Yes, Steve Hackett and even Marillion too.
‘Falling Down’ clocking in at around seven and a half minutes is its own epic! The song blends intricate detail, great melodies, strong choruses too, but never loses sight of it prog origins. Clever, twisting and brilliant all at once!

With ‘Crash and Burn’ next, this one starts with some radio communication and then gets into some seriously heavy prog sounds, signature time changes, push power chords, between keyboards and guitars and loads of flashy solo work too!
This one is seriously busy!
An atmospheric swirling keyboard intro and haunting vocal is the basis to ‘Somewhere in the Deep’ that basically just works around ‘just’ that.
Now the dark ‘Monster’ next, is brilliant and I love it! Starting with someone trying to tune in a radio station and again some atmospheric keyboards building up and then the band kicks in with a steady yet held back groove and yet it’s edgy and yes, dark!
It is kind of moody, it really is, but there’s a really nice tasteful guitar solo from Niall Mathewson.
‘The Alien Messiah’ is a multi-layered piece, in true prog epic style and the track as the rest of the album, focuses around the concept that drives the album. It’s quite heavy stuff initially where at times it’s almost E.L.P. like and some of the guitar work is melodic yet really reaching … Then it gets back into one of the albums sporadic spoken sections, backed by accented stabs from the band before getting back into some seriously heavy and dark moments musically again.

‘XXV Part 1 (Twenty Five Good Honest Men)’ is next with the keys leading in haunting style once more, the spoken word again, before the band and lead vocalist Paul Mackie joins in with the chorus and then it’s a mid-paced piece with the verses presented in a semi-spoken manner and then the choruses a little larger, but pretty steady.
‘Young God’ is a bit of a deep number that initially doesn’t do much for me and then Niall Mathewson’s guitar solo hits and it’s great, kind of rescues the track somewhat, then once it’s back to the song itself, kind of loses it again but then Ronnie Brown pulls out an excellent solo too before the track finishes.
Kind of a weird one, as both guitar and keys solos I loved, but not so much the rest of this song.
No doubt prog fans will love it! LOL!

The next track ‘Sacrifice’ really redeems the band after the last track in my mind and it kicks in with a great rocking guitar riff and chord structure, but then it takes things down a little and up again in the verses. Heck there’s even a little harmony guitar part before the solo and then that big riff kicks in again and the track rocks out at the end, yeah!!! Great!
‘Blackwood’ is simply a short – two minute - string driven, instrumental interlude that kind of merges into the haunting, ballad like ‘Violet Sky’ that is really ..., simply ..., just that.

The final closing epic that is ‘XXV Part 2 (The Unmakers Awake)’ starts gently and slow and then grow into a huge beast before easing back into some choral voices and it fades out, finishing with some radio static to indicate, there’s nothing left, as the graphics in the album notes describe the end of everything …

So there you have it, big concept piece that could possibly take some growing on some people, but if you’re a prog fan and indeed a Pallas fan from the early days, then you should enjoy this. Not exactly my bag but I enjoyed a lot of this, oh and look for the edition with the bonus live DVD, as the band performs a short, but good set at Loreley, well there’s just four tracks on it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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