The Scottish band, armed with a new singer,
takes care of unfinished business – literally, and thematically.
KEITH A. GORDON
Pallas was part of an early-1980s progressive rock revival that took place in
the United Kingdom. Along with such respected, and sometimes commercially
successful neo-prog outfits as Marillion and IQ, Pallas took its musical cues
from such 1970s-era prog-rock pioneers as King Crimson, Genesis, and Pink
Floyd, among others. Signed on the strength of their 1981 live EP to EMI
Records’ Harvest imprint as a replacement for the recently-departed Floyd, the
band was sent to Atlanta to record their 1984 debut album The Sentinel with prog-star producer Eddy Offord (Yes, ELP).
thing happened between Atlanta and London, however, as Pallas returned to England
and EMI to find that the executive team that had signed them to the label had
been sacked, replaced with suits that had absolutely nothing invested in the
band. While Pallas was unhappy with Offord’s original (and, says the band,
rushed) production, they remixed the album themselves. Unimpressed by the
band’s conceptual Cold War themes offered up as a metaphorical Atlantean myth,
the label demanded that they add a couple of commercial songs to the tracklist,
a move which Pallas believed changed the musical flow and lyrical message of
would deliver a follow-up to The Sentinel in 1986’s The Wedge, recorded with
new singer Alan Reed. A similar sort of conceptual song-cycle as their debut,
the head of EMI hated the album, and chastised the band for not delivering a
“single” on The Wedge,
although Pallas was obviously not a singles-oriented type outfit. The band’s
management fought with EMI to gain their release to sign with Polygram, who
were then interested in Pallas.
let The Wedge languish on the shelves
with little or no promotion or support, Pallas was finally released from the
record contract to re-start their career with another label. Misfortune again
befell the band, however, as the new chief suit at Polygram was the same unimpressed
dink executive from EMI that didn’t understand the band in the first place.
Crushed by Polygram’s refusal to sign the band (the contracts literally having
already been drafted), the members of Pallas drifted into day jobs and didn’t
record another lick of music together for 13 years, reuniting for 1999’s
acclaimed Beat The Drum album. Pallas
has released a handful of well-received recordings since, earning the band a respected
place among the current crop of prog-rock talents.
to 2011, and Pallas has decided to take care of some unfinished business. Chafing,
perhaps, over the lack of creative control they had over The Sentinel, and ultimately unhappy with the fate of the now-considered-classic
neo-prog album, Pallas decided to record a sort of “sequel” to their
misunderstood debut album some quarter-century later. The result is XXV (Mascot Records; www.mascotrecords.com), a continuation
of the band’s lyrical Atlantean myth combined with music far more complex,
muscular and, in many instances, heavier than they could have collectively
created in 1984.
ditched long-time frontman Reed for XXV,
replacing the vocalist with veteran singer Paul Mackie. Set 25,000 years in the
future from the tale presented on The
Sentinel, the original album’s protagonist returns to Atlantis to discover
a misguided society that prizes technology and its shallow accomplishments over
morality and humanity. The story unfolds on XXV in glorious detail, the uneasy metaphor easily transferrable to the troubled
economic powers of today’s spinning globe.
music that will drag the listener into XXV,
however, the band creating a breathtaking blend of progressive rock and metal,
light and heavy, night and day, sometimes within the breadth of a single track.
The album-opening “Falling Down” is an amalgam that mixes beefy
guitar riffs with tortured, squealing synthesizers, soaring vocals and thick,
multi-layered instrumentation. “Crash And Burn” starts out quiet,
dark, and moodily atmospheric before blasting off into the stratosphere. Ronnie
Brown’s frenetic, Keith Emerson-styled keyboards find a counterpoint in Niall
Mathewson’s wiry fretwork, Mackie’s vocals rising above the fray while band
founder bassist Graeme Murray and drummer Colin Fraser grind out a
low-register, bottom-heavy background rhythm.
XXV really hits its stride with the dark
“Something In The Deep,” however, the opening intro’s otherworldly
sounds evolving into a druggy, spaced-out mindscape not unlike Pink Floyd’s
best Dark Side of the Moon moments.
Unlike Floyd, however, Pallas imbues the song with an underlying malevolence, menacing
strings kicking in around the five-and-a-half minute mark to play at jagged
cross-purpose with the swelling orchestration before abruptly cutting out and
leading into “Monster.”
radio-ready hit (if it were still 1973 and the FM dial hadn’t already been
castrated by corporate rock), “Monster” offers up one of Mackie’s
most nuanced and varied vocal performances, Pallas pulling out the stops to
provide a melodic but chaotic mix of clashing rhythms, razor-sharp guitars, and
stunning synthesizers. Mathewson’s massive riff here alone would fuel the
nightmares of a dozen lesser guitarists, but it’s his imaginative solos that
propel the song to a higher level.
XXV continues to spin off into more
fantastical worlds, from the epic grandeur of “The Alien Messiah,”
with its power-metal sheen and Queensryche shine, to the semi-thrashy
doom-stomp of “Young God,” Mackie’s over-the-top vocals jousting with
the likes of Dio or Kotipelto, emerging above the syncopated, smothering
instrumentation like a phoenix from the ashes. “Sacrifice” is a
hard-rock delight, Mathewson’s riffs chomping on bones like a mad carnivore, the
band’s oppressive rhythms blanketing the mix, constructed of brilliant nuance
and imagination. The band returns to Floydian turf with the bewitching
“Violet Sky,” Mackie’s vocals caressing the lyrics as the band
returns a muted, elegant soundtrack that retains the album’s innate danger
without clubbing the listener over the head.
With XXV, Pallas has delivered a landmark
album for both the band and the progressive rock genre. Evening the score for
what had transpired before, given creative control and the best in modern
recording technology, Pallas has created a work of stunning beauty and
darkness. Often challenging but never dull, the cacophony and chaos of XXV hides a glimmer of hope beneath its
unsettling lyrical message.