Pallas a band from Scotland (Aberdeen) exists for more than 25 years and have released this year their fifth album "The cross & the crucible". Their first EP album "Arrive alive" was published in the year 1981. But it was their second work that got the attention of the Sympho world (the term progressive didn't exist yet in those golden years). "The sentinel" became a real classic in 1984. They had a record deal with the big record company EMI and the album, which was packed in a beautiful Roger Dean alike cover of Patrick Woodroofe, was produced by Eddie Offord (Yes). They played the heavier epic sympho of those days. In the Netherlands a fanatic and loyal fan base followed them. I remember those heavy concerts in those small places. They had several difficult periods in their career. The singer Euan Lowson left the band and was replaced by Alan Reed. They managed to record another EP called "Knightmoves" and a second album "The wedge" (1986) for EMI before the company broke with the band. I remember those days where it was very difficult to get hold of a copy of an album of the band. The fantastic epic concept album "The sentinel" and the beautiful "Knightmoves" became collector's items for many years. In their career is a gap from 1986 till 1999. They managed to give a concert now and then but where never able to record that long awaited third album. When nobody believed it anymore they returned in the year 1999 with the album "Beat the drum" which got positive reviews. I was still longing for that epic sound of the band in the early days (bombastic sympho). So I was very curious to hear the new concept album called "The cross & the crucible".
The line up is as follows:
Alan Reed - vocals; Niall Matthewson - guitars; Graeme Murray - bass; Ronnie Brown - keyboards and Colin Fraser - drums.
It's very pretentious to make a concept album about the history of mankind. Alan Reed says:
"We've always been interested in the contradictions of the human individual - on the one hand there's the potential to achieve wonderful, amazing things and on the other people are capable of unbelievable cruelty."
The first track "The big bang" (3:08) is a showcase of the great keyboard player Ronnie Brown with only the quiet vocals of Alan Reed. Ronnie Brown must be the keyboard player of Pallas. When he was gone, there was something missing. The man is brilliant, a magician with his keyboards. He creates the most beautiful atmospheres and melodies. The piece seamless goes into the title track "The cross & the crucible" (9:17). The first thing I notice is the return of that old epic and bombastic sound of the "The Sentinel" days. After the beautiful keyboard intro the band starts up-tempo with melodic guitar pieces, bombastic keyboards and a pumping rhythms section. But it slows down for the vocal part in which Alan sings slowly towards the refrain where the band joins again at full power. There is a lot of variation in this composition, religious atmospheres by Ronnie and a beautiful guitar solo of Niall in the end. A highlight right at the start of this album. Next is "For the greater glory" (7:37). It is about warfare and the madness of it and is a very actual issue in those days. It is again an up-tempo and rocky piece but in the end there is again a very melodic guitar piece. "Whose to blame" (4:45) opens with acoustic guitar and is more a ballad with catchy refrain. After this short song we get "The blinding darkness" (6:41) which opens with keyboard atmospheres of Ronnie. The song sounds simple in the vocal refrain, but there is a lot of variation and many atmospheres. It is a good composition. The acoustic guitar opens the next track "Towers of Babble" (8:11) but after the intro the song develop into a real Pallas track with bombastic ending. The tension is slowly building up, a lot of keyboards and even a church organ appears at some point. After this heavy weight again a slow ballad "Generations" (5:21) this time sung by Graeme Murray. Very well done Graeme. A nice melodic guitar solo ends this piece. Then the longest track of this album "Midas touch" (11:16) which starts with a narration. The first section is up-tempo and after that there is a slow vocal section. Right after that the bands go at full power with melodic guitar and keyboard solos. The piece is getting bombastic in the end and I hear some epic "The Sentinel" and Yes influences. Then a beautiful piano and keyboard section to close this highlight. The last track is called "Celebration!" (7:24), and that is exactly how it sounds. For the last time we can enjoy the melodic guitars and beautiful keyboard sounds joined by the steady rhythm section. The new drummer Colin Fraser fits perfectly in the band. In the bombastic end we hear again church organ and I think I even hear the tubular bells ringing.
I can only conclude to say that Pallas is definitely back. And with the modern technique of nowadays they sound better than ever. I think this is the best album they made ever. And if one band deserves some success with an album it is Pallas, they had such difficulties in the past to play and get their music released. Everyone who has "The Sentinel" in their collection must buy this "The cross & the crucible" at once! There is also a limited version of this album with more pictures and a video footage. It was a pleasure for me to write a review about one of those "old" bands I followed for years.