Pallas – The Messenger (2023)
Is Pallas one of my favourite bands? Yes. Am I happy that Alan Reed is back as a singer? Yes, but I didn't think Paul Mackie was bad either. And the key question, is The Messenger the best thing these Scots have ever made? Hell yeaaaah!
Where I really like the previous album, Wearewhoweare (2014), The Messenger is a step up in quality. Why is that? Oops, that's quite difficult to explain, because we already knew that all the guys of Pallas can play very well, so that is nothing new. I have often seen them live and they never disappointed. They are a four piece band now and as far as I can see there is no drummer mentioned in the booklet. So it seems the drums have been programmed but that has been done so well by Niall and Ronnie that one can hardly hear it. Only a minor detail but still worth knowing.
I consider Pallas to be one of the co-founders of what we now call neoprog. Together with Marillion, Twelfth Night, and IQ, the band rose at a time when punk was in its heyday. I experienced this first hand because my fellow student and roommate was, and is, an avid lover of ultra short and hard songs with few notes and rough lyrics. On Mondays we always went to Hemmes (recordshop) in Groningen, scored a record and then went home, both of us had our stereo set on ten and we blew away. His albums had 28 songs on them and mine 4. Good times for sure. Am I digressing? Of course, but especially The Sentinel (1984) was regularly on the turntable. And this is still one of the better Pallas albums.
There is a long time between the last album and The Messenger and maybe that's why all six compositions sound so well thought out and well worked out. But there is also a kind of mysterious atmosphere above all the tracks of which only The Great Attractor fascinates me a little less and that may be because this is a somewhat shorter and more straight forward song. The other tracks are all of a respectable length with plenty of room for the keys but also the necessary guitar work. Keyboardist Ronnie Brown is not so much a dazzling soloist but provides a heavy and dark background with many overlapping parts and that fits with the sometimes grim lyrics that deal with the current state of affairs in the world, and admittedly it is not that good in some places.
Alan Reed's vocals are better than ever, or more accurately said, different and (even) more to my taste. Where in the past he sometimes sounded a bit muffled, his vocal contributions come out very clearly and bright.
Opener Sign of the Times causes an instant high with a lot of variation in tempo and intensity. One beautiful melody follows the other with of course a very nice guitar solo by Niall Mathewson. What is striking is that the whole album is clearly a bit less heavy than, for example, XXV (2011) and for me that is an improvement. More dynamic, intense and more attention to detail. This is definitely going to be one of my favourite Pallas songs.
After the already mentioned The Great Attractor follows Fever Pitch and that is also a wonderful song in the new(ish) style but with a recognizable Pallas signature. It's a bit of a threatning song in which you constantly have the feeling that they are working towards a climax and then return to the basics. That climax does come in the end, but in a very controlled way. The central theme is actually the state of the world and the political choices and consequences that arise from it.
The ever-roaring bass of Greame Murray is really a typical element within the music of Pallas and he is also responsible for many of the compositions and sings here and there and he does that very well too.
Heavy Air is a somewhat slower song with a lot of keys and a beautiful singing Reed who does just enough to let the song breathe. Hey, would that be what they mean by Air? For me, and other guitar lovers, it's a long wait for the solo but when it comes towards the end it's really enjoyable. A very oppressive song with a dark feel. Another favourite. (again)
The Nine is another exciting song with spicy parts and angular rhythms, but also very subdued passages with again those fine melodies and beautiful guitar work. The drums (programmed) can be heard emphatically and the interplay with Murray is wonderful. Often the Taurus bass pedals provide that nice and heavy underlayer, almost a must for me.
The closing track is the title piece and with more than thirteen minutes this is the longest piece of the album and also a kind of crowning piece. Again there is this ominous atmosphere with a text that you could see as a kind of warning to humanity. As the song progresses the tone becomes more open and friendly and as befits a complete prog song, the finale is really beautiful. Mathewson's guitar solos are always a bit different and don’t follow the obvious path, but they fit so well within the music that really has its own identity. Can we speak of Pallas 2.0?
An album like this deserves complementary artwork and even though the CD isn't here yet, a lot is included with the download I used for this review. Normally I don't do that, but since the official release date is December 15th of this year, I think The Messenger absolutely belongs in my annual list and I couldn't wait for the CD that will probably not be here before next year. Very unfortunate but alas. Back to the artwork, that's really fantastic. It will probably be a combination of A.I. and creativity, but that doesn't matter to me. For me the most beautiful artwork of this year and a good reason to (also) order the extensive mediabook.
At the end of a musically fantastic 2023, my annual list will be shaken up once more and that means that The Messenger impresses me a lot and will certainly please others as well. Pallas is still here and better than ever!