CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS PROG ISSUE 14 REVIEW BY NICK SHILTON
REPRODUCED BY KIND PERMISSION
Over a quarter of a century has elapsed since the 1984 release of seminal Pallas album The Sentinel.
The Scottish proggers were among British prog's nearly men in the 1980s. While their EMI labelmates Marillion rose (at least briefly) to the dizzy heights of hit singles and mainstream approbation: by the late 1980s Pallas had slunk back to Aberdeen, having failed to fulfil their potential.
Following a lengthy hiatus, Pallas returned tentatively to action with 1998's Beat The Drum. Since then they've released a couple of solid albums in 2001's The Cross & The Crucible and 2005's The Dreams Of Men. But until now The Sentinel has indubitably marked Pallas's finest hour. And hence, not least given its billing as The Sentinel Part 2, XXV arrives burdened with heavy expectations.
But let's deal with the elephant in the room first. XXV is the first Pallas album since 1986's The Wedge not to feature singer Alan Reed. Of course, Reed didn't feature on The Sentinel either, which represented the swansong of Euan Lowson. But in the interim Reed has become almost synonymous with Pallas.
Earlier this year, to his considerable consternation, Reed found himself summarily ejected from the band, with his former bandmates intimating that the vocalist had become insufficiently committed to the band. Highly charged press releases aside, Reed's replacement Paul Mackie has a challenge on his hands alongside Pallas stalwarts guitarist Niall Mathewson, bassist Graeme Murray, keyboardist Ronnie Brown and drummer Colin Fraser.
Aside from its lavish, vivid artwork, the sheer quality of XXV is immediately striking. Perhaps against the odds, but rather like fellow 80s prog survivors IQ with Frequency, with XXV Pallas have possibly released the best album of their career.
From opener Falling Down to the second part of the title track subtitled The Unmakers Awake which closes XXV, the consistency of both the writing and the performances are startling.
Pallas have raised their musical game several notches. The atmospherics that herald Falling Down imbue XXV with a real sense of occasion before giving way to some serious heads down riffing, a thunderous symphonic section and a keyboard solo that suggests where Emerson Lake & Palmer might have headed this decade.
While plenty of other tracks such as the splendid Crash & Burn maintain the momentum, powered along by Murray's signature bass lines, XXV is not without its more restrained moments either. In particular, the ominous Something In The Deep provides some respite from an
otherwise cacophonous album.
Mackie comes through XXV robustly. Although not instantly impressing fully on Falling Down, his more mainstream rock vocals give the likes of Crash & Burn or the excellent Monster, both of which are blessed with two of the immediate choruses in the recent Pallas canon, a real, vital punch.
Following Inside Out's apparent retrenchment, XXV is Pallas's first release for new label Mascot and opens a new era for the band in splendid style. In short XXV is a triumph and an immediate early contender for prog album of the year.