In the seemingly revolving door of original neo-prog bands, namely Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, and Pallas (you can throw in Arena as a later add-on), releasing great albums and reclaiming some illusory throne, the competition is quite stiff as each tries to secure its place again. Well Pallas has certainly the perfect album to challenge all comers, including the newer breed like Galahad, Sylvan, Mystery, Drifting Sun, and hundreds more. “The Messenger” arrives just before Santa Claus it seems, as a rather unexpected gift for fans of melodic symphonic prog, perhaps too late to place very high on the 2023 charts but certainly will lead the charge into 2024! This veteran Scottish band began with a killer debut “The Sentinel” back in 1984 (Hello, George!) and has released a constant steam of enjoyable albums, some genuinely excellent like “The Dreams of Men” (2005) and 2014’s “Wearewhoweare”. Alan Reed is back on the microphone and the core trio of Graeme Murray, Niall Matthewson, and Ronnie Brown take care of the instrumental design, with the latter two handling the percussion programming. Fifty minutes of inspired modern prog, superb production values, 6 titillating tracks and adorned by one of the most pleasing covers in many a decade.
“Sign of the Times” wastes little of the clock, plunging headfirst into a salacious mood, setting the vein for the entire album, a heady confrontation between misty atmospherics and influential bombast. Niall’s guitars scorch with merciless impunity, Ronnie’s keyboards a perfect foil as it drenches the arrangements with dense symphonics, a thudding bass undertow, all united in aiding Alan to communicate his story of the seemingly hopeless human condition, as it continues to struggle with war, conflict, and suffering. We have progressed magnificently in some areas but so precious little in some of the basics that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. Stupidity, corruption, selfishness, lies, and depression are the themes evoked on “The Great Attractor”, a raging bulldozer of altering anger, disturbing disillusionment, and furious frustration. The arrangement is noisy, brash, and depressing, as little salvation seems to appear over the crest of endless suspicion and cruel manipulation. The sonically evolving “Fever Pitch” is an ear catching mini epic that slowly raises the temperature, as Alan convincingly conveys his inner pain, the guitars screeching in disbelief, shoved along by some rather mammoth programmed drums. As the silence beckons, a piano echoes briefly before being bullied by an infuriating guitar solo that wishes to condemn in the harshest terms the futility of it all. “Heavy Air” comes across a sorrowful lament, as ‘time does not stand still’, the solemn keyboards spewing a dreamy trembling of emotions, the mood oppressive and symphonics verging on surrender. Alan delivers a majestic vocal delivery, absolutely convincing and heartfelt to the bone. The volatile guitar solo, caressed by compelling mellotrons and a somber bass only complements the anguish. “The Nine” is the highlight track here, an exquisite piece of portentous music, with ghostly intent and frightening disposition, verging on a horror soundtrack due to the creative theatrics of the vocals. Infernal, with the devil’s evil eyes fierily omnipresent, the choir sounds coming from the recesses of the molten caverns of inner earth, the orchestral transitions in synch with the lyrical intransigence. Thrilling but drenched in fear.
The title track is a 13 minute + epic that functions as both a recap of all the fury previously conveyed, as well as a catalyst for some unheralded saviour to appear and liberate mankind from its own self-imposed shackles. A forlorn Spanish guitar and an ornate piano unite, as Alan utters: ‘only the truth can take control’, perhaps suggesting some form of imminent deliverance. The persistent choir erupts, the piano remains in misery, the guitar twirls in circular scorn, as the harmony vocals join in on the message of divine intervention with ‘nothing left to give’. The true meaning of apocalypse is after all, revelation! This is a blooming grower, thus needing a few spins before really showing its true colours.