Quite a few years have passed since I gave up on the idea of ever hearing a new release from Pallas, yet here we are with The Messenger. Not only has a new album appeared – almost ten years since the release of 2014’s wearewhoweare – but singer Alan Reed has returned to the fold. Given the nature of the break between Reed and his former bandmates, I was very surprised (but also very pleased) to hear that there would be any new Pallas material that would bear the hallmarks of his distinctive voice.
Since the break in 2010, Reed has released two solo albums – both excellent, with the second perhaps edging the first. Pallas, meanwhile, brought in singer Paul Mackie to complete the recording and release of 2011’s brilliant XXV, a follow-up to the band’s celebrated The Sentinel album. The aforementioned wearewhoweare followed a few years later, an effort which sadly felt a little lacklustre in comparison. Indeed, before listening to The Messenger, I gave wearewhoweare a spin and was reminded why I have barely listened to it since its release.
So, to 2023 and the news of Reed returning to the band. Well, as things currently stand, it is not a full return. With Niall Mathewson now living in South-East Asia, and Reed keen to continue with his own touring band, this is more of a studio project, with the band self-releasing the album via Bandcamp. All parties concerned have been excited about the new material, with Reed remarking that the demoes he was played were amongst the best writing the band had ever done. Listening to the end product, I think it’s fair to say that he is justified in this view.
Whilst The Cross and the Crucible is an album that would take some beating in any prog band’s repertoire, and is Pallas’s finest in my view, I think the new album can find itself ranked alongside the illustrious company of the 1992 version of The Sentinel, Beat the Drum and XXV. Six tracks grace the album, with only one of these under the five-minute mark and the closer, the album’s title track, coming in at over thirteen minutes. As with Pallas’s other best releases, The Messenger is an effort which is consistently excellent throughout and thoughtfully composed with high production values.
As ever with Pallas, the music is filled with contrasts, bright piano melodies occupy space alongside thundering rhythms. Lyrically, the album reflects on the increasingly troubling state of humanity and the world in the Twenty-First Century. On opener Sign of the Times, Graeme Murray’s bass takes the lead and pounds along with an urgency which is matched by the apocalyptic tone of the lyrics. The chord suspensions add to that feeling of urgency. As the first vocal part comes to an end, Niall Mathewson layers his guitar over the top of the bass workout, before the song eases into a softer vocal section in ‘Chris-Squire-in-Yes’ fashion. The bass, by now brooding like a heartbeat, then kicks us back into the earlier thunder. A really great opener.
The Great Attractor, a song about a divisive political leader who needs little introduction, is the kind of upbeat rocker that Pallas did so well on Beat the Drum. It’s catchy and sticks in your mind. A really solid chorus and a great guitar hook – the sort of thing I’d have liked more of on this album, if I’m honest. Fever Pitch follows and is, in my view, the album’s best track. As with the opener, the tone is one of urgency. In fact, on this one it seems almost to be one of panic. Ronnie Brown gets to put his keyboard and programming skills to good use on the opening keyboard and synth run, the track escalating through the verse into the chorus, allowing Reed the space to put in a really heartfelt performance. It’s symphonic, bombastic and the minimalism of the changes actually enables the band to create a huge soundscape which ends up with swirling synths, suggesting the burning of the planet, accompanied by the guitar hammering out an alarm.
Heavy Air is a real change of tone, an utterly brilliant ballad about what humanity stands to lose. It’s another great vocal performance with a really strong chorus and some stunning guitar work. I was reminded of Blood and Roses, although this is a heavier full band song. Along with Fever Pitch, the album’s best moment. The Nine, which finds us on our way to hell, is a piece of apocalyptic horror which mostly works, but I have to confess I find that the spoken parts of the lyrics lean too much into hip-hop/rap territory and spoil things a little.
The title track sees out Pallas’s latest. At thirteen minutes, it’s the epic, although it feels more like a single track which is then followed by a lead-out. It’s a little lighter musically than much of what has gone before. A great melodic track with a middle section on piano, strings and acoustic guitar. Some have complained about the lack of a real drummer on this album, but I think the programming has been done well, particularly on this one. After eight minutes, the song softens to offer the listener a more optimistic possible future.
Making an album about the terrible state of the world, environmentally and politically, and doing it well is not easy. Without mentioning any albums specifically, I’ve heard some songs which are tone deaf, insincere and patronising. I also have albums that are good but just too depressing to listen to. Pallas have done a great job here. I know this is an album I will keep coming back to and if artists want to address these issues in their work, then I think it’s really important that it’s done thoughtfully. I’m very glad to see Pallas back and I hope The Messenger won’t be their last.
01. Sign of the Times (9:18)
02. The Great Attractor (4:15)
03. Fever Pitch (8:11)
04. Heavy Air (7:00)
05. The Nine (8:42)
06. The Messenger (13:03)
Total Time – 49:29
Alan Reed – Voice
Graeme Murray – Bass, Voice
Niall Mathewson – Guitar, Programming
Ronnie Brown – Keyboards, Voice, Programming
Record Label: Independent
Formats: CD, Digital Download
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 15th December 2023