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Galahad - Battle Scars CD (album) cover





3.80 | 269 ratings

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5 stars If there ever was a band that has clearly progressed, it must be said that British group Galahad is definitely a top contender for the prize. Starting out with early albums that were really nothing more than baby steps, their first real leap forward was the charming Galahad Acoustic Quartet -Not All There release back in 1994, which proposed a stripped down, very dark folk series of beautiful songs, a platform for Stu to really put his original voice up- front and center. I still adore that CD to this day, as the medieval/melancholic vibe is precious and vibrant. Next came Sleepers in 1995 , which was standard neo-prog of the times, with simple ballads (Julie Anne and Pictures of Bliss) as well as some extended 10 minute + workouts (title track, Exorcizing Demons , Live and Learn and Amaranth) but was not particularly liked by the stubborn critics , a judgment that was even more scathing on the follow-up, 1999's "Following Ghosts", a seemingly heady mixture of what was before but salted with some harder pieces such as 'Imago' and 'Myopia'. This was , in my humble opinion where the tide turned as new keyboardist Dean Baker exercised his melodic influence by injecting strong electronic-tinged sweeps into the fold, though preferring bubbling Tangerine Dream style synthesizers to the usual formulaic organ/synth style as espoused by Clive Nolan, Martin Orford or Mark Kelly. And that's where Galahad's fortunes veered towards a future style that was all theirs. No more copycats, we are Galahad! In 2002, the aptly-titled "Year Zero" - that certainly proves that they were starting fresh and new- introduced a whopping symphonic element, structurally first as the album is a 15 part suite that is one massive piece of mellotron-driven, synth-swept extravaganza, courtesy of Mr. Baker but also a rejuvenated Roy Keyworth who now began a rougher, raspier attitude to his guitar style. With a monster bassist in Neil Pepper and a powerful drummer in Spencer Luckman, Stuart now just needed some material to really blow fans away for good. They took 5 years to sculpt one of the most bewildering recordings ever in prog , the hissy, angry and devastatingly sparkling "Empires Never Last " , one of 2007 top albums, almost universally adopted by those who trashed the band in the past as well as fans who stood the test of time. Stuart Nicholson proved his vocal mettle and if you add the visually stunning DVD Resonance (which gustily actually pre-dated the album), the conclusion ?the only one- is that these lads have come a long, long way! This was a difficult period though as long time bassist Neil Pepper was struggling mightily with health issues, replaced by the talented Lee Abraham.

So the long waited follow up 2012 had Pepper back for an artistic swansong, as he went to prog heaven in September 2011. "Battle Scars" is the first of 2 albums to be released in 2012, the second set for later this year. The overt rockier edge is still there with more trance/electronica grooves as well as lush symphonics with furious mellotron cascades. The mixture is a bright one and very original. I like to call it power-prog, powerful music that hits the nodes with passion and class.

The ultra-classical overture (they like to start their concerts the same way) is a fine prelude for the title track to kick mightily into gear, with Stuart flexing his pipes with voluptuous engagement, the lyrical material not quite pretty and clean, soft pain emanating from his trembling lips, as the evoked brutality becomes overpowering. The pummeling drummed onslaught is fast and furious; while Roy rasps hard on his fretboard and Dean waves his mellotron drenched hands. "Reach for the Sun" is a brief moment of rage, as the pace remains frisky and raw, powerful riffs and more battle scars are revealed. Synths bleep and bloop amok, the mighty 'tron howls and the axe grinds, what a delightful arsenal of sound!

"Singularity" is a highlight spool of glittering noise, buzzed by a sublime melody and expert guitar finger painting. The expressive vocal is luxuriant, the pace somberly energetic, the guitar on slow burn fire , a delightful combination of sounds that hit the mark and make this a Galahad standard to come for evermore "You can't touch me now", he sings. The harmony vocal work is sublime and the result is utter poignancy. A delicate piano settles the score.

When Stuart snarls, he gets it right, as per the nasty "Bitter and Twisted" , a fine account of our hyper-judgmental society whose priorities lie with the ability to hate via electronic messages and general ethereal inhumanity. No more values, no more dedication and no more resolve. Spencer accentuates the dysfunction with syncopated percussive mayhem, fueled by a violent guitar smack and whistling synth slaps. "You are just a little piece of... nothing at all" has got to be the lyric of the decade!

The Pepper-penned "Suspended Animation" is pure prog bliss, growling bass pangs devour a swirling swarm of organs, synths and guitars with ogre-like fascination. It's almost the funkiest piece from the Galahad catalogue and a definite keeper.

"Beyond the Barbed Wire" is desperate, cold and unrelenting, possessing an exhilarating impulse of pain and cold, as the contrast between gentle surrender clashes with the impossible desire for freedom and salvation. Tremendous modern beats and mellotron choirs collide with aggressive and repetitive guitar riffs and vocal refrain of the title. Roy's guitar solo soars and sears brightly, hot electric fission into the cold, frigid night.

The pulsating "Seize the Day" is a complete stunner, Gabriel-like piano and vocal intro (think 'Here Comes the Flood') that quickly colors the trance-like electronic melody. Even if you are not a fan of trance, this is truly uplifting stuff, brilliantly played when the bullying drums, thumping bass and the massive guitars enter the fray! You have to admire the band's courage and determination to not be swayed by anything other than their inner muse. This piece is proof of their commitment to bend the rules and define modern prog. Bravo, ballsy guys!

To be treated to a reworking of 'Sleepers' is an unparalleled joy to behold, not just a nostalgic wink to their past but an outright genius track that not only proves Stuart's undeniable talent but the seemingly stellar work of all the instrumentalists is better than ever. Both Dean and Roy really flesh out the sound, making it more vibrant and edgy than ever before. We as fans, thank you deeply!

Galahad is meritorious of the highest accolades, as they persisted with their vision and like them or not, they are a force to be reckoned with for the future. I actually prefer this new offering over Empires, a feat I would never had thought possible.

5 combat wounds

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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