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Pallas - XXV CD (album) cover

XXV

Pallas

 

Neo-Prog

3.31 | 108 ratings

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FragileKings
3 stars Welcome to the end of the world. Though I haven't read the official version, the story I gather from the lyrics and from passing mention in other reviews is that this is a concept album about the Atlantians or some other advanced race coming to give us one last chance at making an ideal world of love and peace or we all get obliterated. Nice deal.

When I first listened to this album I found plenty of things to like about it but also some things that weakened my impression, most notably some of the lyrics. But after a few listens, I thought more about the story and well, once you consider that this is a concept album, there are some things forgiven, and my impression became more favourable.

The album begins welcoming us while a DJ from a rock radio station tells us it's going to be a scary day in a big bad world. A few synthesizer notes prepare us for the music to come and when it comes it's an eruption of dramatic heavy metal. Heavy power chords and synth chords are backed by a pummelling drum performance. This track, 'Falling Down' sounds impressive and there is a wonderfully rocking bass riff that carries the verses. However, the excitement wears down a little as the lyrics begin to sound like they were written by some eighties metal band: 'Our world is falling down. Spinning round. Falling down. We're out of control. We're falling down. Spinning round. Falling down.' It sounds quite familiar, and one thing I have noticed as I get older is that as you follow more world news and read more about history then you will realize that the human race has been pretty much the same since history first was recorded. Which leads me to conclude that we are not spinning or falling anywhere. We just are like this and we actually should be trying to climb up from the bottom.

Anyway, there's a guitar solo which sounds alright and then a somewhat annoying synthesizer solo. The Moog solo that follows, however, is sweet and the song has my attention again. It closes with dramatic chords and sounds like symphonic metal almost. The song is a good start though I find myself looking forward to something better.

Communications over static and some spooky SF keyboard effects introduce what is a very bombastic peace of progressive metal, the second track 'Crash and Burn'. Guitar and Hammond organ boom like thunder and those drums just don't let up. The verse parts are a little calmer but once the solos come in the guitar work is bordering on insane. If Pallas was a neo prog band before, they have sure ventured far into prog metal on this album. There is one instrumental part that reminds me of Dream Theater, but not for long. This is more as if modern Uriah Heep decided to do something really powerful and prog-like, instead of a hard rock album with prog bits thrown in (like the disappointing Sea of Light, which I bought a few months ago, was like).

'Something in the Deep' takes us below the waves into a peaceful world with a synthesizer sound that makes me think of a slowly swimming manta ray with bioluminescence illuminating its underside. The song itself is not so interesting and at first seems like a track to skip. But the lyrics tell us that someone deep beneath the waves is watching and is disappointed in the way we live. Finally we hear, 'They are watching,' and the music soon changes to a powerful orchestral peace with what sounds like real strings. Then abruptly it ends with an ominous deep keyboard rumble of notes.

A lone repeated piano note and more disjointed voices over static open the fourth track, 'Monster'. It soon becomes a heavy rock tune and musically promises to be pretty interesting without being actually impressive. The lyrics reach a very low lameness at one point though: 'I am just an ordinary guy. The world's gone crazy. I couldn't tell you why." Again, I refer to my theory that the world has always been crazy and you just have to live long enough and read enough to realize that. Again, young metal band lyrics.

'Alien Messiah' is where the album's story really begins to take shape. In the spirit of Voivod's 17-minute epic, 'Jack Luminous', a being speaks to the people of earth to offer to lead us to a world of peace. 'I offer you direction you have never seen before.' The mysterious being then reveals his true purpose in a partially whispered monologue, which is not included in the lyrics. He tells us that he's not really here to rule us but to see us return to the better life the Atlantians intended for us millennia ago. Our greed and hatefulness and our cold use of technology are ruining us. I wonder if this visitor stands outside supermarkets and hands out booklets for better, happier living. I actually love the song but this spoken part is a little embarrassing if my wife hears me listening to this. As far as the drama of a story-telling concept album goes, I guess it suites the album.

Now the deal is stated in the next track. 'XXV Part 1: Twenty-five Good Honest Men' is what they human race must produce for this visitor within 25 hours or we are all toast. The song has an arena rock chorus and a power metal feel. I like how this race from a 'higher intellectual plane' says that if we can't live in peace we will be exterminated. Sounds like Judgement Day but without the Saviour. 'We are our own saviours,' sang Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and this alien visitor seems to bring the same message. Except that these guys want to 'turn (our) children into ash'. Are they expecting a warm welcome with fighting words like that?

'Young God' is probably one of my favourite tracks off the album. It's heavy and aggressive, though perhaps not as progressive sounding as 'Crash and Burn'. There are no embarrassing spoken lyrics. This being is warning us that if we can't comply with the request, 'there will be no second chances'. We will be destroyed 'nation by nation.' By now Pallas have proved that they can play very well as a progressive metal band. Aside from 'Something in the Deep' and a few bits here and there with piano, this album is really packed with high energy, heavy rock.

'Sacrifice' rocks in with a great guitar riff. By now we are probably wandering into Uriah Heep territory, stylistically speaking. The song tells us that the human race is not going to sit back and take this and asks what we are willing to do about this threat. 'We'll fight for our children that they might survive'. However, we also know that 'This is a war we cannot win'. The guitar solo is really a wonderful piece of heavy metal work.

'Blackwood' is an instrumental peace with more orchestral sounds and later a female vocalist singing high notes. It's a serene peace that calls to mind images in slow motion of Gandalf appearing with the bring white light that makes the goblins run away. Or perhaps we can imagine the faces of the main cast of humans in this movie as they look at their loved ones one last time, faces smeared in sweat and dirt, before the final moment. 'Blackwood' segues into 'Violet Sky', a slower piece that suggests our time has come to an end. We did not comply with the visitor's demand for 25 good honest men (perhaps mixed with some women too). The singer speaks to his lover, talking about watching cities burn and rivers run dry and them making love for the last time (I think I'd be a little distracted to think about making love before such a spectacle but maybe that's just me). The picture inside the CD booklet shows a smiling woman in her man's embrace while pod-like crafts rise from a sea under a dark cloud sprouting water spouts. I wish the acoustic guitar in this song were a little louder. It seems to have been recorded as if it were meant to be background music and yet it is quite beautiful.

'XXV Part 2: The Unmakers Awake'. That's it. Huge mechanical centaurs are spouting fire and totally trashing our cities in the picture. Apparently the Unmakers have come from the sea, and so the notion that it is the Atlantians who are now pissed at us and the plan to wipe us out seems confirmed. There's soft acoustic guitar at first, then sounds of a radio voice, sound effects that could be of war, and dramatic a keyboard and a choir. Piano and sound effects, then the heavy rock song kicks in. The lyrics are brief. We are going down. It's a very dramatic and heavy ending with an orchestra for extra punch, and the track concludes with what sounds like real choral vocals and not that fake synthesizer chorus setting that appears earlier in the album. At last we are back to a static radio broadcast and we are left to wonder what has become of the world and the human race.

As a heavy prog or progressive metal album, 'XXV' doesn't rank as highly as albums by some bands whose pursuit of the genre is their career. But overall I find myself enjoying the music more and more after each listen. There are plenty of sound effects thrown in to add to the imagery of the story and I like the use of the orchestra and choir. I read that this is a continuation of a story that began on their first album 'The Sentinel'. Now I am looking into getting that one as well. One other interesting note, the photo for the song 'Monster' shows a bunch of TV sets with different pictures on each screen and two of the screens have the cover for Pallas' previous two albums 'The Cross and the Crucible' and 'The Dreams of Men'. It makes me wonder if there is any connection. I have listened to samples of both and I am planning to get 'Dreams?' later.

I don't know what Pallas fans will think of this as this is the first album of theirs that I have ever heard, but I think it's worth checking out. I am torn between giving XXV 3 or 4 stars, so I will give it 3 for the PA community but I give it 4 stars for my own preference. It could be an excellent addition to any prog collection if this is your kind of prog. I'm glad I bought it.

FragileKings | 3/5 |

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