The Sentinel, Pallas' debut album recorded in 1984, was a conceptual album. The lyrics were based upon cold war themes using a futuristic version of the tale of Atlantis as a metaphor for a technologically advanced society. The beautiful cover artwork was created by Patrick Woodroffe and it reflected in many ways what the story was all about. However, the band never felt comfortable about the way the Atlantis Suite, an epical sci-fi rock opera, was recorded for The Sentinel. The CD-version of the album got a proper release in 2004 which showed how the album should have sound in 1984.
Now 27 years later, Pallas finally found the time to come up with a sequel to one of the best progressive rock albums ever recorded. They probably named the album XXV because at first, they intended to bring it out 25 years after The Sentinel. However, 25 is also the number of the true, good and honest men that our hero The Sentinel needs in this new story to save the world from war and destruction. Compared to the album released in 1984 three band members have left the band since then. Singer Euan Lawson was replaced in 1986 by Alan Reed (ex- Abel Ganz). Drummer Derek Forman left the band in 1998 just before the recordings of Beat The Drum (1999). He was replaced by Colin Fraser. Early 2010 Alan Reed left the band to be replaced by Paul Mackie who became Pallas' new front man. Guitarist Niall Matthewson, keyboard player Ronnie Brown and bassist and background singer Graeme Murray are still the core members of the band.
When you hear the first notes of XXV you realize that you are in for a real musical treat. The opening tune Falling Down starts were The Sentinel ended. You can hear some musical links from The Sentinel throughout this great piece of music. It's very cleverly written because I didn't notice it at first, but it occurred to me after a while. The great synthesizer solo by Ronnie Brown is of a great beauty and fits perfectly in this more up-tempo piece that was intended to open the album with a bang. It became a real 'kick-ass track' after making some changes due to performing the song on a live stage. Falling Down is dominated by Niall Matthewson's aggressive guitar sound and this is also the case on the second track Crash And Burn. For that reason some people told me that they found these first two tracks a bit too heavy with too much guitar work. However, The Sentinel had also some heavy guitar-orientated tracks as Shock Treatment, Cut And Run and Arrive Alive. Next to these great up-tempo tunes a mellow piece of music follows called Something In The Deep. When I heard this fantastic keyboard-orientated piece of music, I really felt that it was time for contemplation in the story. This seems to be true as Mr. Murray recites 'this is the Sentinel's 'Fortress of Solitude' moment, where he ponders his mission and plans how he will go about winning over of the people of the world. He realizes that he must try to unite the planet and change the way we live'. Please notice the fine submarine sample on this track indicating that we find ourselves under water in the story. Monster is a track that probably has the finest hooks and chorus riffs of the entire album. It's a very radio-friendly song with some chart potention. On the next track The Alien Messiah, Pallas has a more Arabian-like sound that fits the story well, because our hero is standing in the shadows of the great pyramids of Gizeh outside of Cairo. The first part of the title track kicks off with a wonderful piece of orchestral music played on the keyboards. This track represents a turning point in the Sentinel's mission. He has won over the minds of the young, but he realizes that politicians are incapable of agreement. This is very well translated to the music, because the song is very powerful moving towards a fine climax. The lyrics and the melody lines are again very catchy and invite you to sing-along.
Next track is called Young God, which is in fact a lousy piece of music. The guitar sounds very nasty and Mr. Mackie tries to sing his vocal lines as loud as possible. On the other hand the guitar work contains some hints of Robert Fripp. Sacrifice is one of the more straightforward songs, but Mr. Matthewson is fabulous on his E-bow and he plays a fantastic guitar solo. Blackwood is another great orchestral and mellow piece that is a prelude to Violet Sky. The beautiful Gaelic voice of female guest singer Melissa Allan makes you feel floating on a cloud. This track is sung very emotionally and it can be regarded as the track which includes the most emotional vocal parts of Paul Mackie. He really cries his heart out. The great piano playing at the end is pretty amazing as well. The album ends with the second part of the title track which is again very bombastic with strong vocal lines. The guitar solo at the end is a rework of the original solo from Rise And Fall from The Sentinel album.
What can I say after listening to more than one hour of the finest progressive rock music? When the last notes died away I was just speechless which also applies for the new adventures of the Sentinel. The music on this album is just breathtaking and it doesn't contain any weak spots at all. It's a pleasure to listen to this outstanding album. Pallas created a true masterpiece; it's the only word that will describe my final judgment for this release. XXV is the first musical highlight of 2011 that only deserves the highest rating.
People who buy the limited edition of XXV will get a bonus-DVD that features footage from the bands performance at the Lorelei Festival in Germany in 2009. The DVD only contains the songs that were recorded for the XXV-album which means that you can enjoy fine versions of Falling Down, Monster, Young God and Violet Sky. The concert is very well filmed with a rather good sound. The DVD also features some photo galleries.
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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