Pallas - The Dreams Of Men

Year of Release: 2005
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 230/SPV 085-48552
Format: CD
Total Time: 73:09:00

Gentle orchestral swells open the latest release from Scottish proggers Pallas, the sure to be a classic The Dreams Of Men. It seems more direct and more "accessible" than 2001's Cross And The Crucible. Not accessible in that "oh, they've gone soft" kind of way, but in that "the arrangements draw you in and wrap themselves around you" kind of way. After having listened to this a half dozen... maybe a dozen... times already (and then a half dozen more times... at least), I can say it's easily one of the best things they've done. They're playing like a band whose energies have been renewed. And as a group that enjoy not only making music, but making music together. The balance between vocals and instrumentation, between when keys or guitar take the lead, when drums or bass come on strong or quietly make their presence known, all signify a band with a single purpose.

It's a concept album where each track ties into the underlying title theme and has great contrasts in subtlety and power. Their sound settles nicely between early Marillion, mid-period Hogarth Marillion, and Arena, and puts the unique Pallas stamp on the whole affair. It doesn't sound dated at all, except that it harks back to classic prog albums of the 80s and 90s in all the good ways. Pallas knows what their fans like: strong statements both lyrically and musically; and before you know it, your feet are tapping and you're singing along. The orchestral swell in "Bringer..." leads into an orchestral guitar solo to which we get a full orchestral sound, including crashing percussion. This leads to the meat of "Bringer...," a throbbing, pulsating, strutting piece. Listen to the subtle, glistening guitar atmospheres here - Yes-like in their lightness. This first salvo defines the album, contrasts between throbbing heaviness and lyrical lightness, making each deeper and more meaningful.

Each of the album's nine tracks vie for the highlight spot. "Warriors" begins as if it's going to break into a rendition of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and winds up sounding a bit like Saga... and like classic Pallas, if you dip back to the The Wedge -- I hear echoes of "The Executioner" in the piece at times, but not in a "repeating of past glories" way. Further, in a way, there's a hint of early Marillion (circa Fugazi), mostly in construction and style, though Pallas are heavier, beefier. A really great guitar solo (one of many) is featured here, too, that flows so effortlessly, organically. "Ghostdancers" has a Celtic feel -- just listen to the sad violins that open it. It is about those Scots leaving to come to America, chasing a dream. Reed's vocal performance here is often fragile, melancholy, and matches the sadness of those violins. It ends starkly and with a point...

"Too Close To The Sun" -- where the reference is to Icarus -- is the longest piece on the album and is an epic (among epics), with long symphonic passages that feature lots of keyboards, swells of sound, and an exhaulted and exhaulting feel, plus calmer sections that portend explosions of sound (and we aren't disappointed). "Messiah" is a dark, churning number. Quite a sinister piece, actually, about the darker dreams of men - greed, power. A nice addition is a chorus of gospelly female vocals that lead to the piece's conclusion.

"Northern Star" is Mathewson's guitar instrumental, only softly humming beds and some effects accompany this piece. It's one I first heard at their NEARfest performance (and again at RoSFest), and so if you can imagine a darkened stage, a single spot on Mathewson... or imagine a crisp night with crystal-clear night sky, an array of stars visible and one single bright star outshining the rest, then you have the feel of this piece. Crisp, resonate, crystal-light guitar notes paint the very picture I described. It also make for a nice, near-mid-album interlude.

Especially as the band come back strong with the driving "Mr. Wolfe." Just listen to the churning bass work of Graeme Murray play off the powerful drumming of Colin Fraser. Add to this baroque organ (Ronnie Brown) and we get shades of Arena in that old-world element. Reed's vocal sidles up to with a pleasant, menacing tone. It's not the shortest track on the album, but it feels that it is, and is the less proggy/most rocky of the bunch - and no less good because of it.

"Invincible" is back to epic length and styled prog. This piece includes Murray on lead vocals towards the beginning and again at the end. Mathewson shares some great metal guitar pyrotechnics, speedy runs, string bending, searing notes, more cutting than his usually sinewy lines, but still classic and perfect for the pulse of this piece. Another example of the bands deft handling of shifting dynamics can be heard here as well, which makes the big ending (more guitar soloing) seem that much bigger.

The album closes with "The Last Angel," the mostly subtle piece, that includes a burst of keyboards at the 7-plus mark, and leads into angelic operatic female voices that just sends this piece into the stratosphere. You couldn't have ended the album with any other track on the album, it had to end this way. The crashing drums, throbbing bass and swelling keys a driving constrast to the heavenly vocals, signaling the end (and beginning) of something more than just the album.

The Dreams Of Men is not an album that you will listen to once or twice and then let it gather dust. It's an album that needs to be savored, and will quite likely get trapped in your player for quite some time. The rating below doesn't give it justice - I'm prepared to call this Pallas' masterpiece! Athough I hope there's many more albums from the band to come, they will have a hard time topping this one.

[At least as of this writing, the Pallas website includes the band's comments about each of the album's pieces; insight into what they're about both thematically and structurally].

Also released as a special edition (IOMSECD 230/SPV 085-48550)

Bringer Of Dreams (9:50) / Warriors (7:18) / Ghostdancers (7:30) / Too Close To The Sun (14:34) / Messiah (4:57) / Northern Star (4:01) / Mr. Wolfe (5:48) / Invincible (10:45) / The Last Angel (11:28)

Alan Reed - vocals
Graeme Murray - bass, vocals
Niall Mathewson - guitar
Colin Fraser - drums, percussion
Ronnie Brown - keyboards

Arrive Alive (1981)
The Sentinel (1984/2000)
The Knightmoves EP (1985)
The Wedge (1986/2000)
Knightmoves To Wedge (combo reissue)
Beat The Drum (1999)
Live Our Lives (2000)
The Cross And The Crucible (2001)
Blinding Darkness (2003)
The Dreams Of Men (2005)
XXV (2011)

Blinding Darkness (DVD) (2003)
Live From London (DVD) (2008)
Moment To Moment (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: May 29th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1443
Language: english


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