Pallas - The Cross & The Crucible

Year of Release: 2001
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 079
Format: CD
Total Time: 63:40:00

Last year Pallas returned with a new album, The Cross And The Crucible. I'm only now getting to really delve into this tasty morsel. This is a heavy album, both conceptually and musically. Not quite as heavy as metal, but in that same heaviness that we hear from Arena and Threshold. The music is big, bold and muscular. Never is this more evident than in the epic "For The Greater Glory," with its pounding, marching rhythms, making me think most especially of Threshold. However, bubbling underneath is this thought: this kinda sounds a bit like Duran Duran's "Wild Boys" track. And in thinking that, and knowing I'm probably going to have to justify that comparison, I realize it is down to just two elements: percussion and the vocals of Alan Reed... which otherwise do not sound like Simon LeBon. But, this particular track is so much more than that. This is an epic track in every sense of the word.

I say that Pallas are not a metal band, and that is a true statement, but like the many metal bands, Pallas don't shy away from including classical passages or influences (Mozart's 'Lacrimosa' from "Requiem" inspired part of the title track, for example). Since Pallas have often named in the same breath with other UK bands that got their start in the early 80s (that is, "neo-prog"), this direction seems especially unique. And while stylistically, one could argue whether Pallas are progressive or not, within the niche they cut for themselves with their past work -- The Sentinel, Knightmoves, and The Wedge -- this is certainly a progression for them. There are strong hints of such earlier tracks as "Imagination," and "Executioner," ratched up a notch or two. Interestingly, Reed also sometimes sounds a bit like Marillion's Steve Hogarth, especially on the mellower, acoustic based, "Generations." There is a subtle Celtic feel to this track, but it's very subtle. While the subject matter for most the album is dark -- images of war predominate the first half of the album -- this is an oasis of light, a love song to one's offspring. Marillion's "This Strange Engine" is what most comes to mind, but as I say often when making a vague comparison, don't hold onto that thought too tightly, as one might not hear that at first, or even the second time through. No, in fact, Pallas seem most like classic Marillion with "Midas Touch," which if time were a deciding fact, is the true epic of this album, clocking in at more than 11 minutes.

As mentioned, war is a very strong element in this album, but then the history of man is strewn with wars. Within the course of "The Greater Glory," for example, we go from early medieval times (or so I interpret), to the Crusades (from the Saracen point of view), to World War I (which could also be WWII, as well) ... all this in the space of a few stanzas. This theme carries through to the next track "Who's To Blame?" and into the "The Blinding Darkness." This latter track contrasts the wonderful imaginings of Da Vinci (helicopters and submarines), when "the Guiding Light of Science could lead us to paradise," with the dark reality of the 20th Century, when "The Blinding Darkness of Science / has damned us all to Hell" (that is, the atom bomb). The album ends with the hopeful "Celebration!", that hope being that humans will someday be able to live in peace. Within a few months of this albums release, that hope was pushed a little bit further away.

Throughout the album, the bass work of Graeme Murray gives the album a solid foundation over which the chiming guitars of Niall Mathewson, the churning keys of Ronnie Brown, the sharp percussion of Colin Fraser and the restrained and understated vocals of Reed are layered. Special note must also be made of the production, which is terrific. Great dynamic range, though the album does begin rather quiet (the tease to get you to play this at a loud volume).

Conceptually and lyrically this also a meaty album to dig into, one that had me reading and re-reading the lyrics. The underlying concept or idea underneath each song explores well-worn ideas, and yet the presentation of those ideas seems here to be very fresh and exciting. The album has such an infectious energy to it - much as Arena and Threshold do - that you are carried along. "Towers Of Babble" takes aim the very easy target of televangelists. But you just know that the blade is cutting a bit deeper than that, taking to task the whole mesmerizing power television has upon the Western psyche, though I won't go so far as to say that we are all sheep, easy consumed by the lion that is television.

This is a very strong album, and, despite the often dark themes, is also very accessible, without being overly poppy. Certainly one of the musical highlights of 2001, it's good thing my "best of" list is still in limbo, as this is sure to be a strong contender.

The Big Bang (3:08) / The Cross & The Crucible (9:17) / For The Greater Glory (7:37) / Who's To Blame (4:45) / The Blinding Darkness (6:41) / Towers Of Babble (8:11) / Generations (5:21) / Midas Touch (11:16) / Celebration (7:24)

Alan Reed - vocals
Niall Mathewson - guitars
Ronnie Brown - keyboards
Graeme Murray - bass
Colin Frazer - drums

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: February 8th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 797
Language: english


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