Although bands in prog most often pride themselves on being more ‘advanced’ than your run-of-the-mill plebes, I do agree that one of the most remarkable things about Galahad has been their capacity to improve and advance themselves. Especially with their last album “Empires Never Last”, I believe this band has finally reached the top tier of gentlemen within the melodic and melancholic world of neo-prog. Developing upon their symphonic edge, “Battle Scars” is Galahad’s ninth record to date, and they have never sounded so modern. Theatrical and passionate, there are some great listens to be had with this one, although it may not be as consistent as it could have been.
To be open with you, I can’t say I’ve often found myself ‘digging’ the sound of Neo-Prog, now not so much a label to describe ‘new’ prog as it is a sub-genre of prog that I long felt sucked the complexity and proficiency out and replaced it with 80′s cheese up the wazoo. Of course, this was a bit of an overgeneralization on my part, and “Battle Scars” does seek to prove me wrong. Crossing me much the same way as did Pendragon’s “Passion” from last year (among the best that 2011 had to offer), “Battle Scars” strikes me as an example of how the neo-progressive style has developed with the times. The combination of vocalist Stuart Nicholson’s dramatic vocals and the orchestral approach to some of this music reminds me of Muse above all else, and though the course first laid out by Marillion is evident in “Bitter and Twisted” and “Seize the Day”, Galahad have, on the whole, broadened their sound. Like Pendragon, they have grown darker and heavier, and this suits the band’s theatrical and moody vibe.
For such an experienced band, it’s no surprise that things are performed and produced so well. For the first three songs on “Battle Scars”, I could have been convinced that this was a masterpiece. Everything on this opening seventeen-odd minute stretch is excited and beautifully paced. The album opens with some moody orchestrations, before Stuart’s voice takes hold and ushers in an epic sense of atmosphere and bravado. Of course, it’s not long before the rest of the band takes hold, and when they do, they don’t let go until they have sucked a listener in entirely. Helped by the fact that there is virtually no pause between the first and second tracks, the first three seem to make a trilogy, a process of absolving one’s scars in order to become ‘one with the universe’ (“Singularity”). Simply put; it’s brilliant stuff.
Sadly, this doesn’t last forever; by the fourth track “Bitter and Twisted” onward, the music feels decidedly less exciting. The production standard is maintained, and it’s arguable that they stick to the same style, but the dynamic and quality that had me so excited at first about “Battle Scars” does not translate. For those lucky enough to hear the ‘full’ version of “Battle Scars”, the 2012 re-do of their classic “Sleepers” sees Galahad rekindling the fire. Besides the obvious improvements in execution it has over its ‘original’ predecessor, “Sleepers” is a fitting way to end this musical journey. As the longest track on the album (some might call it an ‘epic’), it is rich with interesting ideas, although- like the rest of the album- it has some trouble balancing the ‘good’ from the fantastic.
A little inconsistent perhaps, but Galahad are surely a force to be reckoned with, in the ‘neo- progressive’ scene, and even prog rock at large. The dark, symphonic approach these guys take with their music is definitely worth checking out. It’s perhaps not the greatest thing Galahad have released in their time, but “Battle Scars” is certainly worthy of their name.
01. Battle Scars (7.04)
02. Reach For The Sun (3.54)
03. Singularity (7.32)
04. Bitter And Twisted (6.58)
05. Suspended Animation (4.05)
06. Beyond The Barbed Wire (5.30)
07. Seize The Day (8.34)
08. Sleepers 2012 (14.07) (CD Version Bonus)
* Stuart Nicholson – vocals
* Roy Keyworth – guitars
* Spencer Luckman – drums
* Neil Pepper – bass, guitar & keyboards
* Dean Baker – keyboards