Two years after releasing their latest album Beat the Drum Pallas are back with two re-releases of their eighties albums The Sentinel and The Wedge. The band, for whom DPRP hosts their Homepage, provided the team with several copies of both albums for a roundtable review. For some this meant a re-union with an album they've known for years. For others it was the first introduction to the older albums by the band. Below you'll find the team's evaluations of these two oldies.
Pallas - The Sentinel
Well, what should one say about two albums that one owns on tape for the last 10 years or so, apart from the fact that both The Sentinel and The Wedge are classics that I now, thanks to InsideOut, finally own on CD format. I have had the The Sentinel CD in my hands a couple of times before, tempted to purchase it, but thanks to the obscure fact that it was constantly a couple of guilders more expensive than regular CD's, I always put it back again, which I regretted the next day. The Wedge (or Knight Moves To Wedge) was even harder to come by lately so it is splendid that these absolutely classic albums are back in the stores, for normal prices. Additional, on both albums a CDROM track is featured with pictures from the respective eras and some rare footage.
The Sentinel is a classic must-have. Rooted lyrically deeply into the Cold War era, The Sentinel is the story
of Russia-USA set in the setting of the legendary Atlantis. As can be seen in the live footage
on the CDROM, Pallas seemed to be more influenced by Genesis back then (not only musically but
also in terms of costumes etcetera).
My favorite track on the album must be Eastwest, which still, after more than 10 years since I first heard it, sends shivers down my spine. This heartbreaking cry on the madness of the world is sooo beautiful! But also the optimistic Ark of Infinity ending the album is classic. This is an album of great power and influence and has not lost any of its expression since its conception in the early 1980's. Due to the fact that it's written at the end of the golden age of prog, the 70's, it still features the big epic proportions that prog music had back then. Pallas, with The Sentinel, had set a new standard for the years to come. To me, this is one of the top 10 albums in all-time progressive rock. Unfortunately, the sound on the album is not chrystal clear, but a bit muffled (has been since the original recording, this is nothing new for the re-release).
Conclusion Remco Schoenmakers: 10 out of 10.
Well, here it is. On CD again, available in larger quantities and wider distribution than the first CD issue, and more obligatory than ever. The Sentinel marked several of Pallas's milestones. First of all, it was their first studio album. (The live album Arrive Alive album was recorded in 1981, and released on LP in 1983.) It was also their first album on a major label, EMI, and produced by no one less than Eddie Offord. And something that didn't do the band a lot of good: only two or three months after its release, the band parted with singer Euan Lowson.
There's this accusation of Pallas being neo-prog. This is not the place to discuss definitions
here, but I totally disagree on this. So, I am a Pallas fan. But I also admit that I like some
neo-prog as well, and Pallas is not neo-prog. Where did this idea come from anyway?! I don't
need to explain every band has their influences. It's easy to drop a name like Genesis, but
this album has been quoted by a lot of Yes fans, too. At times, the music on The Sentinel makes
you think of 'The Yes Album', for example. But not very often, I might add.
Although a big work of art, and with all the great melody lines and bombastic walls of sound that I like so much, this is not my favourite Pallas album. The music they played before most of the songs on this album were written (listen to the 'Arrive Alive' album) was maybe more naive, but it was fresh and daring, sharp as a knife.
(In a time when Marillion were moving from a more Hawkwind type of playing (slightly psychedelic, which was quite popular in Britain in those days) to a far more Genesis type of music, Pallas had been playing for more than five years, and besides the obvious influences, had more different influences, like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. The music was more powerful, a better mix from different influences.)
After this album, Pallas started to rock more again.
An album like this, a prestigious concept album, had to be made with a far more serious
attitude, and professional approach. The songs were shaped over a longer time, which is where I
think some of the spontaneous writing was left off.
Mind you, I really love this album! That greatness in an intro like Rise And Fall is hard to top. It's really symphonic - nothing is too complex, or too smart. The atmosphere that is created with simple melody lines like in the haunting East West or March On Atlantis is amazing.
Conclusion Jerry van Kooten: 9 out of 10.
The overall sound of the album is quite bombastic. The album has been produced in a great way by Eddie Offord, the man behind Yes, to name just one of his jobs. He made the album sound very modern, that is: for the time it was recorded. The Sentinel is really an album of it's age, which makes it sound very "eighties" in hindsight. This particularly becomes clear in the drums and the vocals. Fortunately this doesn't spoil the enjoyment, because the sound is still crystal clear.
After the fun opener Shock Treatment, the second song, Cut and Run, is one of the
first highlights on the album. It has a great drive, several key-solos and a lovely bass-part
in the middle. All members shine in this track, but especially Derek Forman on drums deserves
being mentioned here.
Arrive Alive is a real 80's track. I can't put my finger on any plagiarism, but this really sounds very familiar. A hint of Yes' 'Drama'-album (bass by Graeme Murray) is present as well. Though I still like it, I think this song is a bit out-dated.
Rise and Fall (part 1) opens the main body of the album: The Atlantis Suite. This song combines a church-organ with Rush-breaks. The quiet middle part slowly builds in great way with threatening vocals and a lovely key-melody. The sounds of wind lead into East West, a slow song with emotional singing. Pink Floyd comes to mind, especially when Euan Lowson sings: "The politicians lie before my eyes". Niall Mathewson finishes it off with a lovely guitar-solo.
A joint venture of Ronnie Brown on piano and Derek Forman (military drums) lies down a basis for the March On Atlantis. The instrumental second part of the song and the following return to the piano-part is another, very atmospheric highlight of the album.
A mystical piano-part, accompanied by bells and the wind, introduces Rise and Fall (part 2). For the second time, Rush (Jacob's Ladder) comes to mind. Regrettably this song fades out, just when it's reaching its peak.
Heart Attack continues the somewhat dark atmosphere. The slow and bombastic nature of the song echoes Pink Floyd in the choruses. As a result of the many changes and lovely key/guitar interplay, the second part is very captivating.
Atlantis seems to finish the suite with a great combination of Genesis (keyboards) and Rush (guitars). After some musical twists and turns, the song leads to a splendid finale, which could easily be the end of the album. But it isn't, since Ark of Infinity is the real closer of it all. After a slower first part, the second part features a fast bass-riff with 'trumpetting' keys on top of it, leading into a positive ending of the album.
Almost an hour of great musicianship and wonderful compositions: that's what this album has to offer. I'm glad The Sentinel is available again. Not only because of the beautiful music, but also because I think it makes clear which position Pallas had. Marillion, Pendragon and IQ have received recognition for their position as keepers of the flame. Pallas prove they were essential to the second wave of prog in the early 80's as well.
Conclusion Jan-Jaap de Haan: 8+ out of 10.
The album opens with a couple of energetic rockers. Shock Treatment is a great
up-tempo track with good melodies and nice keyboard and guitar solos. The next track,
Cut and Run, is another fine tune with interesting rhythms, delicious bass playing,
a lot of bombast and a very nice instrumental second half with more fine guitar and
The third song, again a rocker, Arrive Alive (which was originally titled Eyes in the Night) doesn't do much for me. The screaming multi-vocals make it a bit too macho for my taste and the opening melody reminds me either of Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting ('Saturday ! Saturday, Saturday !) or Olivia Newton John's Physical ('Physical, physical ! Let's get physical !).
What follows after these three tracks is for me the highlight of the album; four linked pieces
forming a wonderful 20-minute epic which has got it all; interesting lyrics (on a slightly outdated
theme), lots of rhythm and mood switches, various emotions (from pride to anger to mourning),
great melodies and solos. Brilliant stuff ! I could hardly believe it when Jerry told me that
the epic originally wasn't on the album in this form; Rise and Fall used to be one song
and EastWest and March on Atlantis were B-sides of singles !
The story begins with Rise and Fall (part 1) which draws us back into the damp and dark early eighties to that what has been called 'the second wave of progressive rock' with bands like Marillion, IQ, Twelfth Night and of course Pallas. You'll find traces of these bands and Yes in this song. Intricate rhythms, soaring instrumental passages; it's all there.
We move on with the emotional and atmospheric ballad EastWest of which the melodies and mood sometimes remind me of Genesis' Hairless Heart.
March on Atlantis continues the trip in a proud way. Marching drums in the background, trumpetting keyboards, sky high vocals. Majestic with a slight Vangelis-like touch ! The middle part of the song would not be out of place in one of Arena's epics and the end section is peaceful and mysterious.
Unfortunately the song does not merge seamlessly into Rise and Fall (part 2). This last song of the epic features spoken lyrics and builds up to a climax. To my great horror the song fades in the middle of a marvellous Floydian guitar solo. What a damn shame ! Then again, it's probably the only let-down in 20 minutes !
The emotional and very Marillionesque Heart Attack is another great piece with a
nice keyboard that reminds me of Genesis. This song is another track that did not appear
on the original album. Good thing that they include it on the CD version !
The beginning of Atlantis has a bit of a Starless feel. I don't particularly care for the multi-vocals and vocal melodies that follow. Also, after having some spoken sections in Rise & Fall already, the spoken sections in this song are a bit too much for me. It reminds me a lot of Twelfth Night or even that early eighties song from Germany, Kodo. Great Riickenbacker bass though !
The second half of the song with the singalong section ('All the world now join hands as one !') is better, regardless of the high 'We Are The World'-factor. The song ends with a bombastic climax. Strange that this song was not physically linked to the Rise and Fall epic.
The final track is Ark of Infinity, which features an ELP-like instrumental middle section and another fine majestic climax with guitar solo. Unfortunately the whole track sounds a bit like a typical closing section of a big epic, although it is presented as a separate track and therefore feels a bit incomplete.
Okay, it might be nostlagia and sentiment. Okay, it might be typical early eighties
'neo-prog' or whatever you want to call it. Regardless of some minor flaws, I love it ! Great
compositions, nice variations and rhythm changes. Production and sound could be better but
isn't bad for an early eighties album. Despite it's age the music is timeless !
Why haven't I discovered this album before ? This is a pure classic and a must-have for every prog fan ! Especially recommended to fans of early eighties prog like Marillion, IQ, Twelfth Night and also to the 'prog newbies' that like bands like Arena a lot.
The Multimedia section of the CD features a nice picture gallery and a homevideo of the band performing the first half of Atlantis live on stage. All very nice, but I think they could have used the enhanced section to greater effect by providing some articles/reviews from 1984, more information on the development of the album and concept and some more explanations about the theme of the concept.
Conclusion Ed Sander: 9- out of 10.
Pallas - The Wedge
The music on The Wedge is typical of its time, the mid '80s. It is very much similar in style and performance to IQ's Are You Sitting Comfortably, Nomzamo or even Yes' 90125. On these albums, and on The Wedge focus is more on melody and harmony than on a show of instrumental skills. The songs on this album have chorusses that immediately stick in your mind forever. Furthermore, several experiments with the increasingly advancing keyboards and synthesisers were carried out, resulting in rocky tunes with nice interludes.
The last three tracks are from the 1985 EP Knight Moves and have a slightly different mood, perhaps even more Yess / IQ-like (especially Stranger). The CD-ROM track features an early live version of Win or Lose and it is really funny to see this track performed, since I never had seen any photo's or film from Pallas before. This little bonus-thingy, together with the good recording quality and general good songs, gives the following:
Conclusion Remco Schoenmakers: 8 out of 10.
The weirdest thing I have ever heard about this album was when someone said he didn't like
Pallas because when he heard The Wedge, he found it too much Genesis. Well, if there is one
thing that this album is definitely not, it's Genesis. This album is unlike The Sentinel in a
lot of ways. The most important thing is that it takes Pallas to the total sum of influences of
the band members.
Where others try to fall into a certain prog category, or do their very best not to fall in any category at all, this band simply made the music they wanted to make. Pallas do not forget the rock even when it is progressive. Call me a romantic, but I think music has to move you, it must have some kind of life in it, you must be able to feel it. It must be made with passion. And it is this combination of highly melodic and symphonic rock and music with a soul, that makes Pallas unique. I am really looking forward to the bands my fellow reviewers compare Pallas to.
There's a difference between The Sentinel and The Wedge. The first is a prestigious work of bombastic symphonic power, where the latter also lets the rocking side of the now older and more experienced musicians speak. Quite modern for prog rockers like them, and even out of place if you still regard Pallas as a neo-prog band.
Interesting to see is that Beat The Drum, their 1998 album, shows how they have grown into a
mix between The Sentinel and The Wedge. The fierce power of that 1986 album has mixed with the
more dreamy but still bombastic ways of The Sentinel.
This band is still making the music they want. The enormous amount of experience results in well-crafted songs, but what's even more important is the immortal enthusiasm that these guys have. And that's what music is about. If you start thinking too much, the feeling is gone.
Of course, I can't end my part of this Round Table Review without mentioning the extras that have been added to the CDs. Very nice and rare footage from 1982 with Euan singing on The Sentinel, and the complete promotional video for Win Or Lose on The Wedge. These additions are worth buying these re-issues alone, even if you already have the Centaur Discs releases! Artwork also has been changed, especially on The Wedge.
I have been told by my fellow DPRP team members that I should be more careful in marking albums with a 9 out of 10 or higher. Only albums that will be as good as ever even after, let's say fifteen years of playing and playing and playing will be worth that. So, I am a fan. Would that make me rate these albums higher than when I would not have been a fan? Tsk tsk tsk... of course it's the other way around: I still love these albums as much as when I first heard them, and that's exactly why I am a fan! Since I rate their latest, Beat The Drum, a 10, these two simply have to be a little bit lower.
Conclusion Jerry van Kooten: 9.5 out of 10.
The album bursts out of your speakers from the first second with Dance Through The
Fire, a loud and bombastic track, with lovely breaks, solos and sing-able chorus. Only
that (electronic?) drum-solo in the middle... ooosh, that's 80's man!
Throwing Stones at the Wind is based on a ZZ-top like riff, with 'that' drum-sound under it. A really weird song. When hearing new singer Alan Reed in the choruses Nick Kershaw comes to mind. The keyboard-sounds add to that. The ballad Win or Lose has a catchy chorus with a nice key-riddle in the back. Not very special though.
The Executioner shows the experimental side of Pallas, with its err.. 'different' drum parts, bombastic middle part and jazzy keyboard-solo by Ron Brown. Not very easy to get into, but not bad at all.
The up-beat Imagination recalls the spirit of Spandau Ballet or even Duran Duran
(choruses). All this along a driving rhythm. Special 80's feature in this song: a vocoder and
From the beginning of Rat Racing, you feel: 'there's an epic coming'. From the slow introduction all through the fast riffs by Niall Mathewson in the second part, Graeme Murray's heavy bass in the third movement to the gentle keyboards by Ronnie Brown and back to heavy part in the end featuring fast but subtle drumming by Derek Forman. There's something in it for everyone.
The closer of the original album, Just A Memory, is a simple ballad, which gives Alan Reed the chance to show his talents.
Stranger is a pretty straightforward up-beat track. IQ's Passing Strangers comes to mind, not only because of the title. Like Just a Memory, Sanctuary starts off as an atmospheric (oriental?) ballad with a prominent spot for Alan Reed. This song is the better one of the two, especially since it features a great second part. There, the oriental nature of the track comes through clearly, with its many electronic percussion patterns. Together with the opener and Rat Racing, one of the better tracks on this CD.
Strange sounds open Nightmare in a threatening way. Best part of this track are the ravishing solos by Mathewson and Brown at the end of the song, where the CD's finished.
All in all, I have mixed feelings about this album. Of course, it good that both the album and the EP are available again, but I wouldn't recommend this CD as a starting point for listeners. It's too unbalanced and out-dated for that. All these experimental sounds must have been very "high-tech" at the time, but some of them are disturbing now. According to the booklet Pallas used many studios to record this album and I think they use an equal amount of style, with a loss of direction as result.
Conclusion Jan-Jaap de Haan: 7- out of 10.
Unfortunately, most of the things I like so much in The Sentinel seem to be missing from The Wedge. This album, to me, sounds like a collection of mostly straightforward, thirteen in a dozen pop-rock songs, sometimes coming quite close to AOR. This album is to Pallas what Abacab is to Genesis, Holidays in Eden to Marillion and Nomzamo to IQ. As with those albums, the sound and own identity of the band probably came second to the wishes and pressure of the major record label (EMI in this case).
Songs range from interesting & catchy, to extremely poppy (Imagination and Stranger), to downright silly (the vocal part of Nightmare). There's lots of experimenting with Emulators, which unfortunately makes the album sound very mid-eighties and quite outdated.
Some songs are more interesting, most noteable Sanctuary, Rat Racing, which will probably appeal most to the average progger, and the powerful and up-tempo Dance Through the Fire.
Compared to The Sentinel the production and mix of this album is far superior. Nevertheless,
I would chose the inferior sound quality but far better compositions of The Sentinel over
this album any time.
I do however agree that on the band's latest album, Beat The Drum, Pallas has succeeded in taking the bombastic and proggy sound of the first album and mixed it with the rocking appraoch on The Wedge. On Beat The Drum it worked much better for me than on this one.
If you're turned on by drummers in yellow diving suits, the enhanced multimedia section might be interesting for you though. As with The Sentinel I think the band could have used the multimedia section a bit better by adding more information, articles and other stuff. Not just a video and a handful of pictures.
Conclusion Ed Sander: 7- out of 10.