The album starts off with Year Zeroverture which after its lengthy New Age/electronic intro progresses into a much more conservative neo-progressive theme. In fact one should stress that the album is not defiantly neo-progressive in its stance as Galahad infuse a variety of styles into the album, yet one cannot but feel that what they do best falls within this genre and/or style.
With Belt Up the band also start showing the relatively heavyier style which does occasionally surface and which has more in common with bands such as a Asia. Possibly it is also no coincidence that John Wetton also guests on the album as vocalist.
Another feature that Galahad use to great effect are the vocal harmonies, for which Ever The Optimist serves as an excellent example. When one mentions progressive rock, many people who do not like (or at least state so in public that they do not like!) this musical genre say so mainly because of what they consider to be drawn out solos. Galahad have managed to curb this by going straight to the point on this album with some great solos and this is one of the main reasons why the album manages to flow at such a smooth pace progressing from one track to another without an uncanny ease.
The organ backed choir of The Charlotte Suite gives way to the superb Haunted which is the perfect showcase for Stuart Nicholson's vocals. Though the track in itself lends more to a blues-based hard rock genre, courtesy of the Hammond organ it shows the variety that Year Zero possesses. If there could be a more sharper contrast between tracks, then the instrumental Democracy with its industrial metal intro is a case in point. One could describe it as a New Age/Krautrock piece with dreamy keyboard sounds interspersed amongst electronic dance beats and crunching guitars.
Baroque and Roll Dementia maintains the heavy sided instrumental nature to the album with some heavy riffs while A Deeper Understanding? and The Jazz Suite feature much more of a jazz orientated touch with some space rock keyboard structures much in the Ozric Tentacles vein. As the album seems to be taking a more instrumental approach, this is interrupted by the duet and Asia-like track take A Deep Breath And Hold On Tight which features both the vocals of John Wetton and Stuart Nicholson.
As I have mentioned over and over again, Galahad have managed to exploit a variety of genres on Year Zero. With Hindsight Parts 1 and 2 as well as The September Suite, the band pull all the stops vis-a-vis classical music. The structuring of the tracks is remarkably different to the rest of the album as well as the instrumentation which has a much more acoustic touch to it. Whereas Hindsight was more of a ballad-like piece, The September Suite sees the band reaching into a much more darker scenario. The orchestration has a brooding style to it as it rumbles beneath the surface to then break out into the organ crescendo that leads into World Watching. Strangely enough, though a great track in itself, the track sounds slightly dated in structure and style and seems to link the band with the past progressive scene of the eighties rather than that of the future. The final piece Deceptive Vistas /Postscript - Perspective is actually one of the album highlights, featuring the perfect balance from the neo-progressive style that merged a melodic hard rock with progressive rock overtones as the choir slowly creeps in to dominate proceedings and bring the album to a conclusion.
The discovery of Galahad has been a most enjoyable experience for me with Year Zero impressing me greatly both from the point of view of the individual songs as well as the overall assembly and balance of the album. For those willing to experience a band whom one could describe as being on the same lines as Marillion, then I strongly recommend this album.
Year Zero is a concept album with about one hour of music. It's divided into 15 parts, including songs and instrumentals. Some pieces are really integrated (like instrumental segments), and others are just mixed together. This, and the fact that some themes are returning, give the album a strong conceptual feel.
The music is without doubt very proggy. The funny thing is that Galahad seems to have a love/hate relationship with this "prog rock mark". The band seems afraid to advertise themselves too much as prog act, because most musical media (not DPRP) simply ignore that kinda "out of fashion" music. This explains the -quite unusual- way Galahad describes their new album to the press. In short, it's: "rock music with diverse influences, including PROG, without obvious singles, but no songs about hobbits, and only pretentious if you have a narrow minded view of music". Well done guys!
Players on the album are: Stuart Nicholson (vocals), Spencer Luckman (drums), Neil Pepper (bass), Dean Baker (keyboards), Roy Keyworth (guitars) and some guest musicians (including John Wetton on vocals).
As for the music: I won't go into long track-by-track descriptions. Let me just roughly go through the pieces on the album. They can be divided into four main sequences, around which the music is constructed:
The album starts with a moody overture (Year Zeroverture), and a very powerful dramatic prog song (Belt Up). This is a great piece, with an exciting cowboy feel (reminding me a bit of the well-known Rawhide song, which once was played by some of the DPRP-team around a campfire -sorry, can't reveal more details here).
On the song, Stuart Nicolson shares vocals with guest John Wetton. Their combined vocals are very effective. Nicolson's voice always had more personality than power, but this "duo singing" works out great for him. And of course it's good to hear Wetton do some really proggy stuff again.
Then a resting point follows, with some high vocals in Yes/Flower Kings-style and good solo guitars (Ever The Optimist), leading into an instrumental passage with some Focus-style jodeling (Charlotte Suite). This part concludes with a dramatical powerballad (Haunted).
Next is a sequence of pieces that are more or less integrated. It starts with a long Hawkwind-like track, with spacey sequencers, and some punky vocals (Democracy). It is followed a jazz-rock instrumental (Baroque + Roll Dementia), and a spacey piece with some very Yes-like vocals and VDGG-style flute/sax (A Deeper Understanding). It floats into another jazzy part (Jazz Suite), after which the earlier Belt Up song theme returns, with Wetton and Nicholson sharing vocals again (Take a Deep Breath). This part concludes with an extremely beautiful acoustic ballad (Hindsight 1+2).
As for the fourth and final part: the tension is building up again, with dark orchestral sounds and church organ (September Suite), seemlessly transforming into another VDGG-style song (World Watching). It concludes with a real grande finale, with dramatic vocals and guitars, and lots of bombastic mellotrons, trumpets and choir (Deceptive Vistas/Postscript/Perspective).
All in all, I am deeply impressed by this album. The band has been called "promising" for a long time (followed by a more painful period of silence), but this new release is an extremely strong musical statement. Galahad proves to be very much alive and kicking. Their music is a powerful combination of traditional and more recent prog rock styles, and their sound is quite modern, so never outdated or too retro at all. The earlier Marillion influences are almost completely gone, with some pleasant Yes-like vocals instead. The music concentrates on moods and melodies, without overly long (some would use "boring") instrumental parts, and without "showing of" technical playing skills. Also the audio quality of the album is very good. Year Zero is one of the best prog releases I have heard this year, and I feel it's still growing on me!
I doubt that any introduction is necessary for Galahad, so I shall skip the usual preliminaries and move straight to Year Zero - an album that has been in the pipeline for some time now and follows up the bands last studio offering, Following Ghosts . Although subdivided into fourteen segments, Year Zero is presented perhaps as a concept album, or perceivably, as one continuous, perpetually evolving, piece of music, linked by various sound-collages.
The album opens in a calming and somewhat soothing manner, with atmospheric and airy keyboard lines, drifting over a gentle chordal backwash. During the four or so minutes of Year Zeroverture, the track builds in intensity, as the additional instrumentation is added, latterly by the themic and somewhat heavier guitar, percussion and drums. A rather long, but still effective introduction, as the track ebbs and flows towards the second piece, Belt Up. The movement from track to track is unobtrusive, before the driving, orchestral bowed string section, pricks up the ears and signifies the change of track. Chanting voices herald the driving guitar riff , still under-pinned by the strings, as the track moves into a much heavier vein, with the introduction of the vocals, a more rock/metal approach is inferred, to the ensuing proceedings. I must admit to being a tad apprehensive at this point, however, my misgivings were soon waylaid as we drift into Ever the Optimist, with it's gentle, Yes-like vocal arrangement. Leading in from the synth introduction, the strong vocal harmonies and haunting guitar, run hand in hand with this ever intensifying section.
The album is segued by a number of interesting shorter tracks, the first here, in The Charlotte Suite, church organ and angelic voices give way to a brief, full band, themed guitar section. Again, mention here that, Year Zero is offered as a continuous piece, and by dissecting the tracks this may give the wrong impression, as much of the appeal of the album is derived by the notion of a continuous flow. Although, it should be noted that there are some discernable breaks, as here, at the introduction to Haunted, a classic rock ballad in the truest traditions. A good track with Stuart Nicholson showing another side to his vocals.
As Haunted fades to the strains of the Rhodes piano, we have another brief pause in the proceedings, before the mini epic, Democracy, clocking in at just under 10 minutes. Constructed from many layers, swirling strings sequenced synthesizer lines and numerous special effects, laying foundation for another lengthy, atmospheric section. Darker and more haunting than the opening section, from Year Zeroverture, the sporadic guitar noises add to the overall ambience, however, as the kick drum emerges, with metronomic precision, followed by an infectious bass synth line, the track takes yet another turn. Democracy twists and winds through many directions, on it's journey - a cleverly constructed piece.
The middle section of the album breaks briefly with the overall continuity, as here with, Baroque and Roll Dementia, again, a short but interesting piece and as the title would suggest a predominantly rock and roll rhythm ensues. The emphasis more on the rock than the roll, as an ever increasing background of arpeggiated synth lines and voices emerge. Possibly an unfamiliar name, to some, but this track did bring to mind an interesting Eighties band called Art of Noise. The music returns to a gentle ambient background before the next piece.
A Deeper Understanding changes direction once again and returns to the Yes-like vocals, featured in Ever the Optimist, this time accompanied by a Steve Howe like, guitar motif. The inclusion of the saxophone, which embellishes the main theme, marks a return to the more continuous flow, as the next three tracks link seamlessly from one to the other. The instrumental melody from this track will feature strongly within the next piece, The Jazz Suite. Opening with an interesting bass solo section from Neil Pepper, the track draws from the jazz-rock, fusion fields, whilst retaining a strong melodic sense. The deft jazz chord structure from the piano drawing comparisons, for the whole track, to Weather Report. The transition from The Jazz Suite to Take a Deep Breath and Hold Tight is carefully executed as the more strident and pronounced progressive rock idiom re-emerges, revisiting an earlier section, as Belt Up is reprised.
Hindsight 1, appears from the previous fading reprise and is a gentle piano piece, with light strings and the main melody played, to great effect on the clarinet, an unusual choice of instrument, but very effective here. An excellent interlude acting as a prerequisite for Hindsight 2. Again the tracks drift effortlessly together, as we start on the gradual building of this tasteful ballad, with the subtle guitar licks meshing with the charming flute melody. Much credit here for Sarah Quilter [flute, saxophone, and clarinet], who adds much to the appeal of these later tracks. Vocally one of the strongest pieces from the album and displaying yet another side to Stuart Nicholson's versatile voice, the track builds in intensity with Roy Keyworth's soaring and melodic solo guitar outro.
As we draw to the end of Year Zero, three tracks remain, with possible references to the events in America, last year, conjured up within the music and lyrics of these powerful pieces. The September Suite, a predominantly keyboard track, arranged within a very strong symphonic framework - Dean Baker captures the orchestral sounds and progressions well. And in keeping with the previous piece, World Watching rises with the sound of a pipe organ, joined by a solo voice. Building all the time and releasing finally into Deceptive Vistas/Postscript - Perspective. A strong guitar theme carries us to the end of the album, Stuart Nicholson's strong rock voice, recounting the final tale, as the track rises through a triumphant fanfare, before fading with excellent choral voices. The end?
If you have an hour to spare, it is well worth listening to the entire album in one go, personally, however, I am not wholly convinced that it works as a continuous piece. Perhaps time may change this view. Having said this, I did not feel that those areas were the continuity lapsed, detracted from the music, in fact the breaks were welcome. On this point I did also find the atmospheric links, combined with the ambient nature of some of the tracks, a bit much. But to each his own and for me the album was a very positive step for Galahad and one that will hopefully shake them free from that dreadful "neo prog" moniker once and for all.
This is not album that can easily be digested on the first listening, but requires many hearings to fully appreciate all that is encompassed. This, along with certain referencing passages, throughout the album, made me mindful of Porcupine Tree - what is on the surface is not all that lies beneath. I must confess that in the past, I have not been one of Galahad's greatest fans, however on the evidence here that view has changed. I feel sure that this CD will already feature in the collections of the bands many fans, but for those unsure, or perhaps unfamiliar with the music of Galahad, this would make a worthy introduction.