1. Battle Scars (7.04)
2. Reach For The Sun (3.54)
3. Singularity (7.32)
4. Bitter And Twisted (6.58)
5. Suspended Animation (4.05)
6. Beyond The Barbed Wire (5.30)
7. Seize The Day (8.34)
8. Sleepers 2012 (14.07) (CD Version Bonus)
I began writing the intro to the review months ago when Neil Pepper, the bassist, was still alive... Strange you say? Probably... But this album had kept recurring in my dreams long before it was released... For me it is a very special release because it carries on a part of this wonderful man and artist (random order). Now, let him rest in peace and should he not like any part of this review, let him strike me with the thunder straight from heaven above... :-) I was awaiting this album eagerly from the very beginning. Those who know me know perfectly well that Galahad is my no. 1 ever! So, quite probably I am far from being objective, but one thing I'm sure of - I can appreciate a great album when I hear one!
Well, it not the sort of the intro I had in mind a year ago, but it will have to suffice... :)
Someone has asked me once: "Have you ever noticed that frequently the best songs on the albums are those with number 5 on the track list?" Indeed there seems to be something in it... Therefore, I shall start from track number 5. Is it the best song? Hard to say, but it is surely a great one. You feel Neil's spirit in every sound of it. I remember he originally posted the song on YouTube in February 2011. It came to life within two days with use of laptop and iPhone. The clip featured Neil's two children and it was filmed on the streets of his hometown Yeovil and another miniature town, Wimborne Minster. These were the circumstances of how this great track, 'Journey into the Unknown" was born. I so much wish this journey had ended happily... Unfortunately, cancer had won... and the song received the official title 'Suspended Animation'. Stu Nicholson's lyrics complemented the piece, for he is the one who is the true master of words... "I’m trapped in suspended animation. I’m caught in suspended animation, don’t recognise the faces, don’t recognise the places but I recognise the pain..."
The gentlemen had lots of fun recording the album. It was a joyous time, but also not devoid of pain (literally and metaphorically), which demanded "recognition and acceptance". The inevitable occurred, but the music will remain eternal.
At hard times, when every single thing seemed bad and hopeless, 'Reach for the Sun' helped me endure.. I came to believe that better times would come, I wrote it down on a yellow post-it-note and stuck it on my computer screen. It still helps in unhappy moments. Now I am offering my yellow post-it-note to you too. The song is mostly instrumental (a short reference to 'Battle Scars'). The entire composition is absolutely perfect! It is fast and rhythmical with a superb guitar of Roy Keyworth (the author of the title). I close my eyes when I listen to it - seems best this way!
However, from the very beginning my favourite track on 'Battle Scars' has been 'Singularity' - musically ingenious and lyrically touching. It starts with a fairy tale-like style of Danish Mew... gentle guitar - no doubt Pepper's style*. Stuart's voice gives me shivers and makes my eyes twinkle.. It is enough to hear: "I'm at one with my universe..." And how dramatically it all harmonises! It's definitely the highlight of the album.
'Beyond the Barbed Wire' is, after 'Sleepers', the next sad enigmatic story maintained in the war mood. Barbed wires, fights, battles... I am deeply convinced that the memory of the dead will not pass away with clouds of black smoke...
'Seize the Day' will surprise many. True fans of the band, however, are not unfamiliar with such sounds. The song starts as an innocent tune, it keeps building up and the chorus invites us to the dance floor... Well, prog-rockers, throw the first stone if you have never been to the dance floor yourself... :-)
"Lying again and again, bitter and twisted, rotten to the core" - I am happy that things have been called by their names! How often is it that you would like to shout out that someone is rotten to the core, the liar, bitter and twisted?... Here is a perfect soundtrack to go with it.... Listen to 'Bitter and Twisted'.
I will finish this review with the bonus track, 'Sleepers' 2012. First, however, let's recall the old 1995 version of the song. Neil Pepper used to like playing the title song from the 'Sleepers' album. In one of the conversations he once stated: "It's a great riff, but I think it got lost a bit in the production process. Perhaps in the future we'll manage to improve it somehow. I remember working on this piece with the boys during one of the Sunday afternoon rehearsals in the Bournermouth pub." And thus, after more than a decade the boys revived the song. I never had a chance to ask Neil if he was happy with it, but I think this new version must have been his preference...
Summing up, the band has been going on for 25 years. There were Marillion-like moments, electronic and heavy metal episodes... And how do they sound now? They sound heavy, rhythmical and lyrical. And it is with clear conscience that I can recommend this album wholeheartedly. I am sure it will not disappoint you. And do I dare to suggest that it is their best album ever? Well, certainly the quality one and a great piece of art! My deepest respect to you, gentlemen. Neil, you may be proud. I am!
Luckily it is not over yet! More of this musical feast awaits us in May - the next and the last piece of music coming from Neil**... I will be waiting impatiently for more of these unique sounds, the album 'Beyond the Realms of Euphoria'.
PS. I've made my mind: this IS the best Galahad album!
PS.2. A few words of explanation: why so much about Neil? Because it is to him and his memory that this album is dedicated.
* Neil was fascinated by electronic and deep bass sounds. He loved bands like Foo Fighters, Muse, Mew or our very own Riverside (ADHD was one of his favourites).
**Neil Pepper died of cancer on September 2nd, 2011. He managed to record bass for the album as well as some guitar and keyboard parts.
10/10 (The highest possible note. If you think it is too subjective an opinion, judge it for yourself.)
Undoubtedly it is a special album - very important for the band, for you, and I am also convinced that it will be equally special for all Galahad fans. The bass parts on this album will surely become what Freddie Mercury's voice was on Queen's 'Made in Heaven' or Piggy's guitars on 'Katorz' or 'Infini' by VoiVoda. These artists, I believe, were only able to hear the final effect of their work somewhere there on the other side... and they did not have the possibility either to change or improve things, but in this case I do not think anything demands improvements.
The first song, 'Battle Scars' begins symphonically, monumentally. It is a very energetic huge composition with lots of impressive characteristic vocal parts of Stuart and with almost heavy metal guitars of Roy. I suspect it will become one of the strongest live points. The next one, 'Reach for the Sun' prolongs the energetic vibe. It is the shortest track on the album and probably the heaviest one. 'Singularity' exposes bass sounds of the late Neil Pepper. It is a quiet song which truly gets to you only after several times. 'Bitter and Twisted' - it's here that Neil's inspiration with our Riverside is heard most clearly. More prominent bass can be found in 'Suspended Animation'. The song features more Hammond-like keyboard sounds and the dreamy chorus brings the vision of a certain plant to my head - a bit of a 'thorny' melody - a stem, delicate and colourful chorus - a flower... There may be some point in the theory that tracks number 5 are usually the highlights of the albums after all. 'Beyond the Barbed Wire' starts with some very quiet tunes which eventually get disturbed by heavy guitars. The song develops like a battle on a field and Stuart's voice sounds heavy and sharp like a dropping bomb. The last new composition on the album, 'Seize the Day', starts in Waters-like 'The Final Cut' mood. However, it soon turns into a bit industrial and a little disco-like style of 'Year Zero'. Nevertheless, it is far from being a nuisance. I can instantly think about a few famous prog titles which cannot be denied some disco flavour as well... and I enjoy them anyway. Let's take Marillion 'Lady Nina', 'Disco Queen' of Pain of Salvation, or finally what comes to my mind is one of my favourite albums (closely related to Galahad in my opinion) namely 5bridgeS and their 'Thomas Tracks'. The part I am thinking of is probably the most characteristic if not the strongest and most interesting bits of this album.
So much for the main part of 'Battle Scars'. No doubt the album will make all the Galahad fans happy. It will probably mean even more to those who are fond of their two preceding ones. 'Battle Scars' combines all the essential Galahad elements: heavy metal power of 'Empires Never Last' as well as the industrial touch of 'Year Zero'.
The album is concluded with a bonus track - 14-minute-long mindblowing version of the title track from 'Sleepers'. And this very track made me realise that it was 'Sleepers' that is my most beloved Galahad album. And it will probably remain so until the day I join Neil Pepper on the other side.
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