Galahad: Battle Scars
It is a real skill for a band to be able to continually evolve, while still retaining a recognisable signature sound that keeps fans coming back for more - accepting, and being enthused that their favourite band will never be exactly the same from album to album. This is a skill that not only do Galahad have in their armoury, it is something they've mastered and thrive because of. The band's last album, 2007's Empires Never Last was a perfect example, with the winding storytelling style for which Galahad have always been known, being beefed up by a harsher, heavier attack that added a forceful, threatening bite to the more intricate style of previous albums. Battle Scars, the first of two new offerings we can expect from Galahad this year (Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria is slated for release towards the end of 2012) follows along similar lines, while, as expected, expanding the range of colours from which Galahad have to choose.
The five years between Empires and Battle Scars haven't all been plain sailing for Galahad, with the sad death of Neil Pepper coming at the end of the bassist's battle with cancer. Fittingly, not only does Pepper's bass playing feature throughout Battle Scars, but his fantastic songwriting is one of the key cogs that makes for Galahad's strongest album to date and the best CD I've plopped in the player so far this year.
Sliding into view via a beautifully arranged classical/medieval/keyboard introduction, the album's title track is classic Galahad. Brooding, hook laden, threatening, playful and downright catchy, "Battle Scars" sums up exactly what makes this such a captivating album - the ability to wrap intricate, expansive music round punchy, unforgettable choruses. Singer Stuart Nicholson, immediately draws you in with a whispered beginning, before the keys weave their way towards a bristling riff that smacks you between the eyes, before the insistent chorus chant of the two words that make up the song and album title, transfix you, making you repeat the refrain over and over for weeks to come. Eerie, aggressive and memorable, it is a mighty introduction to the album. "Reach For The Sun" continues the vibe with expansive keyboards and towering drums, alongside staccato riffs and vocals, highlighting the stunning sound the album possesses, courtesy of the band, along with Threshold mainman Karl Groom. Cleverly "Singularity" calms what has been a frenetic, aggressive beginning to the album, with a Jarre like keyboard wash and an intentionally narrow sounding stab of guitars, bursting into full bloom as the song progresses. Already, by this stage it is obvious that, as ever, Galahad intend to challenge the listener to keep up, promising glorious rewards for those willing to invest their time in getting to know the music and involving, uncompromising lyrics. In fact the whole album feels thematically linked, both musically and conceptually, with a deep dark despair, being contradicted with an inner strength that always offers up glimpses of light through the, at times, weighty themes.
A spiralling keyboard and busy drum beat offers up an almost dance-like feel to "Bitter And Twisted", although Nicholson's meandering vocals and the wonderful combination of Roy Keyworth's intricate guitar playing and Dean Baker's layers of keyboards actually makes this the song most reminiscent of Empires Never Last. Before the dense riff and layered vocals of "Suspended Animation" brings to mind latter day Rush. Pepper's bass comes right to the fore during this song, throbbing with intent alongside the ever busy drumming from Spencer Luckman. Another catchy chorus comes wrapped in a thoughtful challenging lyric, with "Beyond The Barbed Wire" conjuring up images of prison camps, oppression and closed confused minds, although again the excellent fret work rivals the amazingly varied vocals for supremacy. The album proper closes out with the contradiction of styles that is "Seize The Day", building like an atmospheric track from the catalogue of Fish, before an amazingly bright, yet deeply melancholic keyboard melody is coupled with a huge chorus and bouncing beat to make what in truth is prog-dance. As someone with no affiliation to the latter of those genres, take it from me that the results are nothing short of wonderfully and surprisingly uplifting! In a just world, this song would be not only a prog anthem, but a mainstream hit.
As if those phenomenal seven tracks aren't enough, a fantastic, updated and extended version of the title track to the 1995 Galahad album Sleepers is added to Battle Scars as a bonus. As one of the most interesting songs from the band's catalogue, there was always a risk that revisiting such a strong song would prove unwise. Instead it again highlights just how stunning this disc sounds, with the expansive, explosive production, mixing and mastering making a great song even better.
Put simply Battle Scars is a triumph. Bring on Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria!
01. Battle Scars
02. Reach For The Sun
04. Bitter And Twisted
05. Suspended Animation
06. Beyond The Barbed Wire
07. Seize The Day
08. Sleepers 2012 (CD Version Bonus)
Added: May 29th 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Official Galahad WebSite
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