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Pallas: Arrive Alive, The Sentinel, The Wedge, Beat the Drum (Reissues)

The erratic career of Scotland's Pallas can effectively be divided into two eras, based on the band's lead singers. After beginning life in 1979, Pallas enjoyed a period of success in the mid-Eighties but didn't release any new material between 1986 and 1999. After Pallas' first two albums (Arrive Alive and The Sentinel), recorded with the eccentric and theatrical Euan Lowson at the mic, British singer Alan Reed took over on The Wedge and Bang the Drum (as well as on 2001's The Cross and The Crucible and the recently released live DVD/CD document The Blinding Darkness). For more about this history of this intriguing but confounding band, go here.

A few years back, Germany's InsideOut Music reissued the first four Pallas albums with expanded liner notes, bonus tracks and enhanced features. Those discs weren't available in the United States, however, until recently just in time for fans to famliarize themselves with Pallas' back-catalog before the band's July appearance at NEARfest.

Arrive Alive, the band's self-released first album originally issued only on cassette, was recorded live in Scotland in April 1981. This reissue features an alternate running order and is padded with studio songs from that period. The early Pallas sound appears to owe just as much to the likes of Marillion and IQ (certainly primary influences later on) as to the new wave of British pop bands, as the catchy pop-influenced title track vaguely recalls Duran Duran. Even though the audio quality of Arrive Alive is raw, some of these songs especially the sweeping and majestic instrumentation of "5 to 4" and "Crown of Thorns" clearly reveal the direction in which Pallas would eventually head, boldly lead by guitarist Niall Mathewson and bassist Graeme Murray. Here, too, is "The Ripper," Lowson's most infamous piece (which he literally reenacts in a guest appearance on The Blinding Darkness).

Pallas was eventually signed to EMI Records, which wanted to capitalize on the then-recent success of its new upstart band, Marillion. The Sentinel is a concept album based on the lost city of Atlantis but with Cold War themes that are still relevant in a post-9/11 world. Produced by Yes vet Eddie Offord (although production duties on more than half of these tracks were ultimately handled by the band), The Sentinel gets a tad repetitive in spots but is a vast improvement over Arrive Alive's hodge-podge nature, with stronger song structures and heavier, more dramatic and competent performances even though Lowson's voice remains an acquired taste. Incidentally, around this time, Murray began demonstrating his talent as Pallas' second vocalist. This version of The Sentinel includes additional tracks originally available only as B-sides, plus rare video footage of Pallas playing London's Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, considered to be the only live footage of the original band featuring Lowson.

The Sentinel also proved to be the last Pallas record featuring Lowson, as reports indicate that the band had gone as far as it could with the singer. Enter Reed, who made his debut on the 1985 EP Knightmoves whose pop-influenced tracks are included on this reissue of 1986's The Wedge and then suffered a nervous breakdown during the recording of that album. (Read more about that episode in the album's liner notes.) As much as The Sentinel improves on "Arrive Alive, The Wedge betters The Sentinel. Reed's voice is much more appealing than Lowson's, and the music sounds more polished and heavier an attempt, according to Murray, to solve the band's "problems finding enough stuff for live work." Some moments here come off like GTR, while others sound like mid-period Genesis and (still) Marillion, but Pallas manages to carve out its own musical space with the symphonic-rock opener "Dance Through the Fire," the four-part epic "Rat Racing" and "The Executioner (Bernie Goetz a Gun)," an upbeat, Peter Gabriel-like song with a now-dated reference to Bernie Goetz, the man who killed three black males on a New York subway in 1984. As a bonus, a fancy video of the band performing the original version of "Win or Lose" (not the one that appears on The Wedge) is also included on this version of the album.

Fast-forward 13 years to 1999, after a couple of compilation appearances and amidst rumors that Pallas had broken up: Beat the Drum sounds less eccentric and more sophisticated than any previous Pallas record. Packed with mysterious yet accessible melodies and rich, warm audio quality, the album features new drummer Colin Fraser (who replaced original drummer Derek Forman) and songs that are both worldly (the title track) and earthly ("Spirits"). Snappy pop songs ("All or Nothing") mingle with energetic rockers ("Call To Arms") and tribal rhythms ("Fragments of the Sun"). Clearly, this is the sound of Pallas moving into the 21st century, unencumbered by comparisons to other groups and expectations from fans. The band's next album, The Cross and The Crucible, would again improve upon Beat the Drum, and now Pallas' current live release grandly sums up the first quarter-century of a band that finally seems to be fulfilling its vast potential.

Track Listings
Arrive Alive:
1) Arrive Alive (4:17)
2) 5 To 4 (10:24)
3) Queen of the Deep (11:34)
4) Flashpoint (7:13)
5) The Ripper (14:52)
6) Crown of Thorns (9:25)
7) Paris Is Burning (5:11)
8) The Hammer Falls (5:20)
9) Stranger on the Edge of Time (5:35)
Total Time: 73:55

The Sentinel:
1) Shock Treatment (4:29)
2) Cut and Run (4:59)
3) Arrive Alive (4:05)
4) Rise and Fall (Part 1) (6:05)
5) Eastwest (4:58)
6) March On Atlantis (5:23)
7) Rise and Fall (Part 2) (4:08)
8) Heart Attack (7:59)
9) Atlantis (7:59)
10) Ark of Infinity (7:05)
Total Time: 57:30

The Wedge:
1) Dance Through the Fire (4:46)
2) Throwing Stones at the Wind (5:15)
3) Win or Lose (4:32)
4) The Executioner (Bernie Goetz a Gun) (5:36)
5) Imagination (4:35)
6) Rat Racing (8:09)
7) Just A Memory (5:29)
8) Stranger (From Knightmoves) (3:50)
9) Sanctuary(From Knightmoves) (9:34)
10) Nightmare (From Knightmoves) (4:22)
Total Time: 56:14

Beat The Drum:
1) Call To Arms (6:29)
2) Beat The Drum (9:17)
3) Hide & Seek (4:42)
4) Insomniac (7:40)
5) All Or Nothing (4:53)
6) Spirits (5:41)
7) Man of Principle (5:43)
8) Ghosts (8:15)
9) Blood & Roses (4:52)
10) Wilderness Years (6:01)
11) Fragments of the Sun (8:01)
Total Time: 71:40

Added: April 5th 2004
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Pallas Web Site
Hits: 5928
Language: english

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