With a relationship stretching back more than 30 years, my prog writing journey will always be inextricably linked to Galahad as theirs was the first album I bought from the underground scene, while they in turn put me in touch with another band and it all went downhill from then. I have written words for a few of their booklets, and while I have not seen them play since moving to New Zealand I am still often in contact with singer Stu Nicholson. I know this closeness means I am never nearly as objective as others when it comes to reviewing Galahad, but when a band keeps putting out wonderful albums then I feel justified in continually singing their praises. This is their twelfth studio album, and features the same line-up as with the last release, ‘The Last Great Adventurer’, namely Stu Nicholson (vocals), Dean Baker (keyboards), Spencer Luckman (drums), Lee Abraham (guitars) and Mark Spencer (bass guitar). Recorded in multiple places it was then edited, mixed and mastered by engineer/producer Karl Groom (Threshold/Dragonforce/Pendragon/Arena/Yes etc.) who has now been working with them for some time.
This is possibly the most polished release to date from the Dorset boys, with a somewhat heavier emphasis on Stu’s vocals as the band continue to evolve. When I first knew them they were solid 90’s neo prog, then moved into prog metal with the change in approach heralded by the arrival of Dean Baker and now happily straddle multiple sub-genres so while they are firmly “prog” it would be wrong to try and shoehorn them into any particular bucket. I have known Karl nearly as long as Stu, and while I always think of him first and foremost as a guitarist, he has built a richly deserved reputation on the other side of the desk, and has done wonders in bringing Spencer’s playing to the fore. When I listen back to early recordings one cannot hear all the work being put behind the kit, but when those tracks have been remastered by Karl it has been like hearing a new band, and here Spencer can be heard driving the band ever onwards. Mark is a multi-instrumentalist (and a fine singer in his own right), so his approach to the bass is quite different in that he is looking to see what he can add to the melody as well as underpinning the arrangement, while Lee is another renowned performer and his second stint in the band (he was originally bassist) as guitarist has allowed him to spread his musical wings. All this adds to the way the band keeps shifting and melding, while Dean is a musical magpie who didn’t even know what prog was until he joined the band a quarter of a century ago, and his relationship with Stu has meant they keep shifting and changing.
I mean, listen to “The Righteous and the Damned”, which commences with some acapella vocals overlaid on background noise of people walking around, but what some may not realise is that Stu is singing the words from the title cut of 2007’s ‘Empires Never Last’ before somehow the music segues into something Eastern European and folky. One of the joys of Galahad is they no longer feel shackled by any expectations so instead do whatever they want, and when this song turns into a System of a Down-style belter I was not too surprised, but was very pleased. The title cut of this album is about dealing with dementia and is very personal indeed. Stu has always had a way with words and here he paints a picture while Dean is there by his side on piano as we build into the piece. The layers gradually build as we are taken into the world of someone who is “filling up this thing which makes the water go hot, to make some drinks for people in another room whose names escape me”. Those two lines are incredibly powerful, and the arrangements allow for us to understand the emotions being displayed and the sense of loss and helplessness. As the song ends Stu takes two lines from Gabriel’s “I Don’t Remember”, which itself was about being trapped in a situation it is impossible to get out of, and delivers them in an incredibly poignant manner.
Musically this album is all over the place, from Eighties-style electronic dance through to prog metal and everything in between, yet the vocals and arrangements bring the album together so one looks forward to the next unexpected fork in the road and the detour where we move back on ourselves or in a totally different direction. Galahad consistently refuse to rest on their laurels and show no sign at all of losing inspiration or slowing down, and long may that continue. 10/10 Kev Rowland