Monday, 12 November 2012

Neo-prog - a cryme too far

Neo-prog is a sub-genre that I have little time for, let alone understand why it even exists, so when I volunteered to be part of DPRP's "Round Table Review" for Galahad's latest waxing Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria I thought here's a chance to deliver some home truths. Then came the debacle in the aftermath of my good mate Baz's righteous shredding (pun intended) of prosaic prog-metal band Threshold's offering for the same site.

As we all know the internet is full of needy fat (in mind if not in body) nerds who seem to have nothing better to do than force their rancid opinions down the virtual gullet of anyone daft enough to engage them in conversation. One of the species, albeit a fairly mild example, took umbrage to Baz's ultimately bang-on review, and to cut a long story short, firstly I decided that my Galahad review, which would almost certainly have resulted in a similar feast of frenzy, was simply not worth the trouble; at the end of the day I do this reviewing lark for fun and I do not need the grief. Secondly, approaching a review from a starting point of disliking a band or a genre is probably not the best approach, as some kind of "professional" objectivity is always my aim when scribbling these meandering missives, although I've no idea why, it's not like I'm getting paid for it after all.

You might be wondering what all the fuss is, or would have been about, well, here it is in all its glory:

Galahad - Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria

Galahad is filed under that dreadful category “neo-prog” on PA, a category that by definition should not be there at all. Surely something is or is not “prog”, whatever your particular definition? The label does have its uses though, in that the majority of what is classed “neo-prog”, is, in my ‘umble opinion about as far removed from being progressive music as a certain Chelsea FC captain is from being a decent human being, and therefore is to be avoided at all costs.

Galahad is also one of the stalwarts of the second wave of UK prog, and the band celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Along with the likes of Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, Pallas, etc, these are all bands that largely passed me by at the time as their style was and is not at all near anything that I was into then, or now.

However, the fact they are still going attests to the loyalty of their audience, and good luck to them. Tragically, the band suffered the passing of bass player Neil Pepper who sadly went the way of cancer soon after the recording of this album was completed. We all know someone who has died from that dreadful disease before their time, and my condolences go to his family and friends. Should that sad fact temper any criticism of the album he and his mates left behind? Personally I don’t think so, so if you’re expecting a tribute to Mr Pepper, look away now.

The first song surprises me as it comes over all Klaus Schulze; space-rock sequencers bubbling under a disembodied voice, followed by an almost Euro-pop melody; not groundbreaking but entirely different to what I was expecting, even allowing for the hint of AOR riffage in the background. Salvation II continues the theme and for nearly half of its 6 minutes turns into a pop confection that is not a million miles away from Duran Duran with balls. OK, maybe not my usual fare but not as stale as my care worn lugoles were expecting, by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately just as I think my admittedly negative preconceptions are about to be kicked into touch along comes the rest of the song which is full of the kind of clichéd prog-metal riffing that could have come from any album made in the last 20 years in that dull genre, where an initially quite good idea was flogged to death until it became the turgid lumpen dreck that it is today. “If it moves, riff it to death, if it’s not moving riff it ‘til it does” seems to be the motto, and a more painful replacement for imagination is hard to fathom.

From here on in the riffing is only used sparingly, thank gawd, but the songs sound tired and weary. The over-long Guardian Angel is driven...actually “prodded” is probably a better a lethargic beat over which the singer sounds uninspired as does the guitarist, whose melody and chord progressions you can predict well before they happen. Although it livens up towards the end, it’s one of those “long because the fans expect it” songs as far as I can see. Looking at the track listing, there’s a reprise to look forward to later, all 6 bleedin’ minutes of it. I wouldn’t bother trying to resuscitate it lads, it’s pointless. Secret Kingdoms... starts with the kind of prole-riffage that I crossed the street to avoid a quarter of a century ago. Fast Eddie Clark this guy isn’t. It’s another tired song that meanders along in a tame and predictable fashion until it eventually runs into ...And Secret Worlds which starts with an ersatz classical piano sequence that makes a nice change from what has gone before, even though it may well be the kind of thing that Muse do far better. Bloody hell, I just praised Muse, whatever next?

It’s fairly obvious to me that the keyboard player is a cut above the rest of the band and, for once, as usually keyboard dominated neo-prog has "terrible" as a benchmark, had he been allowed his head more often the whole thing might have been a bit more palatable. Although the latter half of ...And Secret Worlds nearly keels over under the weight of its own bombast, it is actually quite fun, histrionic plank spanking adding an extra layer of chuckle, although I sadly suspect it’s all meant to be taken seriously.

Apparently the band has revived old songs to end recent albums, and this one ends with Richelieu's Prayer 2012 but as I have not heard the original and have no intention of torturing myself, I’ll take it on its own merits. Actually, it’s not that bad and displays a deftness of touch largely absent from what has gone before. Again it won’t win any awards for originality, but it is a decent “lighters aloft” song; blimey, there’s even harmonies on it!

All joking aside, this is Galahad’s second studio album this year, and it would appear that they have stretched themselves way too thin on this one. For all of you no doubt by now apoplectic fans of the band, firstly I did warn you to look away, and secondly may I point out that 2012’s earlier release Battle Scars got glowing reviews here on DPRP, and if everyone thought the same way the world would be a very boring place indeed.

Normally I would not quote another reviewer, but the little gem that follows was simply too incredulous to resist. I find it hard to believe that anyone in their right mind could describe this as “ of the finest prog albums that you will ever hear”, as this other reviewer puts it, unless they are either related to a band member or are one those poor unfortunates who reckon that “prog” is a style and not an attitude, or, heaven forfend, an abbreviation of the word progressive. Even that scribbler cannot surely believe he or she will be playing this patchy and plodding effort as often as Close To The Edge, or whatever his or her classic prog album of choice is in 10 years time, ridden as is it is with more cliché than you would find in a cliché pie covered in cliché sauce? The similarly hackneyed cover at least describes the contents, the only surprise being that the stylised young lady it features is not flashing some flesh, as was the case with the previous album.

Unfortunately this is a bland and unadventurous album and for the most part curiously flat and joyless, apart from Secret Worlds and to a lesser extent the last track, these being the only moments on the thing where the whole band appear to be having fun. Of course, the workman-like prog-by-numbers atmosphere of the rest was probably down to the rest of the band’s increasing awareness of the deteriorating health of their bass player, but, if that was the case, why release the album at all? For that reason and out of respect, I will not give a mark out of 10 to this album, as is the tradition on these pages.

I will now don a tin hat and go into hiding.

Conclusion - Unrated

All quite reasonable if you ask me, and yes Baz, I am a cowardly lion! A friend came up with a great description I'm determined will end up in a review one day, but even this nonsense did not deserve the description "AOR bukkake"!!

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