Monday, 18 February 2019

Pallas Athena - The Awakening (2019)



Country: UK
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 1 Feb 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Oh wow, I almost didn't finish this debut EP from Manchester progressive symphonic metal band Pallas Athena, not to be remotely confused with the Scottish progressive rock band Pallas, because its production is beyond awful. That's a major part of why I only rated this 5/10. The music deserves another point at least and very possibly more.

By awful, I mean truly outrageously awful. I felt like I was listening to it through a tin can full of mud, while the high end of talented vocalist Vickie Harley is sadly lost in a mess of hiss. Sibilance! Sibilance! I honestly bought demos on cassette back in the eighties that were probably recorded in basements but still sound better.

However, I figure that most people who might lean towards reviewing this may discard it for that reason and there's good stuff here that deserves to not be ignored just because of painful production. Like some of those demos, there's promise here that I hope the band follow up on. While I'd usually say that for a young band who have good ideas and just need time to build them towards a full length album, here I just want to hear what the band actually sound like.

Before the Dawn is easily the standout track for me here, but I'd suggest that there's interesting material to be found in all of these songs. This is the longest on the EP, running over seven minutes, and it's a suitably symphonic performance, led by Harley's resonant soprano. The backing is mostly catchy prog rock, which reminded me often of the underrated prog rockers Nova Mala Strana, but it ventures at points into doom, NWOBHM and even occult rock territory too, given that the section she sings in Latin (I think) plays out like a ritual.

Pallas Athena's page on Bandcamp suggests that their goal is to merge the operatic style of symphonic metal with more extreme metal sounds and an "atmospheric stage performance" which is obvious from the photos on their Facebook page. Maybe it's the production, but I didn't hear much extreme material behind Harley's voice at all.

Most of what I did hear was vocals. Gloria opens up the album with a neat choral feel, there are dreamy backing vocals on The Curse of Arachne and an eastern European choral flavour to the vocal interplay that wraps up The Summoning. When I could hear other things behind the static, pops and mud that constantly annoyed me, like the neat bass line that kicks off Lilith and the simple piano that does likewise for The Curse of Arachne, it wasn't extreme. Interesting, sure, but hardly a template for extreme symphonic metal.

The Awakening runs long for an EP—I've reviewed a full album that was two minutes shorter than this—but it features only five tracks. Pallas Athena are clearly happy with longer, more exploratory prog songs and they seem to be very able to mix the songwriting skills of James Horn with the vocal talents of Vickie Harley.

In short, there's a good band in here somewhere. I just wish I could hear what the heck they're doing. If I was still living in Yorkshire, I'd pop over to hear them live because they seem to be a busy stage act. Now I'm five thousand miles away, I'll have to settle for a wish that this gets a prompt remix and re-release or they hire a different producer for a full length album.

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