I don't remember Galahad from back in the day because, unlike most British neo-prog bands, their output doesn't go back to the beginning of the eighties. They were formed in 1985 but, as founding vocalist Stuart Nicholson suggested, they didn't get serious until the nineties; their studio debut, Nothing is Written, arrived as late as 1991. I remember them winning an edition of the Friday Rock Show's Rock War in that year, so recorded a session, but sadly none of those shows are extant, so I may not have heard them before, even though this appears to be their eleventh album, with four more credited to variations, Galahad Acoustic Quintet and Galahad Electric Company.
And so, in 2022, I wonder where they've been all my life because this is excellent stuff. They play an elegant fom of neo-prog, relying heavily on the keyboards of Dean Baker, which are omnipresent. Never mind the first three minutes of Omega Lights, which are all keyboards until Mark Spencer's bass joins in, it would be difficult to imagine this band without his presence. However, the biggest discovery for me is Nicholson's voice, which is magnificent. It's not just his tone, which is warm and clean and effortless; it's his delivery, which is masterclass stuff, especially on a song like Enclosure 1764 which wouldn't be remotely as successful without it. It's hardly an emphatic lead vocal, but he commands our attention whenever he opens his mouth and he's more than up to the clever lyrics there, which are blistering.
They start out strong with Alive, which is an immediate highlight, but Omega Lights seems to have more space to breathe, even though it's actually shorter if we discount that intro. Neo-prog to me has always relied on a balance between knowing that patience in a song is absolutely a virtue and knowing that too much patience leads to overindulgence. It's possible to write songs of substance in between three minute radio singles and Tales of Topographic Oceans. Galahad are clearly aware of exactly where that balance is and they never lose it throughout this album. Every solo serves a song, whether it's on keyboards, Lee Abraham's guitar or even a guest saxophone that I presume comes courtesy of Sarah Bolter. Nothing is here that shouldn't be.
For instance, if you dissect Blood, Skin and Bone, which runs just over eight minutes, you'll find an impressive opening, carved out of bells, electronica and what sounds like an eastern call to prayer. You'll find some emphatic riffs and a searing guitar solo. You'll find a delightfully confident vocal, especially during the second half, after a sample from a carnival. It's not an easy section to deliver but Nicholson makes it seem the easiest thing ever. I wonder if he's studied plain chant. And you'll find a pristine ending that combines many of these things. As much as I like the two openers, this is a better song and it rolls into the timeless opening to Enclosure 1764. This album is on fire.
I'm not quite as fond of the second side, possibly because the title track is my least favourite here, which I feel a little bad about because it's a heartfelt tribute to Nicholson's father, who sounds like a character indeed. However, I don't mean to hint that the second side lets the album down, which it doesn't. It would be fair to say that "least favourite" on this album would still be the highlight of another one. Galahad set the bar that high. For instance, the second side keeps adding elements worthy of note, such as the smoky saxophone that takes the title track home and the Gary Numan that unexpectedly shows up in the second half of Normality of Distance. And Another Life Not Lived, which closes out the album, is a further highlight.
In short, there's a heck of a lot here to enjoy. It's immediate enough to suggest I tentatively give it a 9/10 right off the bat and it's deep enough to back up that decision all day long. And now I have a whole back catalogue to dive into. Nicholson is the only founder member, but Spencer Luckman is a thirty-five year veteran on drums, meaning that he's been with the band longer than they've been serious. Baker joined in 1997, so he has a quarter of a century with the band. That leaves two new fish, Lee Abraham on guitar and Mark Spencer on bass, but they're hardly newbies, especially with the latter a frequent member of Twelfth Night, as indeed was Baker.
Once again, the British prog scene keeps on giving.