Seventeen years is a long time between albums, and although that’s the last time we heard from criminally overlooked prog metal act Galactic Cowboys, in truth we need to go even further back. That’s because Long Way Back to the Moon, the band’s seventh album, is their first since 1993 with the original lineup that recorded two excellent records, 1991’s Galactic Cowboys and 1993’s Space in Your Face.
While the band’s output after those two records didn’t match the quality of those releases, bringing back the original lineup will either be like catching lightning in a bottle or a desperate plea for attention. Luckily for us, it’s more the former than the latter.
Throughout Long Way Back to the Moon the foursome are in fine form. In their heyday, Galactic Cowboys were known for their sharp musicianship, wry sense of humor, and the best harmony vocals in metal. None of that changes here, although the production is inexplicably dark, lacking the presence a band like this needs to really let their music and vocals shine through.
The band’s sense of humor is present throughout, especially on songs like “Zombies,” where the protagonist falls in love on the last day of the world, and “Next Joke,” where vocalist/guitarist Ben Huggins sings “The sky is the limit, when you put your mind to it, you can be anything you want – next joke!”
Also omnipresent are the impressive vocal harmonies that were the band’s trademark in the ’90s. Simply put, no other band out there can sing backing vocals like these guys – they slay their choruses. As a lead vocalist, Huggins is no diva, but he sings with a smile, and his vocals on “Amisarewas” are among his best ever.
And musically, Galactic Cowboys pick up right where they left off, with power, heft, virtuosity, and melody throughout. Opening track “In the Clouds” is a mid-paced progressive anthem, “Next Joke” and “Zombies” are pure fun, and “Long Way Back to the Moon” pays homage to old fan favorite “Ranch on Mars” with the vocal “It’s been a long, long time since I had a ranch on Mars.” But the highlight tracks here are “Internal Masquerade,” “Drama,” and “Amisarewas,” all of which are as good as anything the band has put out and great examples of what the Galactic Cowboys are all about.
Sadly, not all is hunky-dory here. There are thirteen songs on the album, including two bonus tracks, and it’s a bit too much. The bonus tracks are good, especially the autobiographical “Believing the Hype,” but the duds are nasty. First is “Blood in My Eyes,” which is a horrible take on rap metal that even the band’s musicality can’t save, and “Hate Me” comes off as generic nu-metal. Those songs should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Long Way Back to the Moon reaches for Mars and almost gets there, if not for the murky production and the blatant missteps of “Blood in My Eyes” and “Hate Me.” But if you skip those songs Galactic Cowboys have a great platter of heavy, harmonious progressive rock that more than legitimizes their return. Here’s hoping for another album (with better production) in less than seventeen more years.
(released November 17, 2017 on Mascot Records)
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Watch Galactic Cowboys – “Internal Masquerade” Video