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I’ve been covering several East Asian metal bands in my reviews recently, so I thought I’d spend some time stopping by one of my guilty pleasures this time (and, as a power-metalhead, I have quite a few of those). Good old Galneryus… Engrish lyrics with flags, steel and blood galore, dozen-note-a-second noodling guitar soloes, more-or-less conventional J-rock progressions. We know precisely what to expect here, right?
Though this album provides plenty of opportunities to show off Syu’s considerable skills, the band has taken an interesting side road into the dark and gritty with ‘Alsatia’ in particular. The opening bass riff certainly isn’t Galneryus’ standard neoclassical fare. Indeed, it smacks of groove metal, as does Yamaguchi’s opening verse. However, the soaring melodic ‘cloud in the mists of time’ chorus – foreshadowed by the haunting choral prelude ‘we’ll find the path to Alsatia…’ – credibly helps the entire song to take off. The bass riff, when it returns, is accompanied by melodic keyboard work and manages to hold interest such that Syu’s inevitable guitar solo is pretty much icing on the cake. The end result is one of the more original and awesome pieces of music I’ve heard from Galneryus. It’s rather hard to believe that this song was commissioned as the opening theme for Mnemosyne no Musumetachi, given that it stands so well on its own.
Thankfully, the album doesn’t fall off there, but manages to provide successful deviations from the usual Galneryus style throughout. ‘Wings’ stands almost as a counterpoint to ‘Alsatia’: it is a much more conventional power-metal number, which starts off much more conservative and sparing in its sound with a single guitar playing a simple, repetitive melody ending in a single wailing note; when the keyboards join in, they are appropriately subdued. Each element rises to the fore only to submerge itself back into the background. By the time the keyboards and lead guitar get their turns to rise to the fore, the song has managed to gradually build itself up, sneaking up on you with surprising power like successive drinks of sake. Likewise, ‘the Awakening’ starts out with a subdued keyboard line, but instead takes that melody and plunges it straight into a high-powered frenzy of distorted guitar-work – in the end, it sounds much more neoclassical than any of the other songs on the album, with variations on the theme being ridden by the noodling of Syu’s lead guitar in the song’s mid-section. ‘Cause Disarray’ provides a suitable closing with a more-or-less straight-up power metal number, interspersed with verses backed by a minimalist keyboard-drum accompaniment.
Production and mixing are both sterling; one appreciates them both particularly on ‘Wings’ and ‘Cause Disarray’, which depend so heavily on the subtlety of their instrumentation. Syu’s guitar work is certainly as flamboyant as ever, but the real surprise on this album was the sheer flexibility, scope and presence of Yamaguchi’s vocals – from the filtered snarling on ‘Alsatia’ to the impressive range on ‘the Awakening’ and the commanding tenor on ‘Cause Disarray’. Shame that he left the band soon after this album’s release.
With all the experimentation going on on Alsatia / Cause Disarray, it’s surprising to say the least that they haven’t really managed to break the mould of the über-sanitary, squeaky-clean J-rock progressions, even on the dark and gritty ‘Alsatia’ – but perhaps that was a deliberate and conscious choice on their part. It isn’t a style I particularly like, but since even I have to admit that it was done well here, it isn’t really that much of a gripe.
All in all, Alsatia / Cause Disarray is a much more interesting and enjoyable release than some of Galneryus’ full-lengths, particularly their somewhat disappointing new album Resurrection. Definitely worth a listen (or two or three).
Now, I think I’ll go watch some Mnemosyne no Musumetachi…
16 / 20
Apparently tracks 1 and 4 here were the opening and closing theme for some Anime but whatever, I haven't seen it.
Well if you are reading this you have probably heard a Galneryus album before but this release is strangely a fantastic starting point for someone just getting into this extremely technical but melodic power metal band. There's a bit of Angra, Dream Theater, and Stratovarius here combined with J-Pop but overall this band is far more original sounding than you would guess. The production is squeaky clean and shiny (better than Galneryus' first two albums easily), everyone in the band is in top form. Yama-B in particular is in his prime here. I always thought his vocals used to sound a bit strained on the early albums but his charming, strangely posh sounding; melodic voice wields much more authority now! Just check out that insane note on “The Awakening” he hits.
“Alsatia” (apparently Alsatia is some place in London?) starts with an uncharacteristic (for Power Metal) bass heavy unmelodic riff and then some distorted (again unmelodic) vocals from Yama-B for the first verses. But this swiftly makes way for one of Galneryus’ trademark penetrating melodic choruses. Beware being caught suddenly singing the lyrics “cloud in the mist of time” in public places, it happened to me... Syu’s solo is very epic (as usual mind you) but for once he does not use sweep picking or the wah-wah pedal (as is becoming the standard in new albums). This song sets the tone for the rest of the release as while the other 3 tracks are more melodic, they all have similar moments that sound uncharacteristic of Galneryus to begin with. The high points of the album for me are the carefree sounding keyboard solo on Wings, the weird jazzy deliberately off key bit with the changing time signatures in “the Awakening” and the strangely relaxing outro of “Cause Disarray” that closes the release
I’ll tell you I didn’t completely take to the style of this release immediately. We still have the ridiculously emotional and melodramatic soloing of Syu, the romantic keyboard playing of Yuhki, the energetic rhythm section and a very strong emphasis on melody but Galneryus have pulled a pseudo-Progressive Metal on us again. Some of the Proggier bits may not appeal to you straight away but in the end the variety in these 4 songs may surprise you.
This release is valuable because it doesn’t just give us songs that are merely shadows of songs on their full length albums. I was expecting stuff more in the vein of the band’s latest singles which would have been great anyway but the end result here is something that is worth hearing even if you aren’t one of these fanatical “must hear it all” types.
END NOTE: These are actually all new songs unlike most singles/eps where you get one or two songs from one of the band's full length albums along with the new stuff.
First two songs are in English, second two are in Japanese.
Also no “steel” or “flags” in the lyrics this time.