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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