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I don’t know why, but in Japan the people love power metal. It’s common that European bands get even more recognition in the land of the rising sun than in their own countries. Besides, a lot of bands, when they get successful, record their live gigs in Japan and release them worldwide. Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray and Sonata Arctica, among others, have done it in a way of retribution to a country where the people really buy their music instead of simply download it.
For these reasons, in recent years the power metal scene in Japan has grown a lot, and new bands seems to get record deals more often. Some of them are pure crap (Ark Storm, Azrael, Prophesia), but sometimes you find some bands that really deserve attention, releasing CDs that can easily compete with the best European acts. Galneryus is one of those bands.
In this effort, Galneryus continues expanding their sound. This time the Japanese band gets heavier and adds elements that enhance the experience of listening to this piece of music. The key elements of this quintet are Yama-B and Syu and in this record both show that they get better through the years. Yama-B’s performance is stellar mainly because of his improved technique behind the mic. In previous records he was fairly OK, but had some problems when he tried to sing his vocal lines in a high pitched way. Now he’s singing with passion and a great sense of melody, reaching the highest notes without sounding strained or forced in any time. Even his English pronunciation has improved a lot since their early days and sometimes you can notice what he’s saying without reading the lyrics on paper.
And what can we say about Syu that haven’t been said before: this guy is a monstrous guitar player. Both in the songwriting area and doing his job with the six strings, Syu is just an awesome musician. His style mixes great shredding with heavy yet melodic leads and I can hear influences of Yngwie Malmsteen and Timo Tolkki in his style. The keyboard department dares the guitar with a little dose of fast solos too and I can’t avoid compare the sound of the keys in this CD with those of the Finnish scene, especially Sonata Arctica with that dramatic vibe in the atmospheres and the flashy soloing.
The rhythm section does its job efficiently. The bass is audible and the drums sound powerful and competent without abusing in the use of the double bass drums like some power metal bands tend to do.
The CD starts with “Arise”, which is the typical power metal instrumental intro that sets the mood for the real opener that’s entitled “Shriek of the Vengeance”. This song is a killer and from its first seconds you can notice that you’re about to begin an epic journey through lands ruled by knights with faces covered with blood and holy swords in their hands. Some of you may think that its chorus is a rip-off from a famous Pet Shop Boys tune, but it’s so great that I really don’t mind. Then we have the third track entitled “Raid Again”, which is a fast song with great riffs and catchy vocal lines. It’s definitely one of the best songs of the CD. Another highlights are the 6th track (“In the Cage”), which is a mid tempo song very reminiscent to the beginnings of Sonata Arctica with its strong sense of melody and simple but effective structure, and the 9th track entitled “Dawn of Tragedy” which is the only ballad of the record. This song has a very dramatic vibe and can’t avoid comparing it with the best ballads from Rhapsody that transported you to epic lands where to be defeated wasn’t an option because you were fighting for a superior ideal. I know some of you may think that these lyrical themes are just too cheesy and childish, but when I hear these songs my memories bring me back to when I was fourteen years old and couldn’t stop reading books from Tolkien, Moorcock or David Eddings.
But my ultimate favorite song from this record is definitely the 5th track entitled “Point of No Return”. It begins with a distorted Hammond type keys and suddenly the guitars break down with heaviness and aggression. After a little bit of guitar shredding, the song moves forward with some interesting tempo changes, a magnificent chorus and some great guitar-keys duel. This song shows the band’s progression from the typical power metal sound of their two first records to a slightly more complex vibe. At this point of their career, Galneryus found the maturity both in the musicianship and the songwriting area to develop a sound of their own. The mix of heaviness, great melodies and complex arrangements that’s found in this CD shows the path the band’s going to take in their next records.
Overall, “Beyond the End of Despair…” is a must buy for all the power metal fans that are getting tired of some of the generic shit that’s coming out these days. If you heard the previous records from this band and thought they showed nothing new to this saturated genre, maybe you were not that far from the truth. But this CD is, by far, their best to the date it was released. Improved musicianship and stellar performances from their members helped to build a gem that’s not getting the attention it deserves. I still think that Japanese power metal is sometimes a hit or miss, but masterpieces like this show that the metal language is universal and even in the more distant countries know how to rock.
Galneryus, it must be said, is an exceptional band. With a melodic, operatic vocal assault, keyboard pyrotechnics and Syu's shred-laden, virtuosic leads, little is left to be desired for the power metallers and shredhead audience. Not to discredit their rhythm section - every performance and recording is likewise tight, controlled and a perfect foundation for the members performing in the higher register. Galneryus might, perhaps, have too much of a technical sound for some. Certainly, doom metallers won't get much out of the high-tempo songs and riffs that often include 16th note runs, but for the power metal audience, Galneryus can take a seat amongst the likes of Blind Guardian, Angra and Rage.
"Beyond The End Of Despair" feels somewhat heavier than their previous outings. Certainly, the intro ("Arise") favours a minor keyboard melody and crushing power chords over lead work such as "Meditation For The Saga" from their original album, "The Flag Of Punishment". There seems to be a tinge of desperation in the music - a kind of fleeting plea for action. This theme is repetitious throughout the album, but is espeically pronounced on tracks like "Heavy Curse" and "My Last Farewell" (which happen to be two of the album's strongest tracks).
"Braving Flag", the album's final lyrical piece, proves to be a strong end to the role of vocals on the album and the introduction is something of a brief respite to the tension that lurks within the rest of the album, but once again the song plays strongly on the driving, off-balance nature of "Beyond...". The album closes on a calm note, with a piano melody that sounds as if it were on vinyl. It is somewhat lonesome as opposed to the more upbeat (but just as minor) intro that is accompanied by skull-appreciating power chords.
The key tracks to listen to are "Arise", "Shriek Of Vengeance", "In The Cage", "Heavy Curse", "My Last Farewell", "Braving Flag" and "Rebirth". These explimplify the tension/release/tension continuum of the album moreso than other tracks and by no coincidence contain some of the most technical playing. Syu is decidedly more melodic on this album than the two beforehand, although shredheads shouldn't be disappointed as there is plenty of incredibly technical lead work to be heard. It is apparent, however, that Syu is reading from the book of Randy Rhoads, as he exemplifies a more melodic style of neoclassical shred than players such as Malmsteen. The vocals, as usual, are operatic without being afraid to snarl - the range of Halford and the aggression of Hansi Kursch with a decidedly Japanese tone. One dissapointment I had is that the bass is often drowned out. Such an occurance is common with so much happening in the higher register, but while the sound was thick and full, it was not often clear exactly was the bass was doing. The keyboards once again are an almost perfect compliment to Syu's guitar playing. The key words here are speed and melody - exactly what the keyboard provide when Syu's chugging and riffing away.
"Beyond The End Of Despair" is an album that leaves little to be desired. With top notch musicianship, exceptional song writing and a progressive feeling of tension within the album, it becomes evident that Galneryus are leading the eastern power metal scene with much justice and glory. This album is for power metallers, traditional metalheads, neoclassical fans and some fans of progressive music - there is obviously not much here for fans of extreme metal. Thoroughly reccomended to anyone with a taste for shred guitar in particular - you'll get what you want wrapped in operatic vocals, keyboard accompaniment and perfect time-keeping.
Galneryus have seen some noticeable improvement on this album. The album previous to this one, "Advance to the Fall", was good but a bit generic in comparison to this one. On this album, Galneryus do what I'd hoped they would do, which was explore more offbeat syncopations and different song structures, and not quite so much the typical double-bass power metal anthems. There are more than a few of those in evidence, of course, but they are offset by different types of songs that help balance the album out. This one is also shorter than "Advance to the Fall", giving it a leaner and less bloated feel.
Yama-B still has the same vocal approach for the most part, but he also adds more grit and soul here and there. His throaty lower midrange belting is still highly distinctive, and his thick accent and "Engrish" lyrics aside--they don't make that much sense, honestly, half the time--he still delivers a passionate performance. Especially on "Shiver", which is both ballsy and melodic, worthy of prime early 80s AOR but with more heft to it, and has a *fantastic* chorus that is stuck in my head.
Musically, the band is a tight unit as usual, with better production aiding and abetting their heavier and more streamlined sound. The drum sound is most obviously improved and you can even hear the bass guitar pretty well this go-round. And Tsui steps out a bit more on that front, nailing some nice riffs and fills throughout. He doesn't reach the same level of utter madness that Animetal bass monster Masaki reaches routinely, but he is nonetheless effective. Syu actually reins in his guitar shredding considerably, focusing on more refined and developed solos on this album that still will impress with his technical prowess. A little more beef in the tone department and he'd be perfect; his rhythm tone is a bit scratchy and solid state sounding for my taste on this release.
Songs to watch out for are "Shiver", which as I said is a more melodic side of the band raising its head and showing off; "Shriek of the Vengeance" which follows the tasteful opening instrumental with a full-on charge, as does "Raid Again" and "Point of No Return"--that latter one starts off with a nice jarring intro.
Galneryus are making nice progress carving a niche for themselves in an overcrowded circle (power metal). I think they will go far if they keep up the good work and keep capitalizing on their strengths. We need a band like this to come over here and show the kids that Dragonforce are indeed overrated and that you don't need to shred for 5 minutes straight mindlessly to make a point. One can only hope, eh.
Keeping all the great musicianship and hooks in place, Galneryus get a little heavier on this album.
Especially Heavy Curse. This song is a ballsy slower, more new school song. The guitars are crunchy as hell, and there is even a moment of high pitched harsh vocals. About half of the album seems to reflect the same in the guitar tone. More focus on sounding heavy, and going more toward the sound of Judas Priest rather than straight forward power metal.
The musicianship, and noteably the guitar work is still there though. There is a tad more exploitation of keyboards, especially the synthisized 80's type, as opposed to the emulating of classical instruments like before. Where the other albums pretty much were textbook power metal (stylistically; not in quality) this album leans more toward an 80's sound (think Sonata Arctica, but much better).
The production has got the right punch on the drums, and excellently balanced distortion on the guitar.
These guys will remind you freqently that they can play. Guitar solos that punish, with the speed and clarity of Yngwie, but again - better. The keyboardist will probably really surprise you with keyboard solos that don't suck. Solos that would leave the Finnish power metal bands scratching their heads.
However, this album isn't perfect. The obvious difficulty with which Japanese people learn English is more apparent (the same problem with the Engrish), and there are too many ballads or near-ballads. On top of that, those ballads and soft parts are the time when the vocalist's broken English is most obvious.
Not nearly as good as The Flag of Punishment, but certainly worth the average power metal fan's time.