You Should Listen to Galneryus

Sat, 14 Mar 2015

At their best, Galneryus is the band lesser power metal bands want to be when they grow up. When they’re not at their best, they’re still damn good. Unfortunately, they don’t get nearly enough attention outside of Japan.

Galneryus’ music is available for streaming on Spotify, and includes a compilation called The Iron-Hearted Flag that I haven’t covered in this post. They also have some kind of Fist of the North Star tribute album called Fist of the Blue Sky, which I also haven’t covered. Finally, I haven’t covered any singles other than Alsatia/Cause Disarray.

Who are Galneryus?

Guitarist and bandleader Syu started Galneryus with the help of vocalist Masahiro “Yama-B” Yamaguchi in Osaka, Japan in 2001. Both were veteran musicians at the time. Syu got his start with the visual kei band Valkyr in 1998, and also worked with Spinalcord (formerly Aushvitz){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”} and Animetal while getting Galneryus off the ground. Yama-B was frontman for a band called AxBites, and also performed as Rekion, River End and Gunbridge.

Syu and Yama-B rounded out the band’s classic lineup with Ryosuke “Tsui” Matsui (AxBites), Yuhki (Ark Storm, Marge Litch), and Junichi Satoh (Concerto Moon) on bass, keyboards, and drums respectively.

How I discovered Galneryus

I found out about Galneryus by virtue of their 2008 song “Alsatia” being featured as the opening theme to the six-episode anime Mnemosyne, which is set in modern and near-future Tokyo and focuses on Rin Asougi, an immortal female private investigator. It’s not safe for work, and inappropriate for children. Galneryus also did the ending theme, “Cause Disarray”. Please refer to Alsatia/Cause Disarray for details.

Why Galneryus is Obscure

I blame the band’s record label, VAP Inc., a subsidiary of Nippon Television Holdings Inc. They don’t seem to distribute the band’s albums outside of Japan except via the iTunes Music Store; the only listings I found on Amazon were for imports priced between $30-60. I guess it hasn’t occurred to anybody over there to license these albums to an outfit like Nuclear Blast or Century Media for distribution in North America and Europe, because not everybody uses Apple gear.

Classic Galneryus

The classic period for Galneryus begins with the band’s inception and ends with the release of their third album, Beyond the End of Despair. The following three LPs are essential listening for any metalhead who likes melody, musicianship, and clean vocals.

With guitarist Syu’s constant presence, Galneryus has maintained a distinctive sound throughout their career. All of their albums tend to open with a short (1.5-2 minutes){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”} instrumental that leads into the subsequent track, which tends to a blistering track meant to kick the listener’s ass. The rest of the album features anthems with soaring choruses and guitar and keyboard solos that make me want to get out of my seat and bang my head without any regard for the presence of others. Beginning with Advance to the Fall in 2005, the last track before any bonus material is usually another short instrumental that often reprises themes and motifs from the opening track.

Yama-B is an excellent vocalist, though not quite on a level with luminaries like Rob Halford (Judas Priest){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”}, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”}, Ian Gillan (Deep Purple){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”} or Ronnie James Dio. Instead, I think he’s in a similar class to Paul Di’Anno (Iron Maiden){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”}, Jeff Scott Soto, Joe Lynn Turner, and Tony Martin (Black Sabbath){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”}. He delivers the lyrics he wrote for the first three albums with precise articulation and intonation, and a passionate sincerity that works well with Syu’s shredding and Yuhki’s keyboard theatrics.

Yama-B’s lyrics for Galneryus draw upon standard power metal motifs with a Japanese flavor, and while his English is occasionally awkward, it gets the job done. We can treat “Struggle for the Freedom Flag” from 2003’s The Flag of Punishment as emblematic of Galneryus anthems while Yama-B worked with them:

See the blood of our friends that is sticking to us
Rising out of the sea of sorrow
There’s nothing to lose anymore

We will be fighting till we get hold of our victory
Oh my sword leads us to the castle where the evil lies

The sacrifice was big, but we became stronger
We get hold of glory again
On the road, we will defeat our enemy even if we’ll become the dust

The armors protect our body and departed souls protect our mind
Now the time, we’ll break through the gate of steel
Into perdition
Struggle for freedom, it’s our rule

Now that I think of it, this would be a good theme song for games like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II.

2003: The Flag of Punishment

Believe it or not, The Flag of Punishment is some kind of post-apocalyptic concept album with a cover by Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D artist Yoshitaka Amano.

There isn’t a single bad track on this album, but my favorite is “Struggle for the Freedom Flag”, a chest-thumping, head-banging anthem in the vein of “One Shot At Glory” by Judas Priest and “Aces High” by Iron Maiden. As soon as you hear Syu drag his pick down the string, you know he means business.

“Requiem” is probably one of the best metal instrumentals I’ve ever heard, and the first piece I’d use as evidence that Syu is a superior guitarist to Yngwie Malmsteen. “Final Resolution” is a great song for a last stand against overwhelming odds, and the intro captures the mood Syu and Yama-B intended to set perfectly.

2005: Advance to the Fall

I’m not sure who did this cover. It’s more minimalistic than Yoshitaka Amano’s cover for The Flag of Punishment. The face looks like something Amano would do, though.

Advance to the Fall is where keyboardist Yuhki really seems to stand out with his piano work, especially in “Stillness Dawn”, “Silent Revelation” (whose opening feels like a quotation from an older piece){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”}, “Deep Affection”, “Eternal Regret”, and “Fly With Red Winds”. This last is an almost cinematic piece, and one of the album’s three instrumentals along with “Stillness Dawn” and “Glorious Aggressor”.

Speaking of “Glorious Aggressor”, now there’s an instrumental that lives up to its name. It is indeed aggressive. Syu doesn’t waste a beat, but grabs the listener by the throat and pushes them up against a wall from the first chord.

2006: Beyond the End of Despair

And here’s the first of many dragon covers that we’ll see on Galneryus albums. It’s to be expected. This is power metal, and it beats the hell out of Yama-B sticking the phrase “so far away” in every other song the way Dragonforce seemed to do in their early albums.

If you buy a single Galneryus album, this is the one you should get. This is an album you can just put on repeat all day without a single track getting stale. It’s also one of my go-to albums when I need to get into a flow state and write.

The opening and closing instrumentals, “Arise” and “Rebirth…” are perfect bookends for the other ten prime cuts of heavy metal you’ll find in Beyond the End of Despair. The closest this album has to skippable tracks is “Braving Flag”, and it’s a great song on its own merits. It’s just that it seems weak compared to tracks like “Shriek of the Vengeance”, “Raid Again”, “In the Cage”, and “My Last Farewell”.

If you like power metal, you will love this album. I guarantee it.

Galneryus ver. 1.1

2006’s Beyond the End of Despair was a tough act to follow, and I suspect that vocalist/songwriter Yama-B was getting burned out by the demands of touring and the need to continually surpass previous efforts. Galneryus released two LPs during this period, which ended with Yama-B’s departure, as well as the double A-side single Alsatia/Cause Disarray.

While I suspect burnout, Wikipedia has the following to say concerning Yama-B’s reasons for leaving Galneryus:

According to Yama-B’s note left to the fans on Galneryus’ official site, he left due to the band’s growth and change. In the note, Yama-B stated that due to differences in opinion on the band’s style of music, he was leaving. He and the rest of Galneryus are all okay with this and wished each other well as they went their separate ways. Yama-B later elaborated in 2013, recalling that while he and Syu had different musical tastes from the beginning, with every release the band slowly chased after a new sound “instead of doing music we loved”. While Yama-B “likes to stick to a certain set of rules, concepts”, particularly Syu would spontaneously abandon a style in order to incorporate new inspirations.

2007: One for All—All for One

And here we have a new logo for the band, and Japanese lyrics for the first time in the band’s history.

This was the first Galneryus album I bought, back when I was still using a Mac and an iPod and thus had no reason not to use iTunes. These days I see this album as similar to Metallica’s …And Justice For All, even though Yama-B is still with Galneryus as vocalist whereas Metallica had to bring bassist Jason Newstead on board because of Cliff Burton’s untimely death.

I make this comparison because All for One - One for All as a whole is similar to …And Justice For All. They’re both solid but uneven follow-ups to nearly-perfect albums. Yes, I’m comparing Beyond the End of Despair to Master of Puppets by implication.

The musicianship is still excellent, but the English-language lyrics seem to suffer compared to previous efforts. The opening and closing instrumentals are rather mellow for a metal album, and the presence of four filler tracks in a row (“Aim at the Top”, “Everlasting”, “Last New Song” and “Don’t Touch”){target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”} is disappointing in light of the band’s first three albums.

2008: Reincarnation

If you look up the songwriting credits, you’ll find they’re more diverse this time, with guitarist Syu writing the music to only half this album’s songs. Reincarnation also continues the trend of songs with Japanese lyrics mixed with English-language songs. And unlike previous albums, Reincarnation doesn’t begin and end with instrumental tracks.

2008: Alsatia/Cause Disarray (Single)

Alsatia/Cause Disarray is a 2008 double A-side single whose title tracks were used as the opening and ending themes of the six-episode anime Mnemosyne.

“Wings” and “The Awakening” aren’t terrible songs, but they don’t really hold their own against the blistering assault of “Alsatia”, whose opening riff I use as my phone’s wake-up alarm. Even “Cause Disarray” can’t match this EP’s opener, though it makes a respectable effort.

Galneryus ver. 2.0

With the departure of vocalist and songwriter Yama-B, Syu had to find a successor. In 2009 found one in veteran performer Masatoshi “Sho” Ono. In the process completed the band’s shift from English-language lyrics to songs written primarily in Japanese.

This isn’t as problematic as listers unfamiliar with Germany’s Rammstein might suspect. You don’t really need to understand the lyrics unless you’re at a show and want to sing along. Unfortunately, Sho’s vocals seem to lack the clarity of Yama-B’s, and his English-language lyrics are often a cheesier than his predecessor’s.

The Galneryus 2.0 lineup is still going strong, with the following full-length studio albums to their credit.

I’m not familiar with the band’s most recent work, but Resurrection and Phoenix Rising are similar in style and quality to 2007’s One for All - All for One.

2010: Resurrection

Hey, we got another dragon cover! A phoenix might have been more appropriate, but we’ll get there shortly.

Resurrection is an album on par with 2007’s All for One - One for All. It sticks to the opening and closing instrumentals formula, has mainly Japanese lyrics, and a few filler tracks, though your mileage may vary. “United Blood” ties into “Burn My Heart” the way Judas Priest’s “The Hellion” segues into “Electric Eye” on Priest’s 1984 album Screaming for Vengeance. “Carry On” shares its title with a song by Brazilian power metal band Angra’s 1993 debut, Angels Cry, but no other similarities. “Destinations” is a ballad, and not half bad thanks as usual to Syu’s music. “Emotions” is an instrumental similar to “Requiem” from The Flag of Punishment, and one of the best tracks on the album.

2011: Phoenix Rising

Remember how I said that a phoenix would have been more appropriate for the first Galneryus album with Sho on vocals? Here we go.

I have a copy of this album, and I’ve tried listening to it a few times, but I’ve never really gotten into it. This might be one of those LPs that grows on listeners if you give it time. The cover’s gorgeous, though.

2012: Angel of Salvation

You know what? I don’t think I’ve ever tried listening to this album even though it’s on Spotify. The intro for “Reach to the Sky” sounds pretty cinematic, however. I’m playing it now. :)

You can find more information about Angel of Salvation on Wikipedia.

2014: Vetelgyus

This is another album that I don’t think I’ve listened to recently enough to offer a reasonable opinion. I suspect the title is a variation on Betelgeuse.

You can find more information about Vetelgyus on Wikipedia.

Galneryus on the Web

The following sites have more information on Galneryus.