Wednesday 29 March 2023

Galneryus - Between Dread and Valor (2023)

Country: Japan
Style: Neo-Classical Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2023
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I don't know why Galneryus aren't better known in the west. Maybe they just haven't played live a lot outside of their native Japan, but this is music ought to would play well in Europe. That most of the songs are sung in a combination of Japanese and English shouldn't matter at all. What should is that this is furious power metal with such a focus on the frenetic guitarwork of Syu, the one and only remaining founding member, that it could easily be classified instead as neo-classical metal. Syu shreds but he does it within a very power metal framework. Only the relatively brief bookends are instrumental but I'd happily listen to an instrumental version of this album.

The vocalist here is Masatoshi Ono, who's been with Galneryus since 2010 but also maintains a solo career, which has led him to perform the theme tunes to a number of anime series. He's clearly an immensely capable singer and the bonus track at the end of this album is a cover version of one of his own songs, but he has a constant challenge to make his vocals stand out above the guitars. He does good work from the opener proper, Run to the Edge, a nine minute epic, but he doesn't truly make himself obvious until Let Us Shine, ironically given that it's that song that also features the most outrageous guitar solo. Bravehearts allows him to break through too, but only , the bonus track on which he covers himself, is truly a vocal piece.

Everyone else in the band acquits themselves well, Lea's drums perhaps the most obvious behind the guitars, but it all comes back to Syu. The album starts out with a guitar solo, literally fading in to a guitar workout that could well have been running for an hour beforehand. This is the intro, a short piece called Demolish the Wickedness! that's entirely instrumental. The other instrumental piece is the outro, A Piece of Souls, which is surprising because it's a keyboard piece, to give some time in the spotlight for Yuhki, who does good work throughout but, like Ono, is rarely the focus in earlier songs. He does get a few decent solos of his own, the one on Time Will Tell particularly tasty, with Taka's bass taking up the baton before Syu takes over once again.

Run to the Edge is not instrumental, but it often seems like it is, because the guitar takes over so well and so frequently that we almost forget that Ono is there to dish out lyrics. There are enough of them to make it seem like being in this band makes sense to him, but not so many that we would ever believe that this is music led by vocals. Even when he's in full flight on a song like Bravehearts where he soars like a pirate ship in full sail, we're still often listening to whatever Syu is conjuring up behind him, which usually tends to be frantic and dynamic. Only that bonus song is his, because it literally is.

I was sold on Syu's talent on the opening intro but he gets better as the album runs on until he's a constant backdrop and we start to take his contributions as the reality we live in and start to focus on the other things happening around him: Ono's vocals and the drops to quiet piano or keyboard atmosphere. He's so relentless on Let Us Shine, though, that he steals our attention back again, a solo that transforms into a videogame, like he's an ever-growing snake shimmying every which way to avoid touching anything and impossibly making it through the five hundredth level intact while we watch. It's a blistering solo and we have to remember to breathe throughout.

I'm not sure if I've heard Galneryus before, but they've been around since 2001, starting in Osaka but later moving to Tokyo. This is their sixteenth album, with no gap between exceeding two years, even during COVID. Had I been paying attention, I could have reviewed Into the Purgatory in 2019 and Union Gives Strength in 2021. Hopefully reviewing Between Dread and Valor in 2023 will keep them on my radar and maybe add them to yours too.

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