Galneryus is my favorite power metal band. Hell, they might just be my favorite metal band, period. I can’t call myself a ravenous fan of many artists, but Galneryus‘ enormous catalog of righteous Japanese power metal has me foaming at the mouth every time the band so much as hints that they’re entertaining the thought of a new record. The fact that I consider 2017’s Ultimate Sacrifice a low point of their career, yet still felt confident in giving it an honorable mention slot on that year’s list, should say something for their consistency. Yet a low point it was, taking the symphonic bombast of the utterly unfuckwithable Under the Force of Courage down a darker, less accessible path. In many ways, Into the Purgatory is an evolution of its direct predecessor, but is far more successful in the execution. Though sporadically weird and experimental, its eccentricities are balanced by a rekindling of what makes Galneryus‘ formula so endlessly enjoyable in the first place.
In spots, Into the Purgatory feels like a conscious continuation of the sound introduced with Ultimate Sacrifice. “My Hope is Gone” and “The End of the Line” in particular would have existed comfortably on that record, carrying on its duality of speed metal calamity and foreboding heaviness. While Into the Purgatory might actually be Galneryus‘ heaviest record yet, it also returns to techniques which made their pre-Under the Force of Courage material so infectiously fun. The incredibly titled “Fighting of Eternity,” for instance, splices quirky prog touches into an instantly gratifying slab of speed-power. Elsewhere, “Glory” anchors its driving, mid-paced tempo on one of the best lead riffs guitarist Syu has ever written, while ballad “Remain Behind” expertly channels the bittersweet melancholy of prime X Japan into one of the band’s most memorable ballads. These tracks serve as personal highlights for me, but in truth, this is the first Galneryus album in many years to be bereft of weak tracks. It might even be the most consistently great record they’ve released this decade.
While much of Into the Purgatory is business as usual for Galneryus, its experimental spirit shines through in a way that hasn’t really been heard since 2008’s Reincarnation. The experimentation accounts for much of the record’s heaviness, most notably exemplified with “The Followers.” This is one of the darkest and weirdest tracks in the band’s history, with bizarre, operatic vocals and modern metal riffs set against a deeply gothic and neoclassical backdrop. Importantly, it still maintains Galneryus‘ likability through its melodic chorus and soaring choral outro. “Come Back to Me Again” shows this same creative thinking through a more traditional framework, beginning with the expected speedy riffage before diverting to a more plodding, metalcore-esque riff in the chorus. This careful tonal balancing does much to cement Into the Purgatory as an uncommonly well-rounded record, even for a band as diverse as Galneryus.
There is not much new to say for the performances here; as usual, Galneryus‘ lineup is maddeningly talented, top to bottom. Syu in particular continues to challenge himself from record to record, jamming as many pinch harmonics into his riffs as humanly possible while still maintaining his balance of dizzying complexity and soaring melodies. Vocalist Masatoshi Ono, now on his seventh LP with Galneryus, is not quite as energetic or dynamic as he was a few albums ago, but his performance here still feels rich and soulful thanks to a few legitimately captivating (“The Followers”) and heartbreaking (“Remain Behind”) performances. Into the Purgatory‘s excessive brickwalling is to be expected – this is a Japanese metal release, after all – but the instrumental balance does feel like a step back from Ultimate Sacrifice. The drums and bass are more buried in the mix, resulting in a muddier overall sound, but the absolutely filthy guitar tone does inject the proceedings with serious tonal personality.1
I’m obviously biased towards Galneryus. They tick every single one of my boxes for what a good power metal band should strive for and then some. Yet I’d like to think that I can identify their missteps, and as both a step up from their previous record and an example of consistently high quality songwriting, Into the Purgatory excels. It closes out an absolutely exceptional decade of releases in style, serving as both a celebration of the band’s successes and a bold furthering of their unmistakable sound. For the unaffiliated, it should serve as a solid jumping off point, and it’s hard to imagine many power metal fans hearing Into the Purgatory and not counting it among the 2019’s best power metal releases. I can tell you that, as of right now, it has no equal for me in the genre this year.