Thursday, January 10, 2013
Grai - About Our Native Land
Grai's Russian folk-fest is at most times a fun romp through stereotypical folk metal observed all over eastern Europe and at some points the band even manages to resemble some of the better known bands from their Motherland such as Arkona. About Our Native Land is fairly predictable but I wouldn't call it a total wash. There are a lot of well done sections and parts and "Leshak," contains one of the more fascinating sections I've heard on a folk album. Unfortunately there are some setbacks for this album. The songs fall into two distinct types. The first set which makes up about half the album are upbeat folky dance songs like the opener, "The Wheat Song," or third track, "Spring," which sound like Finntroll with flutes and bagpipes. The other half of the tracks are slower and darker melodies more in tune with tracks that are inherently more complex and deep. These are the tracks that come off as superior here in my eyes. It's not that the pop-folk tracks are bad, they are just unappealing to me but I assume that anyone that really likes the more cheery folk tracks would be pleased to fold their arms and do jigs while dressing like fourteenth century bar-wenches to music that is as far as possible from music that would be heard in a fourteenth century alehouse.
The tracks that really catch my ears here are tracks like "A Winter Tale","Lament About The Lot," or "Brave Warrior." The last is much poppier than the others but it also has some of the heavier moments on the album. The solemn and more serious melodies that pervade these tracks seem to be more in line with the folkier material I like. The album does a good job to make sure these tracks are spread across the album to separate the other tracks. The contrast allows the album to flow without sounding too monotonous. I was surprised to hear some harsher grunted vocals, courtesy of bassist Yuri Bedusenko, on the album after the first four tracks but alas, on "Leshak," a track about mythological beasts that can change size and that protect woodland creatures (at least I assume based on the title - all the lyrics are in Russian), we here some harsh vocals appear after a good third of the album has already passed. Little things like this keep the album sounding fresh from start to finish. We also get to hear these harsher vocals on "Lament about the Lot," and "Brave Warrior."
The harsher vocals are done well but can be described as lacking personality. They're no different from any other harsh vocals found across folk and pagan metal albums that are floating around out there in the deep forest of the internet waiting to be snatched up by unsuspecting peddlers. The nice thing here is that the highlight of the album - the female vocals - accompany the harsh vocals on every track. Compared to other Russian bands with female crooners (there are a lot of Russian bands out there with female vocalists) these vocals sound less trained. The peasant style female vocals fit the album really well, especially coupled with the harsher vocals. The over-the-top operatic vocals of other bands wouldn't, I feel, pair as well. Every song, because of this style of vocals, has a regional and local vibe. The band has two female vocalists, Irina seems to be the lead vocalist though Aliya Latypova also contributes when she isn't playing the flute or the bagpipes.
The rest of the musicianship is excellent also. Yuri's bass playing is particularly of note. It's quite prevalent and rhythmic. The flutes are mixed most loudly here and bagpipes are also mixed to be very audible though I can't really see how bagpipes wouldn't be audible on any recording ever because they are so distinctive sounding. Audrey Smirnov's guitar playing is best when he isn't playing electric. The acoustic guitars are quite beautiful while the electric guitars are purely rhythmic. There are no soaring lead guitar parts on About Our Native Land but there is one particular section in "Leshak," alluded to earlier, which jumps out of nowhere. About four minutes into the song we experience some of the only double bass on the album, female screams that belong in an Italian horror movie and some rather off-key phrases that abruptly reveal the song's main melody. It's the only place on the entire album where a song really goes off the deep end and tries something new.
If you're not really into folk and pagan metal this album is not going to change your mind on the genre. It doesn't really break new ground in anyway. The songs are all pretty much the same length, the flute, though well played becomes a bit grating after four or five songs and the melodies don't always sound original. For listeners that really like pagan metal and folky albums, you may want to give this a listen but I would advise others that this probably won't have much of an impact.