Ahh, Russia. Aside from the world-famous pastime of alcohol, the country is also renowned for always being up for a sing-song around the campfire, and if you’re not singing you’re sure to be clapping along. Therefore, it seems fit that folk metal would get an outing in this land of nature-based fairytales and rousing chants. Following the success of fellow countrymen/-women Arkona and Alkonost, folk metal has risen in Tatarstan in the form of Грай (pronounced grai), who are now on their second release. Taking reference from the merriment of Finntroll, Eluveitie and Korpiklaani, О Земле Родной (trans. About Our Native Land) is a fun-filled 45-minute romp that stays true to the established folk-metal form.
Грай are quick off the starting blocks with “Песнь О Земле Родной” (A Song Of Our Native Land), a jolly jig-based number led by Aliya Latypova’s flute and a very prominent bass from Yuri Bedusenko. The guitars are mostly limited to background crunch, although the drums fare better in both tempo change and volume, competing with the flutes and bagpipes for airtime. The melodies are insidiously catchy, worming their way in as the band fly through the whirlwind of the first four tracks. “Зимняя Сказка” (Winter Fairytale) and “Весна” (Spring) stick the quickest: the former a pseudo-ballad that could easily have done the rounds of a Cossack campfire while showcasing Ruzel “Ruzveld” Gabdrakhmanov’s lead guitar moments. The latter is a Korpiklaani-like track featuring an unexpected slap bass and some of the typical dialectic Russian lyrics detailing nature and Romantic themes: “The red sun was shining, and the snow melted in the fields/White-winged birds from the south back to our native land”*. This is particularly appropriate due to the rustic nature of Irina Zybina’s voice, which is melodic and animated, yet not saccharine.
After the fun has slightly worn off, the album turns towards a more somber tone with “Средь Лесов” (Middle Of The Forest), which takes a lot longer than the others to develop, and introduces new elements. This works to Грай’s advantage, showing diversity when Bedusenko slips in an effective backing growl to compliment the maidens’ voices. As the album progresses, his growls gain more prominence, including a ludicrously fast section on the heavier “Лешак” (Leshak), a track about a shapeshifting woodland guardian that inexplicably bursts into a circus-like effect with double-bass and banshee wails. The depression continues through the harp-infused “Уходи Далёко, Горе” (Go Away, Sorrow) and “Плач О Долюшке” (Lament About The Allotment), before coming out the other side with pure humppa-worship (a kind of polka-beat oft-used by Finntroll) on “Воин Храбрый, Ясный Сокол” (Brave Warrior, My Falcon), where the flutes really shine. Finally, the album closes on “Вставай С Колен” (Get Up From Your Knees), a stirring call-to-arms that includes spoken-word and airy keyboards to break the formula.
Despite an altogether excellent album, the band still trip up on a couple of pointers that stop this from becoming a firm favorite. For instance, the album has a couple of interchangeable songs which could have seen a new direction, although the above-mentioned circus-like section could have been left out to no great loss. Finally, a little more guitar flair on the other tracks would have spiced up the album to complement the excellent use of folk instruments, and given it a boost closer towards innovation.
By and large, О Земле Родной is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, and even those who don’t extensively know folk metal can easily slip into this band regardless of their non-English lyrics (hey, the genre has a history of national pride). Lovers of folk music will delight in the flutes being at the forefront akin to Eluveitie, and Грай’s blatant rejection of the unwritten rule that folk metal requires constant harsh vocals to juxtapose the melody is more than welcome. Folk metal connoisseurs and newcomers alike will certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of this.
*Translated, original: “Засияло красно солнце, да снега в полях растаяли,/Птицы с юга белокрылые в наш родной вернулись край.”
1. Песнь О Земле Родной (A Song Of Our Native Land)
2. Пшеничная (The Wheat Song)
3. Зимняя Сказа (Winter Fairytale)
4. Весна (Spring)
5. Средь Лесов (In The Middle Of The Forest)
6. Лешак (“Leshak”, a woodland guardian)
7. Уходи Далёко, Горе (Leave Us, Sorrow)
8. Плач О Долюшке (Lament Of The Lot)
9. Воин Храбрый, Ясный Сокол (Brave Warrior, Falcon)
10. Вставай С Колен (Get Up From Your Knees)
Yuri “Sadist” Bedusenko – Bass, Growls
Andrey “Posokh” Smirnov – Drums
Aliya “Leta” Latypova – Flute, Bagpipes, Vocals
Ruzel “Ruzveld” Gabdrakhmanov – Guitars
Rimma “Voronia” Vocals, Keyboards
Irina Zybina – Vocals