52 Minutes. What can one do in 52 minutes? Well, you could try to plod your way through a single chapter in any “Lord of the Rings” book, OR listen to Balyios’ debut album Homeward– only one of these will satisfy your fantasy needs, and it’s not LOTR.
This album is, in my humble opinion, one of the most ambitious projects South African metal has ever seen. Not only do Balyios present a fringe genre, folk metal, they present it in such a way that on the third listen through, I could forget they were a South African act. It has been said that for South African artists to make waves internationally, they need to be able to compete with their international counterparts. Balyios are one of these chosen few. The album is just written that well.
The album opens with “Initiation”. A simple warrior’s beat, enhanced by some light brass and keys, It sounds like a piece of music that would play under a Braveheart speech. Or possibly in that show everyone’s freaking out about, that one with Sean Bean and Jason Mamoa…
After it gets you ready to slay a mighty beast, the album explodes into “Niflheim”. The song is very reminiscent of early Ensiferum. That riff, with all those widdely bits, it puts me in the mood to yoik some kids out of the pit! The rhythm guitar keeps perfect pace with the lead, its fast paced assault, as cold as steel, cutting into your enemies! Another nice addition to this song (and it features throughout the album) are some nice choir pieces, just a few “aah’s” here and there, it makes everything just sound, dare I say… EPIC! (There, I used it, I’ll try not to again, I promise. Just keep reading.)
Risen from the realm of Ice, we have found “Elder Bliss” a decidedly slower track than the opener, but no less effective, The song’s intro lends itself to classic fantasy metal, again a treat that sounds as though it’s part of a soundtrack, breaking into mid tempo supported by some pipes and flutes from the keyboard, it has a more Celtic feel to it, and if you read my review of Of Myth and Legend, you’ll know I dig some celtic influence! They’ve even thrown in some clean vocals (they also feature more than once on this recording, as do gang vocals.) “Old Man Maiden” smacks of Alestorm. Very piratey indeed, and quite frankly, any folk or power metal band NEEDS a good pirate song. Gang vocal chorus line, more clean stuff, and riffs as perfectly executed as ever. Live I can only assume that this is a sing-along number, with mead flowing and wenches exposing their chests!
Things take a slightly more serious turn with “Land van ‘n Dusiend Mere” (Land of a Thousand Lakes). An Afrikaans song, but with Ruan’s very guttural vocals, it sounds as if it could be an ancient Germanic language: “Vegters en vrouens, die volk van die land, val nou op die grond neer, siek en verbrand”. Those lines encapsulates the whole song, along with spectacular guitar work, supported by very rhythmic drums. A slow choral bridge, with a mournful guitar solo… It brings a tear of vengeance to mine eyes! Vengeance taken, life rewarded… “Valhalla”, midpoint of the album, another raging storm of guitars and drums, about two thirds in, it shifts completely to a victorious warrior’s chant, one would think that it breaks the song, but it seems to flow naturally out of the chaos, as if the battle were won, and the warriors ride to Odin and the Hall of Kings! Betrayal is a big part of folklore, but that of a witch is perhaps most prevalent, seen in “Witch’s Betrayal” (Har har, – Ed). Many people liken folk metal to melodeath, and no more is this shown on this album by this song’s riff structure, dancing gracefully between hard-as-steel, short cut guitars and melodious screeches.
An “Autumn Moon” is rising. A pure folk metal song, everything you want and more, a somewhat Eluveitie-ish outing. It’s a great addition to the album. As we near the end of our journey, we witness “Earth Reborn”. Musically, it feels very much like a culmination of all their work. It’s a cornucopia of folk metally goodness. A jewel sitting upon this crowning debut. The end is in sight, on the horizon, fires of the village flicker, now we are truly “Homeward” bound. This song is acoustic. Now I know what some of you are thinking: “granpa’s guitars”. It’s a perfect acoustic song, it lacks not the power or determination to be metal, the traditional drums are an asset, choirs feature heavily here again, I heard chimes, and saw fields stretch ahead of me as I closed my eyes. Our homeland reached, we “Enter Euphoria”, a knockout finish to this album featuring Samantha Ferreira of Vortex and her ethereal voice. A powerful entity, forcing you not to forget, that Balyios, a band of brothers, brought you to your knees and broke your necks!
The album plays out with an instrumental “conclusion” softly playing out the end, and I can almost imagine the credits rolling. If I had to fault the album, I would say that the bass barely features, and the vocals could be higher in the mix at times. I will forgive these slight grievances, as they created this album on their own, and it is Balyios’ collective musical vision and prowess shining through.
Balyios will be officially launching Homeward in December of this year, including a trip to Cape Town for WHIPLASH 2012 on the 7th of December.
Listen to “Niflheim” below.