You’d think Ontario quintet, Taking Balfour, were beneficiaries of a multi-album contract from a major label after one listen to their sophomore effort. Do you remember when heavy metal bands structured songs around emotive rock vocals and sophisticated melodies? How often do we forget the brilliance of artists like Warrior Soul and King’s X at the beginning of the 1990s before grunge restyled the musical landscape? Taking Balfour claim to find inspiration for their progressive heavy metal from the unlikely source of nu metal, but the good news is you can hear very little of the latter in their music. If anything, they remind you what modern-day Queensrӱche should sound like if they want to remain relevant. Dawn of Polaris is a waft of clean air for rock and a shot in the arm for traditional metal at the same time.
So little of modern metal wears its rock roots with pride, but Taking Balfour take the skilled musicianship of Dream Theater and the production of the classic Ozzy Osbourne records and package them in an anthemic tour de force for the contemporary prog connoisseur. You know you’re in the company of serious musicians after thirty seconds of ‘Neptune’. This four-minute epic searches far and wide for its canvass of colours from Fates Warning to a spell-binding Tool outro. Orion Park’s thudding bass lines give an extra layer of power to Noah Anderson’s bountiful guitar textures. Make no mistake – this is music of high-calibre adrenaline with the techniques and precision of classic metal, much like Nevermore. Vocalist, Spencer Gill, illuminates with shades of Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrӱche) but in a lower semitone range. The riffing on ‘The Watcher and the Witness’ could be from the debut Living Colour record rather than a Korn album. How difficult is an extended chorus for the most distinguished of songwriters? Taking Balfour have no such problems on ‘Awakening’. This is how you take the earnest breeze against your face and let it reinvigorate you.
The fact Taking Balfour self-released this record and funded it from their own pockets makes Dawn of Polaris even more extraordinary. A clean audio mix is often disparaged in rock and metal, but you’ll find no diminution of power or purpose here. The chunky metal groove of ‘The Jester’s Fool’ would be enough to hold the hook together on its own, but the band add a swirling organ and reset at the mid-way point with a funk sequence that bears more than a passing resemblance to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Very Superstitious’. It should be a disastrous failure, yet the experiment works. Spencer Gill’s charismatic voice should not be downplayed. Imagine Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins with the focus of Warrior Soul’s Kory Clarke.
For such an exquisite standard of musicianship, you’d expect Taking Balfour to devote their time to the art of shredding. But they keep Dawn of Polaris to a sensible forty minutes. Perhaps the only thing nu metal about this record is its absence of guitar solos. The proliferation of organ passages and funk bass fills are as surprising as the Mother Love Bone pulse underpinning the energy and vitality of the music. ‘T.O.A.D.’ could be Dream Theater in the Train of Thought era but without the flab. The way drummer, Tim Paty, guides the tempo changes with no pause for breath deserves a wider dissertation on its own.
Principal songwriter, Noah Anderson, tells us that Dawn of Polaris is a record about what it means to be human. This is a concept with no limit on the number of speculations you can make about the meaning to their lyrical imagery. “Contentment has fallen/ The darkness begins/ This isn’t our truth/ Forgive our sins/ We never knew which way to go/ The angels on my shoulders come from below,” thunders Gill in the chorus to ‘The Watcher and the Witness’. You know there’s a haven on the other side, and the tribulations you need to overcome will be worth it in the end. Few groups highlight the hard rock origins of progressive metal and sound so assured of their path, but Taking Balfour are an exception.
Release Date: 21/10/2022
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Neptune; The Watcher and the Witness; The Jester’s Fool
Suggested Further Listening: Warrior Soul – Last Decade Dead Century (1990), Philosophobia – Philosophobia (2022), Mother Love Bone – Apple (1990)