Released: 2015, Metal Hell Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Since its inception back in the day, heavy metal has largely been the domain of white, Western men. But as with most things, the times they are a-changin', and metal is being listened to – and created by – people in an ever-expanding list of countries. Indonesia now has a rabid metal scene. South Africa, too. Brazil was one of the first non-Western countries to kick things off – Sepultura, anyone?
To this rapidly expanding list we must now add another country: Mongolia. No, don't make that face. For the subject of today's review are indeed Mongolian; from Inner Mongolia, welcome Tengger Cavalry to the worldwide metal family.
The band began as a solo project of throat singer Nature Ganganbaigal in 2009, releasing an EP in 2009 and double album in 2010 (Sunesu Cavalry, metal songs, and Mantra, traditional folk songs). Horse-head fiddler Xin Wang joined the project in 2012, followed by drummer Kai Ding and bassist Wei Wang, and Tengger Cavalry was born. The band signed to Metal Hell Records in early 2013, releasing The Expedition in the same year and Ancient Call in 2014. By now they were the subject of international attention, with reviews from the likes of MTV and Metal Hammer.
They are heavily influenced by local Shamanism and Buddhism, as well as legends and stories. They combine traditional Mongolian music with metal to create a folk metal sound that we guarantee you won't have heard before! Their fifth full length album Blood Shaman Sacrifice will be released on May 18th, containing re-recorded and remastered versions of their debut demo album tracks, as well as two bonus pre-Tengger Cavalry songs from 2009.
The album opens with Coemɓo (Hymn of the Mongolian Totem), an intro track just under two minutes long. Its tribal drumming, moody throat singing and pacy, atmospheric feel are but a taste of what's to come. It's when second track 'Tengger Cavalry' kicks in that you get a real feel for what this band are about. The combination of heavy riffs and traditional instruments is exciting and attention-grabbing from the opening notes. There are no 'vocals' as such, just Ganganbaigal's throat singing – essentially, his voice is another instrument. The result is a sound that's thick and beefy, but the traditional instruments give it texture and gravitas, and certainly a Unique Selling Point. The album continues along in the basic pattern of heavy numbers interspersed with short bridging tracks, the latter of which really allow the band to show their gentler, more traditional side – as well as giving the listener time to catch their breath. Particular highlights are the majestic 'The Wolf Ritual' with its crunchy riffs and birdlike bells; the title track with its heavily atmospheric intro segueing into heavily distorted guitars, as well as pummelling drums and brutal basslines; and the grinding, chugging riff and blistering outro in 'Hero'.
The best of the best, however, is 'Horseman'. Deep, clanging bells fade into a powerful riff (not something you'll read every day!) which weaves throughout the song. There are moments of delicate beauty through the song: the horse-head fiddle sounds lush and gorgeous, especially juxtaposed with that tasty riff and the tribal, primal throat singing. The riffing kicks in again at the end, and it all swirls together and...wow. It shouldn't work, but it does. The seemingly incongruous elements of the song all meld together seamlessly – in fact, that's true for this entire album.
The bonus tracks are interesting in that they show how far the band have come, both technically and sonically. 'Tengger Cavalry 2009' is rather awash with squealing feedback and is generally less polished than the 2015 version, while 'Blood Sacrifice Shaman 2009', although similarly atmospheric, sounds altogether thinner and less nuanced than in 2015. The screamed vocals are intriguing, however...wouldn't be averse to more of that!
It's clear that, thanks largely to the internet, the heavy metal community is expanding rapidly worldwide. Who would have thought ten years ago that they would be sat listening to (or reviewing) a band from somewhere as tucked away and largely unknown as Mongolia? As Blood Shaman Sacrifice gloriously demonstrates, this global expansion is a very, very good thing. This is an album packed with beauty, brawn AND brains; it's engaging, heavy and just, well, interesting. Give it a listen.
Review by Melanie Brehaut