Style: Folk Metal
Release Date: 13 Sep 2019
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Well, I've been waiting for this one for a long time! I've mentioned before that my immediate wish for folk metal, when it became a thing, was for it to traverse the globe and trawl in all sorts of farflung cultures. I couldn't be happier that that's exactly what it's done. It reached Mongolia before the Hu and I adored watching Tengger Cavalry live in Mesa a few years ago. I hope to catch the Hu in Phoenix in early October. They've achieved something even trickier than making a good album though; they went viral on YouTube. I saw a lot of friends, varied and not all music fans, sharing the Hu's videos.
While this is still folk metal, it's a lot more tribal and a lot less metal than Tengger Cavalry or others I've found, like Nine Treasures and Hanggai. The band call what they do "Hunnu Rock", because they take inspiration from the Hunnu or Xiongnu, a powerful empire of nomads who ruled Central Asia a couple of thousand years ago. This is often very militaristic, one of those viral hits, Wolf Totem, constructed from warlike chants. It's so vehemently antagonistic that it could almost be a Maori haka. Even if you haven't seen the video, your imagination will create one very like it from the music.
Of course, anyone stumbling on Mongolian metal will hear a lot of new sounds that they haven't heard before, most obviously the throat singing technique, which I've adored ever since I first heard Huun-Huur Tu a couple of decades ago. Throat singers are able to create two very distinct notes at the same time, usually a really low drone and a high melodic trill.
Also, with the exception of the drums, the instruments are wildly different from what we're used to. Enkush and Gala play the morin khuur, or horsehead fiddle, usually played upright like a smaller cello. Jaya plays a jaw harp and flutes like the tsuur. Temka plays the tovshuur, a two stringed guitar. The result is something much more exotic than Celtic or Finnish folk metal, even the Andean stuff I'm enjoying so much of late.
What the Hu do differently from Tengger Cavalry and the others is let their traditional instrumentation drive everything so that this is less folk metal and more folk music that's just darker and heavier than would usually be the case. I could easily imagine Korpiklaani performing around a campfire in a forest, but they'd have amps to plug into and a full drumkit. The Hu don't seem to need that. They could simply walk up to that fire, perform and then climb on their horses and ride off to find another fire.
Some songs are more vicious. The morin khuur on The Same gets far closer to metal guitar soloing. The beat on Yuve Yuve Yu and the title track are given by western drums. There's a lot of metal in the intensity of The Great Chinggis Khaan. However, the majority of songs here are world music rather than any intensity of rock music, only some of which manage to walk in both worlds. The Legend of Mother Swan, for instance, is delicate but it carries a powerful intent behind it, courtesy of those tribal chants and drums. It is beautiful music. I fell into Song of Women, the seven minute closer and enjoyed it for what seemed like hours.
Fortunately, I'm a big fan of world music, whether rocked up or not, and I know that I'll be listening to this a lot because it fits perfectly in both worlds. The moods it invokes are powerful and I'm talking the grooves that the songs find, not just the evocative intros like the flute that kicks off Shoog Shoog. And I wonder if that will help or hinder the Hu. Viral culture is a finicky creature. They aren't going to get thirty million views for each video. They're going to fade away somewhat. However, they deserve to remain known because they're astoundingly good and should be listened to for their quality as much as for their exotic nature to mainstream audiences.