This album is aptly named because Mongolia's best known musical export are rather like a rumble of thunder, initially heard somewhere over the horizon but who keep coming ominously closer till they're right in your face. What they do tends to be called folk metal, but it's mostly world music, heavier than the norm but not massively so. It's just that the aggression in their sound fits so well with the metal genre, because everything feels like a challenge, even if it isn't.
I loved their first album, The Gereg, and I loved them on YouTube before that, through the videos that went so effectively viral, songs like Wolf Totem and Yuve Yuve Yu. I hoped to catch them live in Phoenix last year and then this year, because they keep coming through town, but I had to enjoy a little vicariously through my son, who saw them while I was in England. He reported back that they were excellent and bought me a Hu shirt, which was much appreciated.
This is at once a better and a worse album than The Gereg, mostly because it's more consistent in approach. If you want an hour of the Hu bellowing at you, then you're not going to complain at all, because they start out doing that with This is Mongol, continue doing that in Yut Hovende and, for all intents and purposes, rarely stop doing that throughout the album, even when they cool their jets on more peaceful songs like Mother Nature. They're just naturally aggressive, even when the thinking is welcoming and open, and they play that up.
In fact, when they calm down a little and write pieces of music that could be considered songs, not just chants and challenges, they feel more mature than ever. Triangle is the first of these, because it has a serious bounce to it. It's almost alternative rock, but with jaw harp and throat singing. I'm very fond of it, once I got used to its friendly approach after the opening pair of musical threats. I like Teach Me too, which has a similar bounce but also adds a Celtic flavour behind its aggression. There's more of that Celtic feel on Bii Biyelgee, especially when it speeds up at the end into what could be considered a jig.
My favourite songs come late on, because the album is beat heavy. Everything drives forward and much of that is due to the drums, which are high in the mix, but every instrument plays along in an overtly rhythmic fashion, including the vocals. I wanted a lot more of the fiddles, especially given that two of the primary four musicians, Gala and Enkush, play them. However, with a few notable exceptions, like Black Thunder, they almost hide in the background. They're there and they sound great, but they're a background texture rather than a lead instrument.
Black Thunder does allow these horsehead fiddles to run loose and dominate for a little while like soloing electric guitars. I enjoyed everything here, especially the throat singing on Sell the World, but the album came alive for me in the second half, with the nine minute Black Thunder kicking off in style with patient morin khuur against a vocal drone and continuing to build, its sound getting progressively heavier as the song evolves. It feels like a complete song, as if the band deliberately chose to develop it further than the more simple, albeit highly effective, chant songs.
And that goes double for the closing couple of gems, Shihi Hutu and Tatar Warrior, which are the most complete songs here, to my thinking. There's plenty of that aggressive chant in the former, but the song develops with riffs, power chords and interesting transitions, as if it's a wild cover of a Led Zeppelin song we've never heard before. Black Thunder is more immediate but I think this is my favourite song here. It even has plenty of that wailing morin khuur that I crave so much. Tatar Warrior is more like a Metallica song and they've covered a couple of them in their time. This is a tribute in different form, but just as enjoyable.
The catch to ending so well is that it's easy to see that not everything stands up to the closing pair, so I think I have to go with a 7/10 this time. It's still a really good album and I wonder which angles they show here are going to be the ones that they follow most diligently in the future. Triangle is toe-tapping commercial fun but I hope they get more progressive the way that Black Thunder and Shihi Hutu do. Only time will tell. And when are they coming to town again? I can't miss them every time through.