Tengger Cavalry - Blood Sacrifice Shaman
The moon hangs in the sky, cold, bright and silently, overlooking the grassy plains below the great snow topped Altair mountain range in Mongolia. A horse whinnies in the distance; faint lights can be seen below the horizon from the campfires in small nomadic camps dotted across the ancient landscape. A strange noise fills the air, one filled with guttural overtones and melodic resonance. The sky itself has opened the heavens for man to glimpse at their sheer insignificance. A million twinkling lights, a long stretching milky way splits the sky, the melody from the Morin Khuur (a traditional two string instrument) and Khöömij (throat singing) fills you with a sense of bewilderment and wonder.
This serene picture in my head comes from the opening of Tengger Cavalry’s latest album Blood Sacrifice Shaman. My experiences with native Mongolian folk music before I wrote this review were, in all honesty, a little bit lacking. However having spent several days listening to Tengger Cavalry’s latest triumph, it inspired me to dig deeper; I wanted to see where they were pulling this incredible sound from.
I know my metal well enough to tell you the difference between a power chord and a rip roaring blast beat, but my knowledge of the native instruments and folk music lore of Mongolia was pretty laughable. Upon searching the web, Khusugtun was one such artist I discovered whilst trying to learn more about this earth moving music, I couldn’t get over how good the music was. The Mongolian’s folk music has battles and conquest engrained into its very core. It’s serene and yet it’s borderline intimidating. It is of absolutely no surprise that it works so well combined with the Heavy Metal genre. The fast paced rhythms and throat singing are almost already uncannily metal in nature. It has almost left me with a sense of intrigue at the true origins of metal.
Tengger Cavalry is the brainchild of Nature Ganganbaigal, a Chinese born musical genius. His music driven career and success in film, games and television not only strengthens the success of Tengger Cavalry but also explains its profound intricacies. He is joined by four other incredible musicians, Zin Wang on the Morin Khuur (commonly known as the horse head fiddle), Mural on the Dombra (the Mongolian Lute) Wei Wang on Bass guitar and Kai Ding on the Drums. The quintuplet group have supported the likes of Turisas and would definitely appeal to fans of bands such as Eluveitie, Finntroll and Ensiferum to name a few.
The name of their latest album is shared with their first ever release and with two tracks from that first release given as bonus tracks at the end of the album it makes for fantastic listening especially if you want to see where the band started and how their ideas have grown and developed.
The Hymn of the Mongolian Totem opens Blood Sacrifice Shaman with heavy drums and low deep throat singing (for those that don’t know what throat singing is, it involves producing a sound with two distinct pitches at the same time by manipulating the throats shape and the intensity of the pressure from the diaphragm, it is pretty complicated, but that’s it fundamentally). A roaring guitar riff adds to the overall texture building the track up before dropping back and then introducing the Dombra for the first time. Its traditional qualities are plain and simple and instantly give the track its true authentic folk feeling.
The proceeding track Tengger Cavalry starts like a pretty regular metal song, and it is almost impossible not to move your head up down. The horse head fiddle is then introduced which for many will further enhance the feeling and sounds of traditional far eastern music. The Dombra takes a solo section with the guitars, bass and drums enforcing a somewhat standard metal backing. However from my recent inauguration into Mongolian folk music, I can absolutely say this captures that majesty of what their music is. It remains intimidating, it remains serene, and it kicks ass, its heavy metal and I can’t see many real metal fans not liking this.
I cannot speak for other countries but world music is quite underappreciated amongst the masses here in the United Kingdom, but it shouldn’t be, for musicians it should act as an inspiration, and the same applies to those that don’t play an instrument. Music like this really helps drive creativity amongst everyone. I find it intriguing to think that when you hear a piece of world music, you can really hear that countries heritage and past and you can just close your eyes to envision what that country is like or was like.
Horsemen is an absolutely cracking song, thrashy in nature but all the while the Morin Khuur keeps the feeling of eastern curiosity brimming in your mind. The war like chants low down in the mix almost accentuate ancient Mongolia’s brutal background and their strength and might when their empire was spread across much of Asia some of Europe.
Acting as link between songs Rootless shows off Nature’s film soundtrack composition abilities, it is less of the metal and more of the traditional folk, but helps keep the definition of the whole album in line. There are several linking tracks like this and I think they act as reminders of the core values trying to be portrayed here with his original vision being at the forefront.
The Wolf Ritual is probably my favourite of the whole album. Aside from the Khöömij this is borderline instrumental. Its extensive layers of sound and harmonies really paint a picture in your head. It is almost Middle Eastern in some areas and with Mongolia’s landscape having such a varied and diverse environment, deserts, mountains, grassy plains and forests, it really speaks to me. I believe this disconnection from traditional rhythms and vocal patterns is known as a Long Song or Urtyin duu.
The album’s title track Blood Sacrifice Shaman was my first true taste of Tengger Cavalry and what made me want to write about this band. It’s anathematic and it is tribal at its heart. The rhythm of the drums is spiritual in nature and in the history of Mongolian folk music it was almost exclusively sacred to use drums during religious ceremonies. What I really like about this track is the heavy blast beat sections and twisted drawn out melodies and chords that really cement it as a metal track.
Hero is Tengger Cavalry’s penultimate song before the final track and bonus tracks and has the feel of a military marching song. The drums stay away from a regular beat and trudge away for almost a minute with long drawn out guitar chords and throat singing before it straightens itself out to a familiar rock sounding rhythm. The Dombra takes the melody for most of the song whilst the Morin Khuur dominates the middle section of the song with a high energy punky thrash beat, the guitars copy the melody set by the fiddle and then reminds us that guitar solos are a pretty integral part of classic heavy metal tendencies and the groups insane fusion of the two musical styles.
Closing with a slow and traditional piece, Spirits feels like it’s a warm down like after a heavy work out at the gym but not because the album feels like effort to listen to, but because it is sadly quite short and after Hero, you will probably be on quite a high.
For those looking for something new, something wholesome and something fulfilling, then this is more than worth checking out and giving your time to. I was new to the game when it came to Mongolian Folk Music and Tengger Cavalrys heavy metal fusion only a few weeks ago. However I feel just somewhat more complete now that I’ve ventured that way, even cultured I guess you could say. That and throat singing works on a level you wouldn’t believe with heavy metal. It’s the Easts answer to pig squeals and inaudible warbles commonly found amongst some of the most hardcore metal bands of the west. I’d like to hear more from these guys and will definitely be going to watch them if they venture to the UK in the near future or any time after.
Words: Danny Gregory