Melodic Mongolian Folk Metal


Metal’s made a name for itself representing the heyday of Norse raiders but the genre’s heavy riffing love goes above and beyond Scandinavia. If your culture has a violent voice buried deep in its past or present, some entrepreneurial metal heads will exhume it up and slap it into an album. Results vary in terms of quality. Recently an excellent subgenre has popped up from the sparse grassroots of the East Asian steppes. Welcome to the fold Mongolian Folk Metal.

Mongolia’s rich roots of conquest and epic raiding of sedentary societies makes it an amazing target for Metal’s Asian storytellers. Pair the slams of a double bass drum and the aggression of snarling guitars with a loud vocalist and you have a method prime to tell stories of plunder and societies torn asunder. It’s no wonder that Metal made its way to Mongolia!

If you want a good glimpse into the novel subgenre, then look first to Ego Fall, Seven Treasures, and Tengger Cavalry. These bands all come from China’s Inner Mongolia province. It aptly raises some eyebrows that the big names in Mongolian Metal come from China. It is hard to tell how big a touching point is it to the musicians. Does talk of appropriation abound, or is that a creative crisis unique to western art? The bands that have a presence outside the strange sheltered Chinese internet stress their Mongolian origin. Tengger Cavalry even speaks up about the things they see battering traditional Mongolian culture in China.

Tengger Cavalry politics

Accepting Mongolian heritage does not negate a Chinese aspect either. For the state and many people living in it, to be Chinese only means to be a citizen of China. One can be Han Chinese (the ethnic majority) or Mongolian Chinese or Tibetan Chinese. The Chinese state includes all ethnicities into one Chinese “family.” In a way America does the same with all its unlikely immigrants. America tries to bind with the hot water of a melting pot and China tries to bind with the blood of kinship. In the end the resident, immigrant, and artist chooses whether to accept that stamp of nationality, put heritage above it, or settle down in the middle ground between the two extremes.

Ego Fall is probably the most identifiably Han Chinese band among the trio, with songs full of Mandarin vocals. However, they still build their sound around Mongolian folk music and metal more than anything else. Ego Fall stands tall as the elder statesmen of this budding subgenre, having played the longest and produced the most of any of the three bands.

Pinning down Ego Fall’s sound in one category is a tough task. Some songs like “Legend,” and many others off their album Inner M constantly employ Mongolian traits such as the recognizable overtone throat singing as well as the incredibly bouncy twang of the horse-head fiddle. “The Horn Starts” also features whole verses of Mongolian throat singing matched with heavy guitar riffs.

In Spirit of Mongolia Ego Fall buck the folk trend and root themselves more firmly in heavy metal territory, with deep screeching vocals and damn near heavy everything. Songs like “The Rule in Troubled Times” create an odd take on a traditional folksy style of beat by recreating it with synthesizers. Other songs like “Iron Horseshoe” break from metal to return to Mongolian folk styling paired up electronically to sound a lot like hard rock.

Ego Fall keeps things interesting between every song by making it hard to guess what they’ll do next. That wildness can also make it harder to fall in love with the band due to some of its stranger shifts. If they settle into a groove you love, you’ll never know how long they’ll stay there. Furthermore, electric guitars dominate Ego Fall’s instrumentation, so when the folksy Mongolian elements fall out their music sounds a bit stale.

Nine Treasures sticks to a more consistent style and sometimes sounds more parts hard rock than metal. The singer fluctuates between rhythmic talking and deep throat singing, but never losing grip of his characteristic low, growling vocals. Like Ego Fall, Nine Treasures relies a lot on strings, but more those of folk instruments than guitars. “Sonsii” demonstrates how Nine Treasures songs play a bit like ACDC style rock anthems with lots of rising and falling action set to simple but powerful melodies. While their style can sometimes want for more, they do a great job of making songs that fit the image of hordes of horsemen galloping across endless grassy plains and incorporating folk instruments in a way that makes the Mongolian folk element more than a quick gimmick.

If Ego Fall sits like a great khan on this genre, then Tengger Cavalry is the true challenger rising up to take the kingdom. Tengger Cavalry formed in 2010 and has since hit the studio hard. The band instantly opened with an EP, then in 2011 produced their first full album, signed with an international label in 2012 to get the album out to western audiences, and then made two more albums by 2014. Their newest album came storming in less than a month ago.

Led by a man named Nature Ganganbaigal (Tianran Zhang), this band of all Mongolian artists does not have a weak song. Each album takes on a different sound that still stays identifiably Tengger. Folk instruments ride wild side by side super heavy pulsating double bass drum beats and distorted guitars.

Songs like “Hymn of The Wolf” and “Hero” blend in Mongolian elements so well that you could have sworn Metal was meant to have them. Other songs like “Legend On Horseback” rely much more on the folk elements. The violent reverb of electronic distortion becomes scenic background noise to the folk instruments, until the guitar solos take the song back over. “The Wolf Ritual” pits the stretched and sonorous sounds of traditional strings against the choppy and heavy blare of electric guitar. Old and new battle it out in a duel of string solos that evolves throughout the song until both styles blend seamlessly together for the finale.

In every song, Tengger’s exceptional mixing puts the band over the edge. Ganganbaigal worked extensively as a soundtrack composer, and his ability shows in the way he mixes the sounds of each song. The folk instruments never get drowned out, but they never sound artificially loud. For such a young act Tengger’s almost unbelievable sound quality sets a bar for Metal as a whole. Every note resonates. What’s more, they release albums almost annually and just put out their newest work Blood Sacrifice Shaman, which measures up easily with the rest of Tengger Cavalry’s discography.

For those inclined to the clean and craftily composed, ride into battle with Tengger’s curated sound ringing through your ears. If you love anthem rock, ally with Nine Treasures. For those obsessed with the distortive elements of Metal, follow the Ego Fall horde. If you can, check out all three! One day they may stand as legends in an even more fleshed out subgenre. In some distant dawn, these sweeping steppe melodies may run over the rest of the world! Tengger Cavalry has already taken the first step with international releases and lighthearted social media pages.

tengger-cavalry-cuties

~Austin R Ryan

P.S. – If you are interested in hearing more Mongolian music with excellent mixing and sound, see Nature Ganganbaigal’s recently made label, Khulug Music. If you are interested in learning about all sorts of excellent music check out WVAU – the site that originally published this piece and many better ones!

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The Great Twerk Debate


I’ve got a new pleasure, and it’s not guilty. The metal band Mastodon’s music video for their new song, “Motherload”, started a great twerk debate, and I am in love with all of it.

Mastodon became a bit of a progressive metal staple by loading albums full of stories often fantastical and deeply personal. Their recent music video for their song “Motherload” shattered any expectation. Mastodon managed to fuse classic esoteric 90’s music videos with pure, raw twerk. It is a bizarre video with an even more bizarre debate around it.

To summarize, the video is full to the brim with odd images of vaguely pagan rituals. The first forty seconds or so start the whole thing off like it was any average Metal music video. Strange robed men with pale skin slowly carry an old bell. The screen pans over to scantily clad women from just off-screen start full on booty clapping. Black veined and half naked men stand completely still. In front of them, the twerking continues in slow motion. The camera catches every ripple of flesh as they connect to form a wave of continuous movement.

Everything happens with little connection to everything else. The weird Metal imagery and the twerking never connect, one just happens in front of the other. By the end, the video cuts in between shots of the band playing and the women dancing. There’s even a part where one of the dancers twerks so hard that the video falls into a psychedelic kaleidoscope of spiraling booty shaking. Unlike in other music videos the dancers do not exist to affirm the band’s collective virility. The dancers and the band perform separately, but in the same area. It really is confusing.

Mastodon only just joined the ass obsession, but Metal fans are going to war over the band’s new move. The Youtube comments are the battleground. Some old hardliners insist that Metal is better than this! Mastodon besmirches the age old art of blazing guitar solos and double bass-drum beats with their bouncing butt bloated music video.

The progressive metal vanguards enter, fighting for Mastodon’s metal citizenship. Some of Mastodon’s defenders tell the fuddy duddies on the other side to relax, while others cover for Mastodon with satire. The serious metal band that made stories of astral projecting Vikings must be commenting on modern, sexist pop and rap music.

Outsiders come in to scold some metal fans for feeding into the genre’s negative image. Some people are just there to have fun. They get mad that so many people miss out on genuinely impressive music paired with genuinely impressive dancing just to argue with strangers on the internet. The controversy goes past comments and into commentary.

The Guardian published an article, decrying the video as sexist and immature. The author calls it a step backward for a genre that had since grew out of its chauvinist roots. A feminist outlet, Slutist, admonished the piece for putting the dancers and their control of their bodies and sexuality on front stage.

mastodon twerk article group pic
Picture courtesy of Revolver Magazine

One of the dancers came forward and explained how Mastodon selected local dancers from all walks of life to perform and have fun. She lauded the band for their behavior in doing something unheard of, and the way they centered the video on dancers from the Atlanta community, a community that long supported Mastodon.

The band’s singer/drummer Brann Dailor chimed in in an interview with Pitchfork. He explained that the band knew how serious they could be. They use quirky, offbeat music videos to do something to lighten up their heavy catalog.

Mastodon started off wanting to make a semi-satirical homage to classic 90’s metal music videos. They intended to satirize metal, not rap. They just needed something to knock the video over the edge into the absurd. A sexual dance battle did the trick probably better than Dailor anticipated.

Dailor even addressed the Guardian article. “I’m really upset!” he said candidly, “[…] this was really a fun thing that doesn’t really mean too much. It’s not to be taken so seriously. ” Dailor only enriched the discussion. He did not try to end the issue by defending the video as satire on mainstream sexism, or something meant to be straight sexy or empowering. Instead he asked his listeners to take the band’s silliness seriously.

What the hell? Are you telling me to take Metal lightly? Heavy is in the name, pal! Am I supposed to just consume your media without thinking seriously about it, Mastodon? What a ridiculous request.

Speaking sincerely, Mastodon did something awesome by starting a conversation that captures so many different stances of sex, society, twerking, Metal and media all at once. The band fused two contrasting things, and ended up unearthing so many more contradictions. I have no idea who is in the right, or what it means for music. But a heavy band’s light look at local dancers stirred up a lot of people, and that should be absurd enough for anyone to appreciate! Bring on the swirl of psychedelic booty!

~Austin R Ryan

4 Bands from the Land of the Rising Sun


I recently wrote another article for WVAU.org about Japanese music. Some tremendous music has come out of Japan recently, ranging from Metal to Post-Rock. I try to display the sound and the story of each band I talk about. If you have an interest in Japan, or in Music, check it out!

Normally I would post the full article here, but I am a bit pressed for time, and I do not think I can come close to WVAU’s standard for website design and article presentation.

Click here to read an awesome article on an awesome website!

Special thanks to Will Knapp for introducing me to many great Japanese bands!

~Austin R Ryan

The Importance of Being Metal


A friend and I started to talk on music. We talked on the beauty behind new genres we found. Talks of new music led to old. We came back to a common heritage, a genre we loved and never forgot: Metal.

What was the reward in the furious grapple of gravelly voice burned hard over a rhythm beat in the double bass of a built up drum kit? How did guitar distorted rougher than ocean waves and racing bass beats do to endear anyone to metal? Metal held something to us that avant-garde indie oddities, post-rock empty swelling melodies, and sweet soft folk serenades never did. Buried beneath harsh beat on harsh beat was sincerity.

What is the importance of being Metal? What does a genre that cannot reach coffee shops, elevators, or common rooms clutch tight to sustain itself? This inglorious genre does not garner half the fame and money as most of its friends and contemporaries.

Yet, – like a musical Zeus – it mates and pro-creates sound on sound so often that an onslaught of bastard sub-genre progeny come clan on clan to offer homage to the blood of Mother Metal. That coagulated blood begat Mastodon’s erratic prog rock crock full of half-baked stoner storylines. Those furious fingered guitarists, overcompensating instrumentalists, beat life into the heart of Boris’s gargantuan wall of sound. The sludge and mud of Metal’s greasy thick stereos formed hard into Iron Maiden. The furnace of lyrics bloated with battle shaped Metallica.

Check out the Map of Metal if you have not already!
(Taken from the fantastic Map of Metal website)

Metal’s family tree has grown so wide you’d think they were Irish-Catholic denying prophylactics. The roots and branches broke into ice cold Nordic lands, tapping deep into Viking lore. Branches touched Japan’s peaks, crawled a place into China’s ancient scrawled history, and pushes ever onward. All of the woodwork comes back to bear on the stump they came from, to bicker. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most Metal of them all?

Sincerity was what gave Metal that special spark. Earnest love for the deep sludge, the battered rhythms, and the battle-born lyrics made it all possible. More than that, it made Metal exceptional. How a songs sounds will come down to the ear of the beholder. Believing in the value of those subjective sounds means a lot in any genre. But for me, nothing goes beyond glory so hard as Metal.

Indie rock styles – fueled by Arcade Fires – go to NPR. Pop anthems populate the VMA’s, with Rap and Country earning awards at their own shoes. Hipster heartlands buy out tickets to Broken Bells and St Vincent. In recent years one of Metal’s big breaks was a documentary on the once popular but quickly obscured band Anvil. Anvil’s picture of unrequited love to a not-so-friendly audience played out a lot of scenes. But Anvil’s poor popularity meant nothing in the face of their earnest efforts, and that earned them their return to fame.

(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)
(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)

Metal’s prize possession is that sincerity in all that does. Metal is the band trying to make it big off obscure reference to wordy fantasy unworthy of literary snobbery. Metal is the group of poorly maintained people staking their lives to speak on orcs and emotions. Metal is not the fusion jazz group earning accolades. Metal is not the careless Punk band beating social statements out of the streets of Brooklyn. Metal probably cares too much, and in a time where folks have gotten pretty debonair, that’s cool.

So even though I met and know all sorts of genres, even though my love for other music may supersede it, Metal’s something I want to keep up with. I want to keep watching as the odd branches born from Iron Maidens, Slayers, Blind Guardians, Black Sabbaths, and Dream Theaters contort out to conquer new lands. I want to catch the next power balled beating to death high fantasy tropes, blanketing emotional cries in ugly gore. I want to plunge headlong again into the mosh pit that never ends. I might not put it at the top of playlists, and I might not end up with hair long and black as the shirts that I wear, but I will always recognize the importance of being Metal.

~Austin R Ryan

Special thanks to Devon Bealke for introducing me to the wondrous world of Metal!