Tengger Cavalry

Blood Sacrfice Shaman

A lot of people, even within the tightly knit community of metal fans, have a problem with folk metal. Decried by many, most bands stand accused of producing sub-standard music and throwing a few fiddles into the mix in order to make them seem unique or different. Or worse, they resort to becoming a novelty act. Take Turisas for example. Those who decide to dress themselves up as actual trolls or paint themselves with war paint and cover Boney M don’t help to disprove the argument. A group of angry Finnish wannabe Vikings shouting "Ra-Ra-Rasputin" and stomping around the stage with an accordion doesn’t exactly scream serious musicians, even if it is a bit of light-hearted fun.

The process of combining folk elements and metal doesn’t always lead to a band branded a joke however. Agalloch, who will open this years Bloodstock festival, have been praised for their use of atmosphere and the haunting edge to their increasingly mellow music. Irish band Primordial have received widespread acclaim for their combination of blistering black metal intensity and the delicate sounds of folk. The difference between the two camps seems to be based in the lyricism. The first camp (populated by the likes of Turisas, Korpiklaani and Eluevietie) has a fascination with history and mythology whilst the second (Home to Moonsorrow and to a certain degree Amorphis as well as the artists above) discuss nature, paganism and other such topics. Few artists can bridge the gap between the two camps.

Tengger Cavalry are amongst that small minority. By completely abandoning the idea of traditional lyrics and staying away from ludicrous costumes, the band leave the meaning of their music completely open to interpretation and thus somehow appeal to both sides. The group, led by vocalist, guitarist and player of everything bar the kitchen sink (Although it wouldn’t be surprising if he could get a tune out of that too), Nature Ganganbaigal call themselves the first Mongolian folk metal act. With the exception of Nine Treasure they may just be the only one too.

Perhaps leaning further towards the latter camp, Tengger Cavalry couldn’t be accused of taking their art lightly; despite touring with the late 70s Euro-disco loving Turisas. Whilst some of their contemporaries are busy recording covers of songs performed on the children’s TV show LazyTown (See: Alestorm – ‘You Are A Pirate’. You won’t regret it), Ganganbaigal has been perfecting his mastery of every traditional Mongolian instrument under the sun as well as improving his throat singing technique.

If there’s one thing that gives Blood Sacrifice Shaman an edge, it’s the Mongolian throat singing. A technique widely popular in the groups home territory, it’s one of the few techniques not yet to appear in the genre. Perhaps it’s because of its infamous difficulty to learn, or perhaps simply because no other band could incorporate it into their music without it sounding entirely superfluous. Tengger Cavalry face no such problems. The almost droning tone produced acts as the perfect backing for the rest of the instrumentation, adding an ominous and brooding layer of atmosphere.

The buzz saw guitar tone roars over the hypnotic, almost ritualistic drumbeats on opener ‘Hymn Of The Mongolian Totem’ and the following self titled track before the crisp, clean tones of the Horse Head fiddle slice through. Unlike their peers however, if you were to take away the unusual sounds and leave just the typical band setup, they’d still write better songs than most of their competition. This pattern is repeated throughout the album. A death metal-esque guitar part backed by repetitive pounding drums and interrupted by some form of traditional instrument. The horse head fiddle features prominently throughout, as does the shaman bell and the dombra (A Mongolian take on the lute, for those not familiar).

In fact, that is where the problem with this record lies. Repetition. By the time ‘The Wolf Ritual’ rolls around you can’t help but feel like the band are retreading their steps in some places. Whilst the track showcases the record’s first foray into thrash metal and some impressive fretwork, the slower sections sound too similar to their predecessors to have any lasting impact.

‘The Naïve’ breaks the cycle and abandons any semblance of metal. After all, who needs a guitar and a drum kit when you have a fiddle with a tiny wooden horse head on the end? The placement of the short interlude so deep in the track listing of the album makes it the most startling and memorable piece. Gangbaigal shows his prowess not just as a player but also as a composer, layering the individual elements and creating an image of serenity amongst the images of chaos that surround it.

‘Horsemen’ is the most diverse track of the record, seamlessly integrating the serene almost celestial string section into one of the most unforgiving metal tracks present. The drums are pushed deep into the background, still pounding a hypnotic rhythm and for much of the track the remaining typical instrumentation joins them.  As if the record wasn’t already diverse enough, Tengger Cavalry also incorporate elements of doom metal. The inclusions may be fleetingly brief, but the juxtaposition with the extreme speed transforms them into some of the most crushing moments of the record.

It’s difficult to believe that this is a re-recording of the album of the same name released by the band back in 2010. Much of the material is completely unrecognisable, and given the improvement in Gangbaigal’s musicianship it’s obvious why he opted to re-record it. The blood curdling screams seem to have mostly vanished, something that has worked in the album’s favour, and the production quality is infinitely cleaner.

There are many things that set Tengger Cavalry and Blood Sacrifice Shaman apart. Their choice of instruments is the obvious one, but it’s their fearlessness to abandon the blueprint of the genre that puts them head and shoulders above their peers. Lyrics are gone, or at least unrecognisable. There are no ridiculous outfits. No accordions or anything equally absurd. No people in the group who serve no purpose. And definitely no Boney M.

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