For those of you just joining us I’ve been a huge, enthusiastic and vocal fan of Mongolian folk metal band Tengger Cavalry, formed around mastermind Nature G, since Thee Ed pointed me at their demo years ago. Through a slew of album releases, the count being a little complicated due to their original location being China resulting in domestic and international releases that were different and re-recordings that changed things around, Tengger Cavalry developed a unique and exuberant sound based around their blend of traditional instruments, traditional throat singing, heavy metal and black metal.
Then Nature G managed to relocate to the US (and I’m sure the Chinese authorities were glad not to have to keep an eye on him any longer – heavy metal and Mongolian nationalism don’t play well with authoritarian rule). He gathered a new band around him and proceeded to gig the hell out of the US (including a sell out acoustic set at Carnegie Hall and release all sorts of singles and sets online plus an EP.
This though is the first full length of Tengger Cavalry, US. I knew it would be different, a whole bunch of life experiences and sounds rushing in, but how different and how good?
It begins in familiar territory with ‘Snow’, an instrumental showcasing the string virtuosity of the band. Reflective and mournful, it leads into a traditional Tengger sound in ‘Die On My Ride’, thunder and melody and grim clean vocals. The chorus vocal sound is new though, slightly unexpected and almost modern metal. This is something that continues, more so, on ‘Independence Day’; a dark song very much in keeping with the sound on the re-recorded Blood Sacrifice Shaman. The new tone works reasonably well but after repeated listens I still haven’t quite got used to it. ‘To The Sky’ though is where it gets weird for me. On the plus side it once more shows the spectacular range of vocal styles and sounds Nature G and the band can use. On the downside, there’s a curious almost Pearl Jam grunge sound here that suits it badly and is prevalent in most of the choruses. ‘Prayer’ is a short chant that settles things back down and the slow riff from ‘Strike’ could have come from any previous album. Not bad at all, that one, even with the chorus.
‘Ashley’ though. Hmm. Now this album is noted as being much more personal than the more cultural explorations on previous releases, but really? I am sure this is really heartfelt and again the vocals are exemplary but the song is…er… Take off the traditional instruments and this is..not sure of the genre but think of sub Kanye West vocoder warbling, baggy clothes, arms waving and bling flying and you’re close. No. Just no. ‘Cursed’ is thankfully fully Tengger but after the shock of Ashley (and six or seven plays later it is still a shock) I realise that even with these songs something is lacking.
To be sadly blunt, most of the choruses jar and not one of the songs has the utter, unfettered exuberance of ‘Cavalry In Thousands’ or ‘Galloping Towards The Great Land’. I want variation, yes, I want introspection and solemn and personal alongside the runaway charge but not like ‘The Choice Of My Mind’ which is another ‘Ashley’ moment. The album is oddly disjointed. I want to say it’s too many new experiences rushing in with the change of location and change of band, but I’m not even sure that covers it. There’s restraint and experimentation in all the wrong areas and the result is an album that doesn’t flow for me and, worse, just doesn’t have the songs.
Look this is Tengger Cavalry, so they are judged by their own exceptional standards. At their best they are unique and utterly brilliant. For all the musical virtuosity on display here, and make no mistake this is beautifully played and sung, this is uncertain and stumbling and seems unfocused. The ‘grunge’ influence just doesn’t work nor do the mainstream influences in the ballads and it hurts me like few reviews can that I have to say. I love this band but this just isn’t them anywhere near their best.
I hope they come back refocused soon though. If you want to hear what they can sound line, buy Ancient Call or The Expedition first.
Sorry, but I regretfully pass. Disappointing. Never thought I’d be saying that and it does hurt.