The Hu have literally stormed out of Mongolia much like the great hordes of centuries ago and conquered rock and metal. Since going viral with “Yuve Yuve Yu” in late 2018 and a string of festival performances and short tours in 2019 to help raise their profile, the Hunnu Rock quartet have been telling their tales of Mongol folklore to packed crowds and they have even received recognition by the Mongolian Government for their efforts in spreading Mongol culture overseas. It’s been quite a meteoric rise to significance in such a short time, but this raises the question: how and why?
It is no secret that those who have English as their primary language are fascinated by songs in different languages. Look at Rammstein as a prime example of this. In extreme metal you have swathes of bands who sling their stuff in Spanish also, Brujeria being another big example and in groove metal, promising New Zealand upstarts Alien Weaponry are representing the traditional Maori language. You also have the likes of Dir En Grey and Babymetal doing the same with Japanese! It sometimes feels like putting some metal riffs underneath a non-English language leads to a hit.
But the Hu aren’t the first rock/metal band to predominantly use traditional Mongolian folk and culture in their music. Tengger Cavalry, the Sino-Mongol project spearheaded by the late Nature G were renowned for using traditional Chinese and Mongolian folk instruments in their music; heavy use of the Topshurr, Tumur Khuur, Morin Khuur and the Tsuur, along with throat singing sections were prominent and their addition to dark metal and electronic/industrial inspired metal helped create a rather unique sound and feel which got the band noticed enough to be picked up by Napalm Records.
The Hu though seem to have gone in the opposite direction, keeping the music as folk instrument based as possible, only having the ‘western’ instruments present for live backing and studio augmentation of their tracks. Almost everything you hear on their album “The Gereg” is performed by the band with traditional instruments and it makes it both very different and very intriguing. This blend of rock and metal feel but delivered with Asian folk music gives the music an exotic touch when the melodies hit, but at the same time, it has that familiar rock feel… But enough about the album and the band, this is about them performing live!
The Ritz in Manchester is a strange venue. Sometimes the sound in there is phenomenal, other times it is terrible. Either the band or the sound techs are at fault for the dips, but the big room has plenty of space to allow the acoustics to work their wonders, and for a band whose frontal musical assault is with non-electric instruments, it ‘should’ work wonders if they can set things up right.
Packed out before the first band even came on, there was a rather mixed crowd; metalheads and casual concert goers rubbed shoulders, talking about how they discovered the band and how they were intrigued by them and wanted to see how they were at performing live. Next to me, a couple were talking about how they heard them on Planet Rock radio and how their son had dragged them along for the evening whilst across from me, a few Asian people were all bunched together, showing that concerts appeal to everyone regardless of background.
Sadly, the first band, Fire From The Gods didn’t appeal to everyone.
The best way to describe Fire From The Gods without being cynical or cruel would be to say that they were a rap metal outfit who had a healthy dose of modern metal and groove in their sound. A less polite way would be to say imagine KoRn and Skindred together but without the reggae bits or nonsense scat sections.
They were energetic on stage, their sound was imposing and at times it did seem to work out well, but it just didn’t sit right. The vocalist had a great stage presence, he could sing well, scream well and rap well, the musicians behind could play this particular brand of metal well and on a compositional level, you could see what the band’s intention for each track was, it just didn’t quite work in its execution for the most part. Changes in tempo or transitions in the tracks felt forced. Rap sections didn’t quite sit right over some of the instrumental work and the over-reliance on backing samples in places at times felt like the band were using a crutch to try and beef their sound up because something was missing.
There were some moments, in particular the run of 3 tracks before the final one of their set where things seemed to click. The symphonic backing sections seemed to work well with the more methodical hammering breakdown style riffs and the use of more clean singing in verses to raw shouts and screams in choruses and big moment sections showed that the band can get the formula right at times, but overall, sounding like the Texan version of Skindred won’t win you many fans and the underlying feeling that the band (who are on the Five Finger Death Punch Guitarist’s label) were tagged onto this tour purely for exposure reasons.
It wasn’t quite the start to the night we expected, sure, a decent portion of the crowd loved them and they did perform well, but it just didn’t feel right.
Thankfully as the lights dimmed a second time, the evening finally kicked off.
Striding out on stage to a thundering ovation, The Hu, along with their 4 touring backing members (guitar/bass/drummers) took position and the conquest of Manchester began.
“Shoog Shoog ” opened the night. A tremendous song which is loaded with energy and plenty of rhythmic hooks and melodic quirks, its war chant intro got everyone shouting along and then the bouncing rhythm and pounding percussion backing really upped the intensity. The multi-layered vocal harmonies, droning bow work and headbang friendly pacing was the perfect way to get the crowd going and it didn’t slow down for quite a long time.
Cutting an imposing figure, clad in black leather reminiscent of cavalry armour, holding their instruments in powerful stances and channelling the spirit of the great Khans of old, the eight musicians on stage delivered storming moment after storming moment. The sheer level of complexity in the arrangements was carried out perfectly which led to a rather mesmerising experience just trying to keep up with it all. Brief shouts to the crowd in broken English and Mongolian were met with cheers and there wasn’t a moment when the crowd in front of them wasn’t moving. Jumping, Bouncing, Swaying, Headbanging… It had everything and the subtle electric backing components helped reinforce the sound of the folk instruments which rang out both powerfully and clearly – they were the main focal point of the charge and they were heard clearly by all.
Naturally, the two big hits which went viral, “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem” were received fantastically. What (badly pronounced) Mongolian the crowd knew (from listening to the records, much like my teenage self and Rammstein) were shouted along or back at the band with call and response styled sections, but what was most intriguing were the tracks towards the end of the set; “The Great Chingis Khan” was extended and delivered like a cinematic epic. It had a phenomenal atmosphere and the way everything in the track clicked and came across made the hairs on my arms and on the back of my neck stand on end. It was a truly intense audio experience, especially when the traditional lute and the guitar traded off with the riffs, creating a massive sound which crushed all in front of it like a massive charge of horseback riders on the Steppes of Central Asia.
The final two tracks of the normal set, “Black Thunder” and “This Is The Mongol” were the different moments of the set. These tracks were more ‘western’ orientated – more prominent use of the guitar and bass featured here, giving a powerful and more contemporary metal feel to the tracks and whilst this approach is not unfamiliar (See Tengger Cavalry), it was strange, given that my personal stance on the evening so far was that everything worked fine with the traditional elements taking prominence in the sound, not the more standard metal/rock elements. These two tracks were energetic and they were received rather well by the crowd, but at the same time, it made me wonder if this was the direction the band were going to take from here – adopting a sound to appeal more to the western market of music.
As my thoughts were circling on this, the band hit their encore, the reworked version of “Wolf Totem”. This version is more metal orientated and it features Jaccoby Shaddix of Papa Roach rapping the English translations of the Mongol war-like chants, something which is both cringeworthy yet intriguing. Thankfully there was no Papa Roach joining the crowd, but the delivery of the track was just as potent. It also helped reinforce my thoughts that the band’s future lay in a more US-market friendly sound and approach, something which could ultimately change the band and what made them very appealing in the first place.
Philosophical thoughts aside, the night was an enjoyable and fantastic experience, and I am thankful to have managed to grab tickets for this (Touts were asking for £100 a ticket, near enough 4x face value!!!). With the Hu’s set, everything clicked, the crowd’s intrigue and passion, the band’s passion and music and the live experience as a whole was perfect and I’ll be honest, it WILL take some beating! It might be February but already this is a contender for live performance of the year!
Saddle up and join the great horde as it storms across the musical landscape! Hail to The Hu!
(Review and Photos Fraggle)