Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: The Expedition

Tengger Cavalry's The Expedition

Release Date: June 1st, 2013
Label: Metal Hell Records
Genre: Folk/Death Metal

     Okay so I am a folk metal nut; I try to find new bands as much as I can and stay up-to-date with some of the staples of the genre like Korpiklaani, Tyr, Heidevolk, Arkona and the like, the bands with names that Microsoft Word and Google Correct refuse to accept as real words. However, most of the folk metal I deal with (and most that you will find) comes from the same area as those previously listed, which is the Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Russia area. Every once in a while I'll find some more "exotic" such as Tieramystica from Brazil or Winterhymn from Ohio. This band in particular, Tengger Cavalry, hales from the heart of Beijing, fricking CHINA. Needless to say, I am not used to getting music from that side of the world, though I know of a few bands like Chthonic and Crossfaith from Eastern Asia, I have never found one that has really captured my interest like those from Eastern Europe. Tengger Cavalry changed all of that.

     It really is a shame that we do not get much notable folk metal acts from Eastern Asia actually, considering a big part of Folk Metal is respecting and sharing the heritage of the area, and I know I would love to see a rise of Samurai or Khan-influenced and themed metal.  Thankfully, these guys deliver on the latter, since they are a band that focuses a lot on folklore from China and Mongolia, writing songs about gods, traditions and about the exploits of the Mongols as they conquer much of the known world.

     Their name is also historical and mythological, since it says on both Encyclopedia Metallum and their own site (http://tengger-cavalry.com/) that their names comes from the Mongolian deity Tengger (or Tengri as I usually find it). They don't explain much more about the deity but I went out and did a little research of my own, which is one part of folk metal I love, learning about the cultures! From what I can gather (It is rather difficult to find agreeing sources on Mongolian mythology), Tengri is the deity of the sky, the Sky-Father, similar to Uranus from Greek/Roman mythology, and that he is central to the matter of life and death for all those that live between him and the Earth-Mother, Eje.  Since the Mongolian, and Turkish, peoples were very fascinated by the natural world, a multitude of natural phenomena were associated with the will on Tengri: Thunderstorms and Hailstorms were bad omens whereas seeing a shooting star (meteor) meant that you could ask Tengri for a favor.  I found this fact out and wondered if our conceptions of wishing on shooting stars came from this source, but my research concluded that no one really knows. Many assume it came from writings by Ptolemy ad many even this it is as recent as the poem "Star Light, Star Bright", which is only somewhere around 200 years old. So the tradition may come from here since it did not get popular in America ad Britain until that short poem was created.  Anyway, long story short, Tengri is the sky god in Mongolian Mythology and Tengrism is the following of him, which was popular in the ancient world and recently found a revival after the fall of the Soviet Union, which may help to explain how this band came across such a topic to be named after.

     OK, ON TO THE MUSIC.  These songs can vary pretty well but no matter which song you're hearing, you can really get this feel that you are listening to music from China/Mongolia due to the instruments they use such as the Matouqin, an instrument I have no idea how to pronounce so I am thankful I do these reviews in text format.  The Matouqin, or Morin Khuur, is a bowed stringed instrument and is a very important instrument to the Mongolian culture, sometimes considered an icon. You will hear this very much on the album and you will think it is a different instrument, but it really just has an incredible range of sounds to it.  In later albums, they would also include a Dombra, but not yet.  The first song I will showcase from this album is "Khan", and just a reminder that they are a folk metal band from a foreign country, and like many others in the genre, they sing in the vernacular completely.  This one starts off slow and brooding with lots of string and drum in the ensemble, eventually moving on to add brass to make it sound more epic.  Once you hear Nature Zhang's creepy low-tone rattle of a voice, the song kicks in to remind you that you are listening to metal.  It immediately calms down and he starts singing very cleanly and calmly and does so for the rest of the song.  Zhang's singing style is very similar to the legendary Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis fame, who I have stated previously is one of my favorite vocalists.  Despite this song being titled "Khan", it is not as heavy as you would think and is in fact one of the most melodic and agreeable songs on the album.


     "Khan" is a good song to introduce you to the band, since it will show some heavy parts that you will find more prevalent in other songs but you will also get to hear the melodic and smooth variation of Zhang's voice, which is good for those who are not that into the heavier types of metal like Death Metal. However, I did list them as Folk/Death did I not? Yes, they really do get on the heavy sides of things most times and usually I don't like to hear too much yelling as much as I enjoy a good melodic sounding tune and voice. I do like a mix of harsh and melodic vocals though, which may be why I like Tengger Cavalry: If you are in the mood for head-banging goodness, they provide, and if you are in the mood for a calming folk song, they also provide.  Other songs like the one above are "Homeland Song", which is an incredibly beautiful ballad that everyone needs to hear and contemplate to, "White Pony", which is almost completely instrumental and focuses on blending the traditional sounds to the point that it sounds a little more Chinese than Mongolian, but I still like it, and "Leader Wolf", which is an odd track to say the least, featuring tribal-sounding chants and strange "boing" sounds.

"Homeland Song"

     "Homeland Song" is also on the previous album though, as well as four other tracks, "Black Steed", "In The Storm", "Cavalry in Thousands" and "The Expedition". That's odd, when did that CD come out? Let's see here it was called Black Steed and came out in.... 2013. Okay then.

     Wait, WHAT?!

     Yeah, Tengger Cavalry has kind of an insane release schedule. The band started out in early 2010 as a one-man band with a self-titled demo and since grew to have 5 albums in just four years, the second being a double album and the 5th, the most recent, being released two months ago. That type of release schedule reminds me of bands from the 70's that were under pressure from labels like Steppenwolf (go look up their release dates for albums) but these guys didn't even get on a label until last year! Heck, more music from these guys and I'm complaining, I should stop. The more from Tengger Cavalry, the better. Here is the next song I will showcase, "Black Steed". Yeah, it was on the previous album, but so was half of the entire album so who cares. That, and it was the song that introduced me to the band.

"Black Steed"

     This song starts off deceptively folk-y and even has an amusing horse "neighh" in the beginning.  This mood is quickly subverted, however, by a blast of guitar and bass as the band shows they are not afraid of hitting you with a wall of pure metal force.  This is probably my second favorite song on the entire album, right behind "In The Storm" which is sadly not on Youtube for me to show you so this will have to to.  This is a fun song that is incredibly heavy and although he uses harsh vocals throughout the whole song, it sounds perfectly fitting, as does the slower instrumental choruses with the folk instruments taking the forefront.  Also, at about 2:20, the song blasts into a great guitar solo backed by the guitar/bass hook that had been in the whole song.  This song is the fun type of heavy death metal that I enjoy, not the ambient boring type of metal you get from some Death and Doom bands.  This song sells to the audience that what they are here for is to be as folksy traditional as possible while incorporating the fun type of metal flair into the mix, as most folk metal bands do.

     The rest of the tracks are just magnificent as well, all having a nice folk feel to it while being metal as all hell. A couple tracks are less thrilling though: "Dance of Horse" can get kind of boring and repetitive, except for the Morin Khuur hook which is nice; "Cavalry in Thousands" rather obviously borrows hooks from later songs in the album and transitions kind of awkwardly somewhat but it is the opening song, so I will let the borrowing go.  On the flip side of "Cavalry of Thousands", which is a very fun and fast track which helps set the mood for the album, the experience ends with "Leader Wolf" which is an....odd note to end on. It feels very strange and unfulfilling when its over, like there should be another exciting song to close out the album to help bookend it a little better.  Parts of the song are very nice, such as the "chorus" (if you could call it one) at around 1:25 that is pretty reminiscent of the band Orphaned Land. I will post another video of the entire album below, which is the video that got me into the band, in case you want to listen to the entire thing.

The Expedition full album

     There are a couple odd tracks on the album as I have already said, but the other songs that raise the awesomeness factor up to 11 help balance that all out and leave you wanting more from these Mongolian warriors.  I would suggest that any folk metal fanatic like me to go out and buy this gem.  If you like more melodic metal and don't like harsh vocals, check out the melodic songs I listed with "Khan", particularly "Homeland Song" and decide for yourself if you want those.  Standard metal fans would probably like the other songs well enough though and could get a kick into the odd instruments heard in the songs like "Black Steed" and "In The Storm".

     I give this album a 7.5/10. As much as I adore this album for what it is, I can't help notice what it isn't and what it isn't is a standalone album. The fact that most of the best tracks on the album were already released on the previous album released that year makes me think they collected the best from Black Steed and just threw on a five songs they had written afterword or that the songs could not be added to Black Steed because they were not enough to justify a double album, like their second release.

     Don't get me wrong though, it is a great album and I still listen to it almost daily and have been for the past couple months, I just think more could have been done and that the five songs that did not originally come from Black Steed do not stand out as much as the ones that did (except "Hymn of the Wolf", that song is pretty great).

     If you want to buy it, and I suggest that you do, you can find the album on iTunes for $9.99 or you can buy it from their Bandcamp page for $8, which is a pretty nice price.  Give it a listen in the Youtube link above and if you like it, pick it up.

Click here for Tengger Cavalry's band page
Click here to buy the album The Expedition and support the band!


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