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Folky, Epic, and Metal, but at the Same Time! - 100%

ParabolaX, October 18th, 2011

I don't really like folk metal.

"What do you mean ParabolaX? Your personal Facebook page says you like Agalloch! Primordial! Nokturnal Mortum! Kroda! Hellveto counts too!"

Yes, you caught me and the folk metal I like by stalking my listening patterns (in the best of ways, of course). I don't like much folk metal. For every Primordial, you have a Turisas or an Eluveitie. You get the fruity, drunken, light beer of folk metal. But I listen to the good stuff, and while I wouldn't say that many of them are perfect, I wonder if there is actually a paragon-like gem of folk metal. The album that deserves a glowing 100% review. The album I can binge on for an obscene amount of time. That folk metal band.

So I stumbled across Tengger Cavalry. You can guess where this going to lead to.

The Metal Archives says that this band is folky black metal. I almost don't count black metal with folk elements as folk metal, because unless it Nokturnal Mortum's later stuff (and I'd hardly call an album like Голос Сталі black metal, even if I like it a lot), it generally doesn't end up being too folky from my experiences. Ah poo, and I thought that I had found the perfect folk metal band! Thanks a lot, MA.

Tengger Cavalry is not black metal. Aside from some sparse harsh vocals that would sound right at home in the likes of black metal, Tengger Cavalry is pretty far from the genre, aside from maybe the song "Python." Melodic leads and well-placed palm-muted riffs make up the bulk of the album, bearing more resemblance to Septic Flesh's Communion or perhaps Arch Enemy, than to, say, Darkthrone. While Tengger Cavalry isn't even that close to Septic Flesh, it definitely isn't black metal with some Mongolian folk instruments.

It is folk metal in its purest form. Riffs alongside horse-head fiddles and Mongolian throat singing.

Some folk metal bands seem to have a difficult time balancing the guitar driven metal elements and the folk elements of their music, leading to bands that have more folk than is needed for their own good (Finntroll), or bands that are epic sounding but only tangentially folky (Primordial), or bands that are perfectly folky and really good but really not metal (Agalloch). Finding a balance can be hard, and then you listen to Tengger Cavalry. There are plenty of riffs to be found, never buried too far beneath folk instruments. Even when the folk prevails, it still is dark, desolate, yet epic. That's pretty damned metal.

The second song, "Tengger Cavalry," contrasts with the desolate intro "Desert Road." The folk instrumental immediately segways to the pummeling riffs, existing perfectly alongside Mongolian throat singing, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The throat singing is the predominant vocal style, existing with a few black metal screeches. While the fiddles are also a key component of Blood Sacrifice Shaman, much of the folkiness of the album is directly from the vocals.

Throughout the album, the guitar work is tremendous. Nature, the man behind the project, never misses a moment to insert guitar work. His distinctive, epic, and delicious leads punctuate songs like "Wolf Blood," "Hero," the latter end of "Celestial Burial," and "Wolf Totem." Even on less guitar-driven songs like "Blood Sacrifice Shaman," they help give a heavy backing to the fiddles and throat singing, still keeping the mood epic and dark. The occasional blast-beat helps keep things fast, and it keeps Tengger Cavalry in the realm of extreme metal.

While it is clear that instrumental skill is an asset of Nature's, the one thing that keeps me attracted to Tengger Cavalry is the memorability of it. I find hooks written on horse-head fiddles playing in my head at random points during the day, and the urge to sing the vocal lines of the Mongolian throat vocals. Strong riffs, melodic leads, they're written to stick in your head. It's an epic battle I can play at any time.

Not only that, but I can also binge on it for days at a time. So I can actually play said epic battle and not tire of it. Blood Sacrifice Shaman has amazing staying power. Expect it to become one of your top bands on, songs like "Wolf Totem" (easily the catchiest song on the album) to be on your iTunes's top 25 songs list.

Indeed, it shall be your paragon, "give it 100% on MA" album of folk metal.

An acquired taste among acquired tastes. - 85%

Satosuke, August 31st, 2011

It's really damn hard to find a music group or album that's absolutely, completely unique in this day and age. Tengger Cavalry manages to reach that nigh-impossible feat by blending fast-pased classic black metal and bits of slow, solemn funeral doom with folk music from ancient China, particularly the vocals and instruments associated with Mongolian shamans.

Traditional Mongol throat-singers punctuate the solid black metal growls and shouts with otherworldly vocal sounds that sound like brooding demons and pagan priests invoking mystical incantations. On the instrument side, the thick, chugging sludge riffs and occasional, well-placed lightning strikes of soloing are accompanied by various chimes, jaw harps, and most noticeably, the Mongolian horsehead bow. When put all together, the encompassing feel invokes an almost impossibly dark, vicious landscape of cavalry hordes beseeching the power of the deities they worship before charging to bloody warfare. The air of death and mysteriousness looms heavy over this album, a feeling amplified by very sparse vocals with actual words in them, and said vocals are both harshly growled and in a different language, making everything even more alien to someone who doesn't speak Chinese or lacks experience with Mongolian folk, much akin to the way the Silent Hill video games spook western audiences even more due to it's very eastern frame of reference in terms of its symbolism.

Now, all this description would be rendered pointlessly pretentious if this album weren't enjoyable to listen to. This is a very hard judgement call, however. Personally, I love rich imagery invoked in music, so I'm able to look past the throat singing; something many westerners will find confusing and possibly laughable. Lots of metal falls under the realm of 'acquired taste', and this one qualifies as such even to fans of the most hardcore or obscure metal out there. Considering only 500 copies of this album were printed (and I made sure to buy one of those copies), you don't get much more obscure than this. But, if you like folk metal and/or black metal, and are willing to sit down and give albums a chance, you will find a very rewarding listening experience in this selection from the heart of China. I definitely recommend seeking this one out.