In our household, metal from other nations has been a cornerstone for decades. Our daughters have grown up with it and our eldest could sing Rammstein’s “Engel” from start to finish when she was 3… Don’t judge me.
As a family, we often sing along to this music, taking great delight in the different languages, which are so very different to English. We revel in the guttural nature of the lyrics and most of us can roll our “r” sounds with the best of them. (Those that can’t have this pointed out to them. Again, don’t judge me.)
With this interest in metal in other languages in mind, it seemed like every person I knew tagged me in the video for “Wolf Totem”, so I had an awareness of The Hu.
They are a Mongolian band that has connected with many folks, with the videos to “Wolf Totem” and “Yuve Yuve Yu” racking up over 28 million views on YouTube. They have been together since late 2016 and their sound is built on their rich cultural background.
Their sound is intriguing, as it takes inspiration from Old Culture and fuses it with new technology, instruments and methods to create a smooth brand of music that s genre challenging. The Hu call it “Hunnu rock”, based on the word “Hu”, the Mongolian root word for human beings. This is indeed apt, for the music is rich indeed with human elements and will resonate with people on a personal level.
As far as the title of the album goes, “gereg” was used as a diplomatic “password” by Mongol armies during the time of Genghis Khan. The album serves as a grand introduction to the band and its intent. The cover of the album features a snow leopard, an icon revered in Mongolian culture.
There are 9 tracks on the album, with many over 5 minutes in duration. From the outset, I may get instruments wrong in the following, given that many of the ones that are used are outside my knowledge.
“The Gereg” begins with the sound of strings and a distinctive twanging. It’s used throughout the album and gives a strong, old culture sound. When the drums arrive, it’s a surprise, signalling the way that this is a work of cultural fusion. The throat singing and rolled “r” sounds are sublime. The track is rollicking in its tribal nature and the background wail/moan adds a great sense of drama. As the track goes on, it builds in depth and complexity, before paring back and fading away.
“Wolf Totem” opens with sounds that had me conjuring a windswept landscape. A bird call adds to this imagery. I’ll stop saying that the beat is tribal – this is pretty much taken as given. A complex and energetic use of strings is used and the guttural vocals are intense and powerful. They give a feeling that the band members are folks that you don’t want to upset. Throat singing again adds power to the fabric of the track and a chant of “Hu!” makes it an addictive offering. The wind and bird effects appear again late in the track, just as it fades.
“The Great Chinggis Khan” marches forth with swanky guitar, which grabbed my attention. New track, yet another new sound. Calmer vocals are featured and the deep notes ring out. It had me closing my eyes, eager to immerse myself in the experience. It’s rich and powerful, with strings used to add emotion, along with vocal harmonies. It’s another twist in the tale that works extremely well.
“The Legend of Mother Swan” flies in with a peaceful start, heralded by simple strings. That quirky marching beat is used and there is a feeling of grace and beauty, of being calm and determined. It has a simpler style that flows from start to finish – it has a quiet beauty.
“Shoog Shoog” begins with wind instrument elements. The “Shoog!” chant that then emerges will be something to behold (and participate in) live. A bass heavy riff is used, yet another musical element to enhance the experience. As the track unfolded, I knew where it was going to go… and it kind of went there, but was just different enough to take me by surprise. This is something that The Hu does well. It’s a different sound again, more in line with modern expectations, but different enough to be all their own. The deep vocals are again compelling and this track is a foot tapper.
“The Same” has a resonating start that had me thinking of space. Soulful strings are used, accompanied by calm vocals. The breadth of the sound in this track snuck up on me, as it gradually increases in elements and intensity. Strings are used in an intensely soulful manner – they are purposeful and frantic and their high pitch adds to the drama.
“Yuve Yuve Yu” has a banjo-like start. The track has rock influence and a confident swagger. My expectations on this track were closer to the mark. The rollicking sound emerges and the vocals are once again the feature element. I was also intrigued by some sounds in the background. Was that an instrument or a voice? Were they female vocals or an effect? Is any case, it really sucked me in.
“Shireg Shireg” opens with simple strings and woodland calls. It is organic in nature and the vocals have a different sound again – softer, but edgy. The track felt narrative in nature and throat singing was used in the background. A cantering rhythm soon included the sound of horse hooves. Clever…
“The Song of Women” has a deeper, lower opening, with a chanting, pulsing start. The slower rhythm is noticeable and the deep, calm vocals all result in a track that is epic in nature. Plaintive vocals are also used cogently, with throat singing adding depth in the background. It’s a track of many moods.
The throat singing is remarkable. Used up front, it is powerful and purposeful. As a backing element, it resonates with power and intensity.
Is this band and album a gimmick? I don’t get a sense of this, as The Hu aren’t a one trick pony. They have produced music that is intense, without brutality. In many ways it conveys beauty, struggle and pride. It’s a fusion of old culture and old ways with new styles and technologies.
Is language a barrier to accessing music? Or, is it universal, reaching us on a subliminal level, regardless of language or dialect? Sometimes, you don’t have to know what the lyrics say – it’s great to get a sense of the subject matter on your own. Then, looking the translation up later adds another sense of discovery to the music.
This album takes your expectations and acknowledges them, but often takes them in new directions, enhancing the listening experience.
We bring our expectations and experiences to music. I think that this album, with its many moods and textures, will resonate with listeners. We will all bring our unique views to the music and will have them enhanced by it.
I often sang along to the chants and chorus elements, enjoying the offering sounds. Just don’t try throat singing – it’s a particular skill. Don’t judge me…
The Gereg will be released on September 13
Pre order here
Review by Greg Noble.