Extreme folk has become a relatively recent passion of mine. As such, there was no lack of content to experience when I began my exploration. I fell hard for everything from the more traditional black stylings of Enslaved and Borknagar to the bombastic and sometimes silly Ensiferum and Equilibrium. But for every worthwhile group, there can be tens to hundreds of generic imitators. Even groups that once offered an impressive and fresh look at the style have since gone stale. I was beginning to feel like everything that could be said about epic battles had already been told. Then I discovered Tengger Cavalry. Put away your horned helmets, kids, cuz we're storming Manchuria today.
My favorite starting point to help readers understand what to expect from an album is to offer comparisons to similar outings. I find this task more difficult with Ancient Call. While there are similarities to the epic soundtrack qualities of early Equilibrium on songs like "Brave," it shares none of the self-aware cheesiness. Rather, compositions come with a level of gravity that is rare to find, especially in 2014. But for all of its graveness, songs consistently had me raising sabre, spear, or bow while galloping to victory.
Tengger Cavalry achieves this balance through high levels of both innovation and musicianship. You've heard your share of folk with bagpipes, flute, fiddle, etc. What about something decidedly more Eastern? How about a Morin khuur? Or Dombra? Throat singing? Even if you aren't familiar with the names, you have almost certainly heard these instruments before. My daughter watches a lot of Mulan, I played this for her and told her it was the soundtrack. Yeah, she rolls her eyes a lot. Also, lyrics are in Mandarin, which I prefer to the ESL slipshod approach many take to gain a wider audience. It just wouldn't carry the same weight.
But is it all just a gimmick? Don't make me get my halberd. Nature Ganganbaigal (yes that is his name) and the gang know their instruments and songwriting chops. This is actually their 6th full length album, and it shows its maturity with flowing compositions that skillfully infuse crunchy, marching guitars, blackened vocals, and traditional Chinese arrangements. The dynamics are equally impressive. While the up-tempo battle songs will get you banging your head, the softer moments are rich and immersive with a sense of culture.
By far, this is the best extreme folk metal album I heard from 2014. There were plenty others that passed my ears, and I was sure to check out all of the annual nominations, but this one took the Genghis Khan-shaped cake. It is an original take on an old idea that never slouches on fun or musicianship. Furthermore, it is a step forward in songwriting for the group and rivals some of my favorites in the genre altogether. Listen to this album NOW.
Note: This is a repost of my same review on Metal Storm