ALBUM REVIEW : TENGGER CAVALRY — Die On My Ride
A band like Tengger Cavalry is hard to come by, and even harder to pin down. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Nature Ganganbaigal has, over the course of their career, seen a parade of different band members, moved their homebase from China to the US, raked in endorsements and big international gigs (such as Midgardsblot and Ragnard Rock this summer), even sold out Carnegie Hall’s Weill recital hall in 2015. That’s almost 270 people coming together in the elegant space to hear Mongolian folk metal on Christmas Eve. Are you impressed yet?
The band has released more records than you’d imagine anyone could do in a mere decade, including 12 full-length and 3 live albums. However they are notorious for re-recording several versions of previous songs even on their first few albums – in fact most of the material they released in the past 2 years with the exception of the kAAn EP has been re-recordings. So to get a new full-length with entirely new tracks is exciting. With Die On My Ride, Tengger Cavalry delves into a different space, leaving behind the fierce riffs and galloping tempo of Sunesu Cavalry or kAAn, and swooping in like winter winds on the plains. While this album is not what I expected, it is not necessarily disappointing.
The intro song called “Snow” is a beautiful instrumental piece of morin khuur and piano, a perfect soundtrack to a soft snowfall on a grey winter day, and it alone settles the aura enveloping this album. The entire record has an eeriness to it, a sort of melancholy or soul-searching sadness that enfolds every piece, even the more upbeat ones. It is softer, colder, more intricately classical. The addition of clean vocals on most songs also brings a new soulfulness to this album. The song “To The Sky”, a piece that surprisingly reaches into traditional American folk a lot, boasts especially beautiful clean vocals. That alone takes Tengger Cavalry into a relatively unexplored territory for them.
There were a few highly unexpected surprises on this album for me. One came in the form of the song “Ashley” which is a rather off-putting indie-pop love ballad composed of too many elements unlike the band’s typical sound to seem cohesive with the rest of the album. I have to admit I can’t bring myself to enjoy it no matter how much I listen to it or pick it apart. It’s definitely different, so I invite you to judge for yourselves on that particular piece.
Tengger Cavalry - "Cursed"
If you’re thinking Tengger Cavalry changed their sound entirely though, you are reading too much into this review. While the band has strayed far from entirely fast and hard albums like Sunesu Cavalry or Blood Sacrifice Shaman, there are still some heavy-hitting tracks for your listening pleasure on Die On My Ride – but again be forewarned that even these compositions sound more introverted than previous works. Songs like “Cursed” or “Strike” as well as the title track “Die on my Ride” are perfect examples of how Tengger Cavalry has retained their hardness on this album. Nature Ganganbaigal’s traditional Khoomei (throat singing) vocals have always been one thing that set the band apart, and this most impressive element remains strong on Die On My Ride as well.
The song “Prayer” which is technically the ender of the album (as “We Will Survive” is a *bonus* track) is a powerful piece that evokes a very strong connection with nature. Traditional instruments, ritualistic drumming, and beautiful Khoomei vocals wrap this piece in the shroud of shamanism that Tengger Cavalry does so well, albeit not as often as they could.
Nature Ganganbaigal graduated from NYU in film scoring (they have one of the best programs in the world so this is not to be glossed over), and his talent to put music to a visual scene also works in reverse. With this album, he and his bandmates made music that creates imagery in the mind of the listener; a tell-tale sign that the music reaches deep inside of you, immersive and emotional.
I definitely cannot say that I prefer this style over their older material since I feel like this album lacks the raw energy and fire that made me fall in love with them at first listen. However Die On My Ride adds another string to Tengger Cavalry’s bow, and with its more personal themes and melodic ways, it is less in your face and more in your soul.
Tengger Cavalry - "Cavalry In Thousands"
As the band will embark on a US-Canada tour tomorrow, I am looking forward to seeing them perform some of these new songs live (although I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want them to just play “Soyombo” for 20 minutes instead). If you have never seen the band before, I definitely suggest you check out their tour dates and ride on down to your closest show as their live performances are inevitably varied material-wise and this kind of music is a rare treat, especially on North American grounds.