China’s Tengger Cavalry are a rather prolific bunch, aren’t they? With five full-length albums in as many years, these Mongolian folk metallers have been making waves over the last few years, even going as far as opening for Turisas when the latter hit Beijing a couple years back. With their profile expanding and people catching wind of their majestic blend of exotic shaman folk music and melodic death metal, they did what any self-respecting up-and-coming band should do: they re-recorded their 2010 debut, Blood Sacrifice Shaman, from the ground up, and expanded upon the original recording, which… whoa, wait, whaaaaaat?!
Yep, this is a re-recording of their debut. Normally, we shun such activities, as they’re usually non-sensical and wastes of both time and resources. But the circumstances are a bit different here, as back in 2010, Tengger Cavalry was owned and operated solely by guitarist/vocalist Nature Ganganbaigal, and Blood Sacrifice Shaman was released to a paltry 500 copies. Now that Tengger Cavalry is a fully fleshed-out band on a more prolific label, it does make a bit of sense to re-record your album with a better production and tighter songwriting skills. And the result is rather enjoyable. After a very brief intro in “Соёмбо (Hymn of the Mongolian Totem),” introducing some dombra and throat-singing into the mix, “Tengger Cavalry” gallops along on a truly spell-binding journey, with horse-head fiddles and dombra blanketing over furious double-bass drumming and some basic-but-effective riffing. Nature keeps to mostly throat-singing and chants (with this song featuring the only death scream throughout the album’s entirety), so you would be understandably mistaken if you thought this was an instrumental album.
With any folk-drenched metal album, there has to be a delicate balance between the traditional instrumentation of the band’s culture, and the full-on assault of melodic death metal. On Blood Sacrifice Shaman, the point of interest lays heavily on their folk influences, as the the actual metal (save for the solos during “The Wolf Ritual” and “Hero”) tends to veer into the “chug-chug-chug” territory. Thankfully, the dombra and horse-head fiddles elevate the music significantly, drawing attention to the music when the metal doesn’t. In fact, “The Native,” an all-acoustic track featuring didigeridoo and flute, is one of the most serene, pleasing songs to ever be put onto a metal album, acting as a nice counterpoint to the battle music displayed elsewhere. Of the more metallic tunes, “The Horseman” has an incredible sense of urgency in its rhythms and galloping strums.
As I had a hell of a time trying to track down the original version of this album anywhere (thank the gods for YouTube), I can say that the quality is better with the 2015 version in terms of both recording and performance compared to the few original songs I did manage to find. New versions of “Tengger Cavalry” and “Hero” have better flow and composition, with only the guitar melody at the end of the old version of “Tengger Cavalry” missing. One thing that did get my ire was that the guitars tend to sound a bit too static, like it was recorded using a solid-state amp, but the other instruments have plenty of breathing room. Another bone of contention was the one song that was pretty damn cool in my discoveries of the original version, “Wolf Blood,” is omitted entirely. What is included are 2009 demo versions of “Tengger Cavalry” and “Blood Sacrifice Shaman,” showing just how far the band’s come, though ultimately they’re not exactly necessary to the overall experience.
That said, this is a fun, quick (just over 30 minute) romp through the plains of China. While not the same promising experience that was revealed with 2013’s The Expedition, it’s still an enjoyable album with some beautiful melodies and intricate motifs, and a cheaper way to complete your Tengger Cavalry discography without getting bent over at eBay. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year, if the pattern continues as such.