Of all of the genre designations that exist within the metal pantheon, folk metal is arguably the most evasive in terms of retaining a consistent sound. Culture is the primary determinant of what constitutes “folk” music, causing a folk metal band’s sound to rely not on stylistic tropes, but with the members’ country of origin. Having such a strong link to a specific location necessitates a certain level of aural transportation, something that Tengger Cavalry demonstrate masterfully on their fourth album, Blood Sacrifice Shaman. Blending traditional Mongolian instrumentation with standard metal fare, the group stands in as prophets of Tengger – sky god of Mongolian grassland – and provides the listener with a triumphant, aerial view disturbed by some mild turbulent winds.
An instrumental conglomeration that includes horsehead fiddle, dombra and Mongolian throat singing creates a perpetually epic atmosphere that initiates on “Соёмбо (Hymn of The Mongolian Totem),” an introduction that establishes the album’s tone beautifully. Thunderous tribal drums provide a booming backdrop for the aforementioned stringed instruments to swirl and soar above chunky riffs and celestial throat singing comparable to a didgeridoo from the gods. If it had been technologically feasible, this is the pre-battle soundtrack that Genghis Khan would have utilized to stoke the fires within his troops. Something more plausible for this scenario is certainly possible, though, as Tengger Cavalry’s folk instrumentation on interludes “Rootless” and “The Native” indicate that the band could handily produce a record comprised entirely of traditional Mongolian folk music and still stir the same epic emotions.
Tengger Cavalry also manage to effectively weave in the metal aspect of their sound fairly well on a handful of tracks. “Horseman” is the prime example of this, with a combination of echoing throat vocals and a syncopation of bouncy riffs and percussion creating perhaps the most danceable folk metal song ever penned. Album closer “Hero” acts as a fleshing out of “Соёмбо” with the most detailed and inclusive presentation of all of Tengger Cavalry’s styles. A couple more tracks resembling this detailed approach would have been beneficial to Blood Sacrifice Shaman’s success, as the albums half-hour run time and only five full tracks – excluding the two demos included in the track listing – causes the album to feel more like a glorified EP.
Interestingly enough, the demo tracks’ more “metal” focus would have been better inclusions than the final cuts, as the heavier side of Tengger Cavalry is where the band’s main weakness lie. Whether it is better attributed to the plain guitar tone or the bands affinity for chugs, the grand majority of Tengger Cavalry’s guitar work falls into the background as a missed opportunity. While the demo track for “Tengger Cavalry” contains an intense outro of blast beats and quick picking, the final cut opts for a line of bare-minimum chugs that are easily overshadowed by the infinitely more interesting folk instrumentation laid atop it. “Wolf Ritual” and the title-track may include some genre thrash riffs and ambiguous “extreme” metal stylings, respectively, but both of these attempts at variety are only notable because of how bland the riffs before and after it are.
This is not a call for Tengger Cavalry to compose much more lavish metal instrumentation; such a direction would probably clash with the complexities of their folk instrumentation. But as it stands right now, what is most notable about Blood Sacrifice Shaman is the first half of its “folk metal” label. But while Tengger Cavalry could undoubtedly craft an excellent folk record, the unprecedented combination that has been presented here is certainly not something to be abandoned. Hopefully the next installment in Tengger Cavalry’s discography shows the band transforming their metal side from the hilt that holds their folk sword into a bejeweled handle that allows the blade to carve with even more grace and ease.
Tengger Cavalry’s Blood Sacrifice Shaman gets…