Tengger Cavalry - Ancient Call (2014)

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Music can be a number of things to a number of people. But, in particular, folk metal tends to incorporate elements that might not be found elsewhere. Native instruments, historical lyrical concepts, even a style of dress or presentation. There is value to be found in most instances, with the occasional gimmick being the exception to the rule. But when done right, and done with thought and heart, it can be an enlightening experience for casual and dedicated fans alike. Tengger Cavalry are doing something along those lines, but have proven to be miles ahead of many of their contemporaries. By using traditional Chinese instruments and melodies, along with vocal styles that have long since faded, they add a layer to their sound that few others can even hope to match. Their latest album is yet another example of history coming face to face with music, and  Ancient Call is better than any Schoolhouse Rocks cartoon.

While there are certainly more impactful moments on the album, the opening track, Dance With The Wolf may be the perfect jumping off point. The emphatic strums of the strings not withstanding, it is the growing thunder of the drums that pulls you in. Once you've been hooked, Galloping Towards The Great Land is all you'll need to stay immersed. The combination of thrashing riffs and vocals, with the carefully placed and constructed strings is uncanny. Whether the title was intended as a description is neither here nor there, but the true gallop of the drums here is invigorating, to say the least. Unlike previous releases, there is more action, and less exposition. The tracks flow from one to the next in a much different way, moving more often from strength to strength, rather than strength to beauty. Elements of the sweet and sublime are nearly ever-present, as Battle Song From Far Away illustrates, but the hammering of snares and cymbals takes a starring role in wave after wave of distortion. More importantly, amongst all the vibrance in the instrument, the lyrics are based in bravery and hope. Even as their home burns, "From far away the battle song leads us forever."

The aptly titled Hymn Of The Earth is exactly that; a song for the sounds of life. The native instrumentation has a distinct sound that would be nearly impossible to mimic or phone in, and the energy it provides is astounding. Here you have a band doing anything and everything right, resulting in a track that is undeniable in its power, and in its ability to lodge itself in your brain. That trademark stomp has an effect on the mind, and incorporating the art of throat singing on Echo Of The Grassland is mesmerizing. You've fallen under a spell that only Tengger Cavalry can command. But finding the middle ground between past and present is a difficult endeavor, one that could provide issues for lesser craftsmen. But Brave silences any doubts, a massive chorus of guitars, drums, and strings relentlessly bringing foot stamping down to the ground. It embraces the folk metal genre, but heightens its appeal with a renewed sense of meaning.

When you think you've already been witness to the heaviness this band has to offer, the five minute Summon The Warrior leaves your eyes wide, and jaw on the floor. This is the metal melting pot you've always wanted, fusing elements of thrash, folk, death, black, and even punk. It wastes no time bringing the best guitar work on the album into a growing spotlight. But just because the album has taken their versatility to new heights, doesn't mean there isn't room for a traditional piece, much like the three minute instrumental The Battlefront. This isn't an interlude, though; this is a transition piece, connecting the previous track to Chant Of The Cavalry, which is an album highlight by any standard. The chugging and strings that become entangled just before the two and a half minute mark are musical perfection in sound, in balance, and in scope. But it is simply unfair how crisp and meticulous Legend On Horseback is, leaving a legacy that is far too daunting to challenge. The idea of saving the best for last has never had appeal, at least as far as I can attest to, but in this case, it is less about leaving the best, and more about ending on just the right lyrical note. And as the last clean, floating strings echo out, you know they've done exactly that.

Albums like this one, along with a growing list of others in recent memory, do so much more than strike  chord with fans of music. They go so much deeper than that. This isn't solely down to the lyrical content, but down to the bare bones in how the music is created, built, and perfected. There is a degree of marvel involved here, especially for the casual listener. You leave not only with ten tracks of metal bliss, but with a host of thoughts attached. How did they make these elements work together so seamlessly? And even before that, how did this combination seem like a recipe for success? You leave it far more inquisitive than you began, and that is where the major draw of Tengger Cavalry can be felt. While their music can be summarized as folk metal, it embodies something cultural that you might not have been exposed to other wise. And if it gets you to do one Google search for throat singing or Chinese history, Ancient Call has transcended the music you heard.

9.5/10

Bandcamp - http://tenggercavalry.bandcamp.com/

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/tengger0cavalry