Tuvan throat singing (also known as khöömei) is a vocal technique whereby the singer sounds two pitches simultaneously using reinforced harmonics. The tradition dates back centuries and is rooted in central Asian culture.
Pair the low-pitched growl and high whistle of throat singing with the big electric guitar riffs and drums of rock music, and you have a winning combo. Here is a selection of the best Mongolian metal bands you didn’t know you needed (see the bottom of the page for a link to the playlist.)
The name of the band comes from Tengri, the supreme deity of the ancient religion Tengrism, the earliest records of which date back to the 4th century. Their final album Northern Memory Vol.1 (2019), released before the lead singer tragically passed away, takes more of a turn towards heavy metal, while their first albums, especially Tennger Cavalry (2016) have a more folk and cinematic feel to them. The self-titled album is rich in folk melodies such as in Interlude, which provides a brief moment of classical calm between the heavy electric guitars. In Cavalry in Thousands, the yearning melody of the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and the pounding drums make it clear that the only appropriate setting to listen to this song is while galloping on horseback across the Altai Mountains.
Similar to Tennger Cavalry, Nine Treasures also draw on Tengri mythology, as well as nature, Mongolian history, local legends and Buddhist philosophy. Their name makes reference to the nine treasures written about in ancient Mongolian poetry, which bring luck if a person procures all of them. Their songs also deal with contemporary issues, for example Sonsii (I’m Listening) is a ode to nature in the face of industrialisation, according to an interview with Vice, and lyrics roughly translate to “Let me hear your lies” and “you are that person who stole the fruit”. This year they released Awakening from Dukkha (2021) a selection of new recordings of songs from their past three albums. In the new version of the song Three Year Old Warrior, the balalaika (triangle-shaped Russian stringed instrument played like a guitar) provides a light staccato freshness and the warm melodies of the morin khuur compliments the low-frequency growl of the vocals.
Hanggai were formed in 2004 and are now based in Beijing where they aim to preserve and promote Mongolian culture and traditional music. Rising Sun (2016) opens with energetic morin khuur and guitar, then the tension builds as a steady crisp drumbeat enters. It’s based on a folk song about a man looking out at the sun rising over the mountains in the fog and pining for his partner who he hasn’t seen in three years . The melody itself is powerfully emotive and conveys the melancholy and heartfelt emotions even without understanding the lyrics. For their more acoustic folk songs, listen to Brothers or Xiger Xiger (this one has some impressive throat singing in). Their latest album released in 2019, takes a new musical direction with the fairly self-explanatory title Big Band Brass.
Of course, no list of Mongolian metal bands would be complete without The HU. Since releasing their debut album The Gereg in 2019, the classically trained band have exploded into a worldwide phenomenon with the music video for Yuve Yuve Yu clocking up over 70 million views on Youtube and the song Wolf Totem made history as the first song from a Mongolian band song to reach No.1 on a Billboard chart on the Hard Rock Digital Song Sales list. Describing themselves as “hunnu rock” (human rock), the band use traditional instruments such as the tovshuur (three-stringed Mongolian lute), morin khuur and tumur khuur (jaw harp). Yuve Yuve Yu (How Strange) is a rejection of blind ignorance and empty words. In his translation of the lyrics, Youtuber Hachapuri also interprets the message as a call to action to respect and protect the land; it’s only in nature we can access our true inner power. All in all, the album is mystical, tribal and downright epic.
Do you have any Mongolian rock or metal band recommendations? Let me know in the comments!