In increasing numbers, especially post-lockdown, cultural commentators have questioned if electronic dance is this generations’ rock music. Are we witnessing the death of bands? One asked. Some bands however, are riding against the tide. Metal musicians and their fans have endured the test of time; death metal, nu-metal and now, please welcome to the stage, Mongolian metal.
The phenomenon of Mongolian metal took the world by storm in 2019, when The HU exploded onto the scene with their album The Gereg. Before they start the show tonight, the audience are already shouting “HU! HU! HU! HU!”
The band parade on stage brandishing a totem, sticking it triumphantly next to the drum kit. Band member Galaa opens with an atmospheric morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) solo. Then the rest of the band join, launching into Shihi Hutu from their new album Black Thunder.
It’s an unapologetically epic show from start to finish. An onstage fan blows frontman Jaya’s long black hair behind him, as if he were horseback riding across the Mongolian Steppes, as he plays the tsuur (flute). Meanwhile, the rest of the band are enthusiastically head banging, except Galaa who twirls his ponytail.
In between songs, Jaya excitedly talks to the audience in Mongolian, so for the most part no one really understands what he’s saying. However, that doesn’t curb anyone’s enthusiasm. The universal language of metal transcends cultural barriers when faced with an audience chanting “SHOOG! SHOOG! SHOOG!”.
The HU describe themselves as “hunnu rock” (human rock) and incorporate Tuvan throat singing and traditional instruments such as the tovshuur (three-stringed Mongolian lute), morin khuur and tumur khuur (jaw harp) into their heavy metal tunes. The yearning melodies of the morin khuur powers most of the songs, rooting the band firmly in their homeland.
They style themselves as a leather-clad classic rock band crossed with traditional attire, although Jaya takes off his long cape after the first few songs, to reveal his own band t-shirt. This London date is the final night of their five month Black Thunder tour, so the band would be forgiven for having to borrow clothes from the merch stand – it’s hard to fit in a laundry day when you’re on the road.
In 2019, the band were awarded the highest state award in Mongolia for their work promoting their culture around the world. They fully embrace their role as their country’s ambassadors, enjoying themselves the most when playing their more acoustic folk numbers.
“Thank you so much!” growls Galaa, pausing to drink from his reusable water bottle (which goes to show you can be rock ’n’ roll and still care about the planet), before launching into their next song.
“And now, THE GREAT CHINGGIS KHAAAAN!”
Elsewhere, the big heavy metal numbers Yuve Yuve Yu and Wolf Totem go down well, and guys in Black Sabbath t-shirts take this as their cue to start a mosh pit.
The band close with This Is Mongol, a song celebrating Mongolian nature, culture and spirituality. By this point, Galaa’s ponytail is twirling so much that he might actually take off. In a grand finale, they raise their arms in unison singing “MONGOL”.
After the encore, they stay on the stage for a while, too over-excited to want to leave, giving away their guitar picks and drum sticks to equally hyped front row fans.
The HU’s legendary show tonight is evidence enough: rock ’n’ roll most definitely is not dead.