LOUDER REVIEWS: 'The Gereg (Deluxe Edition)' - The Hu
With the music scene having become increasingly saturated and nostalgia-obsessed in recent years, alternative music in particular has come in for a fair share of criticism for a lack of innovation and recycling of old tropes. It is perhaps no surprise then that a truly different-sounding band like The Hu would become the viral sensation that they did back in 2019. Before the release of their debut album The Gereg in September last year, they had already amassed tens of millions of Youtube views and were the subject of much conversation and excitement throughout the metal community. Although folk-metal has been a thing since the mid-1990’s with Scandinavian bands in particular like Finntroll, Ensiferum and Turisas bringing the sub-genre to prominence in the early 2000’s. However, though there were some pioneers of Mongolian Folk Metal before The Hu, such as Tengger Cavalry, none were able to peak mainstream intrigue the way the four-piece from their nation’s capital Ulaanbaatar have done. Taking their name from the Mongolian root word meaning ‘human being’ while also making a convenient pun on a the name of a certain well-known Western band and after having conquered the world of metal through traditional stringed instruments last year, The Hu have now released a deluxe version of their monumental debut record.
Opening with the album’s title track, which takes its name from the world’s first diplomatic passport, the audience is given a taste of what is to come with a slow-build track comprised of rhythmic drum beats and our first introduction to the ‘Khoomei’ (throat singing) style of vocals, which all four members are highly proficient in. This style of singing allows a single vocalist to produce two or three notes at once by forcing air through the vocal chords, with the end result being a sound that half choral and half guttural in nature, to the extent that the marriage of Mongolian folk with heavy metal no longer seems quite so absurd. However, unlike with their European counterparts whose folk metal usually comprises heavy guitars with the occasional folk instrumental interlude, The Hu’s sound is much more focused on the traditional instruments with the metal guitars and drums being more of a background effect beefing up the sounds of the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), tumor khuur (jaw harp) and tuvshuur (Mongolian guitar).
These elements blend together superbly for the next track, and one of the two songs whose videos on Youtube made The Hu such internet sensations before they even released their album, Wolf Totem. This track builds from the first into a tribal chanting anthem, that also goes down a storm live due to the breathy chants of “Hu, Hu, Hu” in the chorus. More than this though, it brings out a powerful rhythm that makes you want to swing your head back and forth in true metal fashion. The following song 'The Great Chinggis Khan' continues in a similar vein with a multi-layered sound that builds to some tremendous crescendos; as well as showcasing the role that The Hu seem to have appointed themselves as cultural ambassadors of their homeland, telling the story of Mongolia’s most famous (and controversial) figure from their perspective. 'The Legend of Mother Swan' is an altogether different affair with a much more expansive cinematic feel to it, and an excellent demonstration of the musical ability and versatility of the group.
Another one of their bigger songs, 'Shoog Shoog', comes next and is probably the one that most closely follows a standard rock/metal structure, with a chorus memorable even to those who are not fluent speakers of Mongolian (which I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest is probably everyone reading this!) and a great demonstration of the bombast that can be brought by infusing folk sounds with heavy drums and guitars. 'The Same', in contrast to its title, brings out another side of The Hu by both amping up the heavy and melodic elements of their music bringing them closer to the folk metal of their European counterparts. Next up is 'Yuve Yuve Yu', which also came out pre-album release with an epic music video. This is by far the catchiest of all The Hu songs for which listeners should proceed with caution because having a song stuck in your head for which you don’t even know the language, never mind the words, turns out to be quite a frustrating experience. 'Shrieg Shrieg' is much more mellow, with a new focus being given to the use of a flute and some of the most impressive examples of throat singing on the record. The final track of the regular album, 'Song of Women' is another epic that winds things down to their conclusion.
Or at least, this would be the case were it not for the Deluxe Version, which ought not to be dismissed as simply a cheap cash grab. This version contains three reworkings of songs with guest Western vocalists and three acoustic versions. Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix adds his own brand of rhythmic vocals to 'Wolf Totem' to great effect, From Ashes to New come in to bulk up 'Yuve Yuve Yu' and make it even more memorable than previously. But, the greatest contribution is from Halestorm’s enigmatic Lzzy Hale who transforms 'Song of Women' from a lengthy epic to a true anthem. These three versions may be good starting points for anyone unsure if they can dive headfirst into Mongolian folk-metal, as they bring a more familiar layer to the songs. In my view, they are neither better nor worse than the original album tracks, but arguably work better as standalone tracks whereas the original tracks fit better as part of the album. To round off the deluxe version 'Shrieg Shrieg', 'Yuve Yuve Yu' and 'Shoog Shoog' get the acoustic treatment, which mellow them out a little and allow the listener to concentrate more on the vocals which become more of the centre of attention, rather than one of many layers to the songs.
The Deluxe version of The Gereg shows clearly why The Hu are such a talked about band right now. Their music is so refreshingly original and executed by a group of clearly talented musicians who are capable of achieving the perfect balance between forming their own sound and bringing enough variation in their music to prevent the album feeling like a repetition of the same ideas. They’re also clearly highly capable at forming and cultivating a diverse fan base who are able to appreciate every aspect that makes them the band they are. This is music you could recommend to almost anyone as something new to try out while never veering too far from what is familiar to most listeners. The unlikely four-piece from Mongolia are fast becoming one of the most important bands in alternative music with only one album to their name, and it will be very exciting to see where they go next.
'The Gereg Deluxe Edition' is out now via Better Noise Music- stream the record here.