AURORA | In an age of endless fusion and finding a way to stand out from the crowd, Nature Ganganbaigaali may have found a way to have it all.
Tengger Cavalry, and its frontman Ganganbaigaali, will hoist both Mongolian folk instruments and heavy metal guitars to offer a unique blend of Mongolian nomad music and metal at Denver’s Globe Hall Wednesday night.
What seems to be an odd combination of brash, heavy metal and the traditional sounds of Mongolia is natural for Ganganbaigaali, a Beijing native and metal-head with Mongolian nomadic heritage on his mother’s side.
In fact, he said, Coloradans with affinities for ranching and the outdoors should connect with the themes of nature and rugged self-sufficiency in the music.
The sweeping grasslands and steppes of Mongolia and the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia are just hours from Beijing. Here, Ganganbaigaali said, is a thriving nomadic culture long imbued with folk music.
The nomads sing of their devotion to horses, which have enabled life in a harsh environment and of loneliness on the plains.
Out here, it’s called cowboy music.
“It’s actually not that different from the world that you know,” he said of Mongolia. “The easy way to take it is a cowboy spirit. (Life) is very dangerous and very challenging, in a harsh environment, and you gallop through the vast grassland – it is very nature-oriented.”
With its genre-bending, Tengger Cavalry’s music shows a striking range.
Some tracks, like the recent release, “Moment,” are acoustic pieces dominated by piano and nomadic instruments like Morinkhuurs and Tovshuurs – essentially two-stringed cellos and guitars.
The bulk of the music, though, is full-blown metal overlain with the folk instruments and guttural Mongolian throat-singing.
Take for instance, the eponymous track, Tengger Cavalry, from their 2016 album Blood Shaman Sacrifice.
Balancing metal with acoustic instrumentation is common in the genre, dating to Black Sabbath’s acoustic, instrumental overtures like “Orchid” that peppered raucous albums.
Ganganbaigaali is matter-of-fact about Tengger Cavalry’s musical range, and how it came about.
In China, he would visit family and friends in Inner Mongolia, where he rode horses and played traditional music.
But he also discovered Western metal bands like Slipknot in Beijing, and later, a globalized and jarring sub-genre of metal called “Viking metal” laden with themes of conquest and bloodshed.
This music showed what was possible for himself and other metal bands in Beijing, who built a thriving Mongolian folk-metal scene. He said the Mongolian infusion was seamless: the economy was good enough for local musicians to buy the equipment for deafening metal shows, and China has a long (and sometimes grisly) history with Mongolian neighbors to the north.
Plus, metal songs are often rooted in a so-called “gallop” rhythm echoing the motions of a charging horse.
Viking metal is notorious for its brutality. References to norse mythology are common, but so are chronicles of Viking rampages and murder.
Flagship group Amon Amarth’s “First Kill,” for example, is a first-person description of killing a man for the first time and bathing in his blood.
Ganganbaigaali said he shies away from celebrating war in the music, although the Mongols could inspire ample material. At its height in 1279, the Mongol empire encompassed all of China, much of Russia, and a piece of central Europe, and remains notorious for its take-no-prisoners warfare.
“Mostly the music is more about the culture, and more about the lifestyle,” he said. Not about the killing.”
In Beijing, Ganganbaigaali formed his own band and hosted other bands in the scene.
But New York City was calling. There, Ganganbaigaali formed Tengger Cavalry, meaning “The army of sky god,” with musicians he met on social media and in the local metal scene.
Ganganbaigaali is now based out of Austin, Texas, but the band is touring North America, from New York and Quebec to San Francisco.
He said much of his musical career has been spent connecting people with culture and combating stereotypes. He recently formed a record label and is actively promoting other Chinese metal bands with folk influences, be they Kazakh or Mongolian.
But don’t let the traditional nomadic influences fool you: Tengger Cavalry and the New York-Beijing metal scenes that birthed it are definitively globalized.
It’s music for the 21st Century.