And Now For Something Completely Different! At The Barrier takes a sip of Mongolian Folk Metal from Nine Treasures – And we like it!
Release Date: 19th March 2021 (Digital) / Physical formats to follow
Label: Independent Release
Formats: Stream / Download / CD / Vinyl
To say that I was intrigued when Awakening From Dukka, the new album from Mongolian Folk/Metal pioneers Nine Treasure appeared in my inbox would be, without any doubt, a massive understatement. Nine Treasures say that they have one simple goal: to take Mongolian heavy metal to the world – and, believe me – the world had better brace itself!
Nine Treasures hail from the autonomous Hailar District of Inner Mongolia and were formed by vocalist, guitarist and leader Askhan Avachuud in 2010. The group’s name is derived from the materials referenced in ancient Mongolian poetry as bringers of luck: gold, silver, bronze, iron, agate, amber, jade, pearl and coral. Alongside Askhan, the band’s current line-up is: Orgil on bass, Tsog on morin khuur (I’ll come back to that in a minute…), Saina on balalaika and Namra on drums, and I can guarantee that they make a sound quite unlike anything that you’ll ever have heard before.
The elements of familiarity are there alright. The chugging, riffy guitars and deft, twangy bass are staple ingredients of metal all over the world, but once the folky balalaika, the otherworldly morin khuur and Askhan’s gritty vocals are added to the mix, then the whole effect is simply awesome. The lyrics sound as though they have the strength to fascinate; unfortunately for the western listener (although not for the sake of authenticity) they’re all sung in Mongolian – not a language that many of us will have studied in any significant detail – but that really doesn’t matter. This album is all about the overall sound, and the lyrics are just a part of the big picture.
And yes – that morin khuur: well, it’s a traditional Mongolian bowed string instrument. It has two strings and is held in an upright position with the trapezoidal soundbox held in the player’s lap. Its name translates as “horse fiddle” and it’s importance to Mongolian music is such that it is one of Mongolia’s national symbols. And, in Tsog’s hands, it makes a sound that I could listen to all day – like a violin, but more exotic and perfectly matched to the tunes on this album.
Awakening From Dukka is, effectively, a “Best Of” album. It is comprised of a selection of songs from the band’s first three albums: Arvan Ald Guulin Honshoor (2012), Nine Treasures (2013) and Wisdom Eyes (2017). The story goes that the band became unhappy with the sound quality of those albums and so have re-recorded the tracks selected for Awakening From Dukka to a standard that they consider to be satisfactory (incidentally – those early albums have now all been made available as free wave downloads.)
And the re-recorded sound is first class. The band are exceedingly tight throughout and the guitars, bass and drums that provide the ‘metal’ aspects of the music dovetail perfectly with the balalaika and the morin khuur to achieve a brand of folk/metal that does great justice to each of those genres. And remarkably, although these tunes have their origins in the Mongolian folk traditions, it’s possible to detect strains of Celtic, country, Nordic, Russian and even Native American music within the sound. But putting cultural analysis to one side, the emotion that truly pervades Awakening From Dukka is that of sheer enjoyment – the songs are played at a frantic pace that leaves the listener breathless and highly exhilarated.
Opening tracks Black Heart and Arvan Ald Guulin Honshoor (the title track to the first album) set the fast and frantic pace that is a feature of the whole album. Fable of Mangas is a stately rock ballad with an ‘equestrian’ rhythm that give the song a Western feel, whilst Nomin Dalai is (relatively) folkier, with a Russian edge to it. Even where the band veer towards classic heavy metal, such as in Tess River’s Hymn, Ten Years or The Stubborn, the folk influence can be found not too far below the surface and it’s never too long before the driving riffs are complemented by the balalaika and morin khuur.
My personal favourite on an album packed with fascinating and enjoyable gems is probably the instrumental The Dream About Ancient City. It’s here that the metal-folk blend is perhaps at its most potent and the electric and the traditional instruments complement each other most effectively. There’s even a touch of prog in the interaction between the bass and the drums as the tune draws to a close.
That comfortable blend of the cutting edge and the traditional is carried forward into Praise for Fine Horse, The End of the World and the excellent Wisdom Eyes – the song that probably represents the most extreme contrast of folk and metal on the whole album as crashing guitar riffs intertwine with the balalaika-backed verses.
Things are brought to a close with Three Year Old Warrior, the album’s first single. The morin khuur provides an almost orchestral edge to the hard rock core of the song and balalaika that comes in after the song’s false ending provides another fine example of the signature Nine Treasures folk/metal amalgamation.
Awakening From Dukka is, indeed an excellent album. Nine Treasures have already made significant waves in mainland Europe, particularly following their success at the 2013 Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany and they now have significant followings throughout Eastern Europe as well as in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. It’s now time for the UK, the rest of Western Europe and North America to be awakened. Nine Treasures is a name to watch.
Watch the Official video for Three Year Old Warrior from Nine Treasures – the first single to be taken from the album.