We never show up before the second inning!
Updated on 01/21/2019
Mongolia isn’t exactly the first place you’d think of when you think “heavy metal music”. Although the musical genre has touched most of the world, it’s still somewhat astonishing that it found its way onto the Mongolian steppe. For The Hu, it’s all just music.
The Hu is a Mongolian heavy metal band that has been taking the internet by storm with its first two song releases. They’re also getting a lot of Spotify play around the world, with many listeners in Turkey, Norway, and France, while on YouTube, the number of views as of January 8, 2019, is just south of 10 million and growing rapidly. The first, “Yuve Yu” is a weighty and proud song about Mongolians paying attention to their history as they go forward, but their second song, “Wolf Totem”, is less of a cultural message and more of an introduction of sorts, like a defiant “don’t mess with us” type of song that pops up not only in heavy metal, but hard rock, glam rock, punk, and hip hop among others. The video starts off with the band and their leather-clad biker posse riding up along the steppe, with quick cuts to skull-ringed fingers gripping the motorcycle throttle, bandanas, and tough looking guys dismounting their bikes. Like the music, which is a definite mixture of traditions, the scene is very American like a bunch of Harley Davidson enthusiasts at heading south on I-93 in New Hampshire after attending Laconia Motorcycle week, but with Mongolian men mouthing lyrics like “let’s defeat them with the wisdom of our great Khan, Chinggis”.
Like its first release, “Yuve Yu”, it’s a very heavy sound loaded with traditional Mongolian instruments such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle, played upright kinda like a standup bass but much smaller and with two strings), and a tovshuur (kinda like a Mongolian guitar) playing alongside your typical bass and drums of Western heavy metal. The band also incorporates traditional throat singing into their songs, which is a type of singing where a single person produces two sounds at once, which in this case is the lead singer making a low almost groaning sound with higher tones floating around on top. The throat singing is used effectively here and makes for an interesting and unique heavy metal sounds. With their music, they’re not just a bunch of Mongolian dudes playing American heavy metal, but they are Mongolian musicians playing specifically Mongolian heavy metal music. It is their intention to infuse as much of their Mongolian culture into a new rock style as they can, and from the looks of their first two tracks, they absolutely did just that.
The band has been several years in the making. Their name “The Hu” is taken from their style they call “hunnu rock” and is not — at least they don’t say it is — an intentional homophone of the classic British rock band “The Who”.
What makes them so popular aside from their unique sound is that their songs are really good. I don’t want to say catchy, but they make you want to sing along and it’s impossible to not do any headbanging while listening. Their songs are also empowering and motivating especially Wolf Totem, whose message general message to the audience is “if you come at us and if you try to do evil stuff, we will fuck you up and cut you to pieces”.
It’s always fascinating to see when one culture adopts the cultural artifacts and stylings of another, and which of those speak to the adopting culture. In this case, it’s leather and motorcycles, facial hair, and biker gang badassery, which makes sense since in the U.S. that tradition came out of the post-WWII era where some disaffected and possibly PTSD-suffering servicemen took to the open road on their motorcycles eschewing the staid and mundane life of middle class America.
I’m not saying that The Hu members are doing any of that, but given the defiant nature of Wolf Totem, it’s not an accident that the American cultural norms and icons they gravitate toward are American motorcycle gangs. They definitely put their own spin on the style. It also makes sense to use motorcycles in place of horses, which was the preferred method of conveyance hundreds of years ago when the Mongolians went tear-assing across Asia, since motorcycles are indeed the modern-day horse for the single rider.
The music of The Hu and not just their style is worth experiencing.
You can read more in-depth about the band here.
Here’s a link to their YouTube page.