The Hu returned to London before striking out on their ambitious year-long global tour, to introduce the world to Mongolian heavy metal.
There’s a reason the Electric Ballroom in Camden is named as such. Its grungy decor and missing roof panels aside, it is the type of place where, when the room is full, its vibe is absolutely electrifying. In other words, it is an ideal place for artists who may never fill a stadium, to feel something that comes especially close.
For Texan metal band Fire from the Gods, their allocation as support act was an opportunity to build on the momentum of the past few years. With an impressive 2020 ahead of them, particularly as support for mega-acts such as Metallica and Slipknot, they exuded such fierce energy, enough to rile up the entire room.
Musically they sounded familiar – elements of Meshuggah mixed with the softer undertones of Linkin Park. But perhaps their quality should only be measured by the reception, which itself was excellent.
Moments later you could sense the anticipation for the Mongolian headliners. On tour for their debut album The Gereg, the band has seen exponential growth in their fanbase, with more than 45 million views on YouTube since September 2019.
Despite having only formed in 2016, The Hu’s four core members – Jaya (Nyamjantsan Galsanjamts), Gala (Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar), Temka (Temuulen Naranbaatar) and Enkush (Enkhsaikhan Batjargal) – each have a long and intimate relationship with music. All four have degrees in classical music, receiving formal training at the Mongolian State Music and Dance Conservatory in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar.
Ascending to the stage accompanied by a chorus of ‘Hu! Hu! Hu!” from the crowd, they opened the evening with Shoog Shoog – their presence intimidating, fierce, but also fun. You can tell they’ve put care into everything, from their beautiful traditional instruments to their dress – complete with buckles, leather, suede, and most with traditional topknots.
What stands out the most throughout the show are the sonic twists and turns they effortlessly present. They’ve taken the music that they love – classical, rock, heavy metal – and seamlessly embedded traditional instruments and sounds of their native Mongolia.
Their songwriting tells stories of their ancient culture, integrating old Mongolian war cries and poetry into their lyrics, while musically they give precedence to traditional instrumentation such as the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), Tovshuur (Mongolian guitar), Tsuur (Mongolian flute), Tumur Khuur (jaw harp) and Khoomei (guttural throat singing).
Despite having a language barrier to contend with, Jaya didn’t shy away from saying what he can in English to his adoring audience. His charisma, though limited in speech, is characterised by his physical stature. He is tall, his hair long and dark, and he commands the stage like all the heavy metal frontmen he had admired as a child.
For a crowd that also had, for the most part, a limited lyrical understanding, they were more than content to define their enjoyment through movement, cheering and applause in unison.
To say the energy was formidable is to understate it entirely. The Hu spared little time between songs, moving through their small but distinct catalogue – The Same, The Song of Women, Yuve Yuve Yu and the centrepiece track The Gereg – all of which embodied the uniqueness of Mongolian tradition and style with such perfection.
Often you can hear the intricate storytelling in their music, giving you such a sense of transcendence and a vicarious journey into Mongolian pastimes. Wolf Totem is perhaps the best example of this. Opening with the sound of an eagle and a faint war-cry in the distance, the fiddle suddenly switches sharply to mimic the neighing of a horse charging into battle.
After a short hiatus offstage (of the rock and roll variety), they returned for their final song This is the Mongol. Humbled by the reception they’d received, The Hu were not only thankful in those final moments of their show – but euphoric. And the feeling was mutual.
For a band that could be simply defined as ‘heavy metal’, The Hu demonstrated time and time again that they were much more. Not only are they a band loyal to their roots, their ancestry, and national identity, but their technical skills and auditory fusions are barely matched in popular culture today. Pleasingly, they have a long future ahead of them.
Photography by Paul Lyme and Live Review by Lilen Pautasso of The Hu at Electric Ballroom on 10th February 2020
Update from Wednesday 26 February 2020: The HU have been nominated for the Best International Breakthrough Band at the Heavy Music Awards 2020. You can cast your vote here.