Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Album Review: Tengger Cavalry - "Clan Bi"

Well, this seems a little moot now, doesn’t it?

Just days after the release of their sixth album “Clan Bi,” Tengger Cavalry called it quits, citing unfair treatment and an unfair record deal, both squarely laid at the feet of “scumbug” (their words,) Marco Barbieri. 

Full disclosure – in the process of our musical pursuits, both Chris and I have had dealings with Barbieri, either through bands he was directly promoting, or through his affiliation with Century Media Records.  I have also, on the heels of the Tengger Cavalry album “Blood Sacrifice Shaman,” interviewed vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and ideaman Nature Ganganbaigal.  All parties have always been cool with us.  I don’t know what’s transpired between them, and we won’t speculate.
We can only judge what currently stands as Tengger Cavalry’s last will and testament, their new album “Clan Bi.”

Tengger Cavalry had made their name and come to considerable critical acclaim based primarily on their blending of throat singing and traditional instruments into the more common tropes of heavy metal as we know it.  “Clan Bi” continues some of those trends, but also eschews the working formula for sections at a time, in favor of a new sound that is academically interesting, but doesn’t always carry the same magnetic hook, of their tried-and-true stylings.

You need not get farther than the title track, which is the album’s second cut but first real song.  It is, much as we described above, an interesting song, but not always a good one.  It is certainly heavier than we’ve come to expect from Tengger Cavalry, there is no doubt of that, although the song still maintains the cinematic qualities that the band has always folded into their music so well.

The throat singing is there, too, although it’s been altered.  Rather than the traditional guttural notes and foreign words, the technique is instead used to sing short phrases in English.  Listen, I live primarily in the world of metal, so unusual vocals are an accepted part of the game, but there’s a robotic quality to Nature’s utterances that doesn’t sit comfortably.  I don’t know that any band has attempted to incorporate throat singing in this fashion, so full marks for originality, but…I don’t know.  They do it a few times on the album, and it doesn’t feel right.

Still talking about the title track, the traditional stringed accompaniment is as well accented and form-fitting for the song as one could ask for.  On paper this kind of matchup doesn’t work, but that speaks to the talent of Tengger Cavalry to make so delicate a sound work as an overlay for the hammering underneath.

On the other hand, the insistence of the jaw harp in the mix is forced.  I understand that the jaw harp is a storied and respected folk instrument, but its prevalence in the melody of the song is too reminiscent of the soundtrack from a Rayman video game.

And we’ve only gotten through one song!  The upshot of this entire conversation is that the kind of risks that Tengger Cavalry took in the song above appear throughout the duration of the record, with mixed results at best.

The electronic beat of “Electric Shaman” works – it’s crisp, it sounds new, it’s a concept where Nature is applying his multi-faceted experience to craft something we haven’t heard before.  And then the weird vocals and punchy, overbearing rhythms of “Redefine” come around two cuts later, and now I don’t know what to think again.  It’s this kind of dichotomy which makes the record difficult to judge in its entirety, and that statement is perhaps damning in and of itself.

“Clan Bi” is an album that gives with one hand and takes with the other.  Don’t be mistaken, it has moments of tangible, clairvoyant wonder; it also gets mired in new and unsuccessful twists that may be worthy in the attempt but fail to hit home.  It is equal parts revelation and frustrating riddle.

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