Metal bands are known for channelling their inner Viking but what kind of music do you listen to if you want to channel your inner Hun? Enter The HU, a Mongolian metal band, formed in 2016 who rocketed to fame when their songs Wolf Totem and Yuve Yuve Yu went viral, gaining 30 million views in a year.

The HU’s unique sound creates a cross roads where East meets West

The HU’s unique sound creates a cross roads where East meets West, the traditional with the new by pioneering a combination of Tuvan throat singing and traditional Mongolian instruments with Western metal. It feels like a treat of modernity for such a band to exist. A natural step in the ever-increasing interconnectedness of humanity, it seems apt that HU means human in Mongolian. Bristol was blessed with a visit from The HU last month, where they played a stellar set at the O2 Academy touring their debut album The Gereg.

The four members are all highly-trained musicians who met in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar in the Music and Dance Conservatory. The band is made up of Gala, Jaya, Enkush and Temka collectively playing the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), Tuvshuur (Mongolian guitar), Tumur Khuur (the Jaw Harp) and Tsuur (a mongolian harp). All of this is backed with the punchiness of rock music’s drums, electric guitar and bass. All members can impressively throat sing, a guttural multi-layered wave that resonates the core and takes years to learn.

The singer creates a fundamental pitch and then layers one or more other pitches over the top using precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum and larynx, whilst using a form of circular breathing. Throat singing mimics the sound of animals and natural phenomena such as thunder and mountains. It was originally outlawed by communism but traditional uses were revived after the dissolution of communist governments in Russia and Mongolia in the early 1990s. Some of throat singing’s uses have been to lure wild and semidomesticated animals, help gain the favour of local spirits and to summon shamanic spirits and Buddhist gods.

If you’ve been impressed by their recordings, witnessing The HU live takes things to another plane. Resembling warriors, the band confidently command the stage as they opened their set. Dressed all in black leather featuring traditional Mongolian designs, the four stood wide-stanced, looking straight into the horizon, their instruments resembling weapons. Their war cries shout to action (it’s not surprising to learn that they call their music Hunnu rock, after the fearsome Huns led by Ghenghis Khan).

Their precise vocal and instrumental attacks hit us like a punch in the face

Their precise vocal and instrumental attacks hit us like a punch in the face. Throat singing is guttural and deep, resonating in your core and stirring something deep. It goes perfectly with the Morin Khuur’s dramatic wails. With the added sound of metal, the music is elevated to something higher, a new stage in our evolution as humans.

The HU had a host of labels competing for them before they decided to go with the Better Noise Music, the same label who signed Papa Roach and Mötley Crüe.

Having planned to meet across the road at The Hatchett before their sold-out show, the legions of fans gathering early around the O2 Academy meant a chat on The HU’s tour bus instead.

this album becomes our diplomatic passport to the world – where we can travel freely and share our music

In November you received The Order of Genghis Khan for promoting Mongolian culture around the world, was that something you set out do deliberately with The HU?

Yes, we started out just sharing our culture, the world and our history. We sing about all the positive things our ancestors brought to this world. For example, The Gereg was the first diplomatic passport introduced to the world by our ancestors and so we decided to name our album The Gereg so that this album becomes our diplomatic passport to the world, where we can travel freely and share our music.

Mongolia was under communist rule till 1992, how much has the country’s music scene changed since then?

Democracy gave us the freedom of choosing to listen to whichever bands you want to, but even before that, under the communist regime our parents and the older generation would secretly listen to the Beatles and other Western artists. After the change, all genres of music and bands started performing all around the country – everything was out in the open.

when you combine your heart with your sound, that’s where real music starts

Your fusion of Mongolian instruments, throat singing and metal is unique in the world, what is it that you love about metal music and why did you want to combine two very different styles to make something new?

The idea was born with our producer Dashka. He got the idea about nine years ago, when he was travelling to his father’s birthplace – the birthplace of throat singing. He thought that combining throat singing with rock music would go well because of the way it sounds. So the four of us and Dashka gathered together and started working on our first few songs. By recording and arranging those songs, we found the sound we were looking for and we called this unique sound Hunnu rock.

Throat singing layers different sounds and mimics nature, can you talk us through the learning process?

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’ve taught so many people, including kids. The first thing that anybody has to learn is to understand what throat singing is, how it started, why it’s there and who does it. First you’ve got to find somebody that makes this beautiful noise so you can copy it. Then visualise it in your mind, this understanding and picturing it in your mind is 50 percent of the work. And of course, it takes many years of hard work and dedication. It takes the average person about a year to make the first sound and to be able to visualise and make double notes.

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Are you thinking of different natural things when you’re making different sounds, for example, is there a specific sound for a waterfall?

Any music or instrument, when you play, you’ve got to have some kind of visual adjacent. You have to know what you’re trying to deliver to the audience. When you see it, you can picture this high mountain with clouds overhead and when you combine your heart with your sound, that’s where real music starts. It’s now alive, you know, it’s not just empty notes. The most important thing in music is having this life essence.

The traditional Mongolian instruments that you use lend a heavy folk element to your style. Have you been embraced by the folk music world, as well as the metal community?

Traditional music playing wasn’t a very popular thing back in the day, but now every young kid wants to play these instruments. Even professionals are waking up now and they’re trying something different. Even in the way we play, because the Morin Khuur is designed to be played in sitting position. We got these straps and we’re playing it standing, and now there are so many other professionals doing this, just within the last year – it’s popping off!

People feel like they can be more creative?

Yeah, it’s not that they have to stay within the rigid traditional structure – I want to note something, we didn’t just invent something new. There were steps taken before by other artists experimenting with different sounds. We’re building upon what our ancestors built upon. There are generations of people and musicians paving the road. It’s like teamwork, everyone from all around the world working together.

We’re building upon what our ancestors built upon. There are generations of people and musicians paving the road

You sing in Mongolian, though you have millions of fans around the globe. In what other ways do you convey the messages behind your music, besides the lyrics?

Our music has a lot of deep messages and scores of our fans don’t understand what we’re singing, but music is a universal language. It transcends any existing language, because music has feeling. Human beings can connect through feelings more. If it comes from our heart, the message can travel. Our message is about the importance of respecting and loving our ancestors, parents, respecting women and protecting nature. Through our music, we want to wake up the inner warriors that everyone has inside, so that we can get strong and unite together to stand against injustice in the world and to take care of this world.

Mongolians are traditionally a nomadic people, with 30% of the population still living a nomadic existence. In recent years, the younger generation are moving more and more away from a nomadic lifestyle and into cities. It’s happening all over the world. Do you think it’s important for people to continue living a nomadic lifestyle?

We have to keep old cultures and the nomadic lifestyle safe. Progressive thinking and technology in the city is good, but keeping old cultures and being close to nature is more important than technology. As human beings, we are part of this earth and when we are close to nature everything is better, because we’re living in this world. There are so many other cultures all around the world, these differences make us beautiful in our own way, so everybody should keep their culture and be proud of it.

In the last year, you’ve spent a large portion of your time tour, away from Mongolia. With the idea of home being important in your music, has it been unusual being away from your home for so long? And have you collected any new musical influences on your travels that we might hear on future records?

Being on tour isn’t easy; months and months away from our families, but we’ve got something. We’re on a mission and we’re willing to pay our dues and keep working. We’re travelling around the world seeing so many cultures and music, but our style is based on Mongolian traditional music – we want to dig in as much as possible into the bones of that and go back thousands of years.

Photos by Dominika Scheibinger

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