On Tuesday, some familiar names in heavy metal like Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch rock the Shoreline Amphitheatre. With them is a relatively new and very different band: from landlocked Mongolia, one of metal’s unlikeliest groups, The HU.
Combining the musical folklore of their native country with the fury, volume and intensity of heavy metal, The HU connect tradition to modernity, breathing new life into metal music.
Much more than a genre-mashup novelty, the band take cultural heritage very seriously. As Enkhsaikhan “Enkush” Batjargal explains via translator, “all of the members in the band are professional musicians who have a degree in their fields.” The members of The HU, he says, “have exemplary knowledge [of] traditional music as well as modern rock, opera and every type of music there is.”
In Mongolia, there’s a proud tradition of fusing traditional folk music with contemporary styles. Enkush explains that Mongolian bands like Egschiglen and Altan Urag were pioneers in that movement.
“We grew up listening to them and were inspired.”
Enkush is one of the four musicians in The HU out front onstage; he’s joined by Temka on tovshhuur (Mongolian lute), Jaya on tsuur (flute) and Gala. Gala and Enkush both play the morin khuur, known in the West as a horsehead fiddle. The instrument looks like a lute but is played with a bow rather than being plucked or strummed.
“As a horse fiddle soloist, it is an honor to play the most popular traditional Mongolian instrument,” Enkush says. Family and friends in Mongolia “think very highly of the fact that we are taking this music to the world.”
Backing up the quartet live are four additional musicians, reinforcing The HU on electric guitar, bass, drums and an enormous Mongolian percussion kit. The total effect is a melodic yet thunderous assault. Appropriately, the group’s second album (out September 2) is titled Rumble of Thunder.
Enkush believes audiences pick up on the band’s powerful messages even if they don’t understand Mongolian. They sing about “characteristics that are missing in modern society,” he explains, “respecting your elders, respecting nature and having a balanced ecosystem. We put those messages in each of our tunes, and I think it has been succeeding.”
A sense of history is at the core of the group’s music. While the West often paints 13th-century warrior emperor Genghis Khan as a villain, in Mongolia he’s the country’s most revered figure. So it’s not surprising that The HU’s debut album, 2019’s The Gereg, featured a single titled “The Great Chinggis Khaan.”
The Gereg charted in ten countries, performing especially well in Austria, Switzerland and the UK. Since then the group has been touring the world, often to sold-out crowds. In recognition of their work spreading Mongolian culture globally, The HU were awarded the country’s highest award—fittingly, the Order of Genghis Khan—in 2019.
While the band’s name might seem a clever play on words (a nod to a certain British group), “it wasn’t intentional at all,” Enkush insists. Instead, he notes that Hu is short for Hunuu, “one of the historical empires [conquered] by the Mongols.” Hu is also the root for many words in the Mongolian language relating to humans, family, people and children.
“It has lots of meaning, so we thought it was an awesome name,” Enkush says.
All four members are practitioners of Mongolian throat singing, an ancient technique that produces otherworldly overtones. While there may be surface similarity between throat singing and the “harsh vocals” of Scandinavian black metal bands, Enkush is dismissive. Brutal metal singing largely traces back to mid-1980s band Bathory; throat singing “has been used in the high mountains of Mongolia ever since the start of human history,” Enkush says. It was developed by imitating natural sounds “such as wind, water and the screams of mountain lions.”
The technique meshes seamlessly with the metallic instrumental roar of The HU.
“You can’t explain it, but it sounds like something very familiar and powerful,” Enkush says with a sly grin. “You understand that, in nature, it’s usually predators [who] have that kind of sound.”
With Five Finger Death Punch, Megadeth
Tue, 6:30pm, $26+
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View