In the midst of seeking out bands to put together a compilation CD of Chinese metal bands I came across a band I really couldn’t get out of my head. A pagan folk metal act called Tengger Cavalry who combines throat singing, horse head fiddle and heavy metal with extreme vocals. I liked the band so much I offered to make their album the first release on Metal Hell Records. As far as I know this is the first interview for Tengger Cavalry outside of China. Interview was conducted with main songwriter & composer Nature Zhang.
What does the name Tengger Cavalry mean?
Tengger is the name of a deity who created the universe, and Tengger Cavalry means the cavalry of god. Moreover, in North Asian nomadic culture, the wolf is always considered as the guardian of the grassland and gods, so Tengger Cavalry also means protecting mother nature and expressing the admiration towards the wolf.
What is the concept behind the band?
Tengger Cavalry is deeply influenced by Shamanism and Buddhism. All songs are written to praise the grand of mother nature,the wisdom of Buddha, the valour of warrior and the glory of history.
Can you introduce readers to the various folk instruments used in the music? Do you use mostly all real traditional instruments?
Yes, most of the instruments are real.
Horse head fiddle is the main string instruments in our music, we use it to compose main melodies. Some people think it is Erhu, and yes the tones between these two may share some commons, but Horse head fiddle is more suitable for great scenes while Erhu is more suitable for personal sorrow.
Jaw Harp is a small instrument which is used in many ethic music. You can hear in several pieces such as ‘Golden Horde’ and ‘Universe Shaman’.
Dombra is a Kazakh instrument. Kazakhs are also very brave nomadic warriors in the North-West part of China. You can clearly hear it at the start of the song ‘War Horse’.
Tovshurr, a Mongol instrument, is also used in many songs. Most of the time it is added as background soundscapes; but in the song ‘Cavalry Folk – The Legend’, you can hear it very clear in the middle part.
Vocals are used as a major instrument in Tengger Cavalry with a very powerful effect. Can you tell me about the throat singing? How did you learn this?
Yes for Tengger Cavalry vocals are not only a tool for conveying ideas, but also instruments which create ambiance. Throat singing is originated from Mongol, but you can also find it in Tibet and Tuva. According to some historical researches, before Mongols there had been several nomadic tribes in North part of China such as the Hun who had started to develop similar kinds of singing method. I learned this skill from several teachers in Inner Mongolia. Besides I also studied how to perform Horse head fiddle from my teachers.
What does it take to make an album of this kind music? How much time in the studio?
Well, to be honest, it is really hard to put so many ethic melodies and ethic instruments into heavy metal. Both of the composition and production are not easy, since mixing audio and modern composition originate from Western culture. The harmony progressions of the songs should be suitable for both the pattern of metal music and the Pentatonic Mode. When mixing ethic instruments, I have to find appropriate frequencies for Horse head fiddle and Dombra in case that the tone of distortion guitar decrease that of ethic instruments.
Are there special studios in China that metal bands use for recording heavy metal to get the best and most powerful sound?
Yes there are. But all the sound of Tengger Cavalry are produced in Cavalry Studio, my personal studio.
When were you first introduced to heavy metal music?
The first time I introduced to Metal was when I was in junior high school.
What were the first bands you heard and thought I want to make this music!
Haha when I was just a kid I listen to Slipknot and Metallica. But at that time I prefered Slipknot because Slipknot is more crazy.
What is the metal scene like in China for heavy metal bands and it’s fans?
It is not good, since not many people enjoy it. The Chinese music industry is developing slowly, many people even do not know what hard rock, reggae, country music or fusion is. But for the metal fans of China, they listen to many kinds of rock music, from glam rock to black metal.
I have seen some video on Youtube of Tengger Cavalry performing live. Do live concerts happen often for metal bands in China, is there any hassles from anyone in government about gigs?
At least, in Bejing, there are many rock gigs or metal live shows. Nowadays government does not really get rock into trouble, but it does not provide convenient publicity methods either.
You also play in Hell Savior which is a different style of heavy metal. Can you tell us all about Hell Savior? How long has Hell Savior been around, how many releases have the band made?
In Hell Savior we try to make some really old-school stuff. You know, those classical ways of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden ! Ha ha The band released one album and is currently stopped. In Hell Savior I accumulated a lot of experience in guitar performance.
What is the next plan for Tengger Cavalry?
We will do more gigs in Beijing, and I hope someday we could do that in EU or US, haha
Thanks for your time with the interview! Is there anything you would like to add or tell the Battle Helm readers?
Thank all our friends and supporters around the world ! Keep Metal !