Metal is all about the sound and the feel and the passion. Metalheads can listen to long, spiralling black metal instrumentals or tracks where a few, sparse incomprehensible phrases are growled out, or indeed songs sung in completely different languages. Metal is its own language, and it's universal. We don’t need to be able to understand what someone is saying to rock out. As such, the scene has always been a fairly diverse place where bands who sing in their own language are given as much attention and appreciation as those who sing in English. Given that state of things, it’s not that much of a surprise then, to be talking about ‘the rise of Mongolian folk metal’.
Mongolia, for those who don’t know, is a region in Eastern Asia which has seen an unexpected rise in the genre over the past couple of years in particular and ‘Mongolian folk metal’ as it’s known, is now its own genre in and of itself, spearheaded by bands such as The HU and Nine Treasures.
Speaking to Askhan, lead vocalist of Inner Mongolia’s Nine Treasures, he acknowledged the impact of fellow genre leaders The Hu who “did a really good job and had a big hit on the internet.” The two unexpected viral hits were ‘Yuve Yuve Yu’ and ‘Wolf Totem’ which resonated with a Western YouTube audience and have now garnered over 100 million views between them. “Before that, nobody talked about it except a small group of people who really liked this genre,” Askhan explained. Despite that though, Nine Treasures were actually one of the original pioneers of the genre, having formed the band way back in 2010.
“After The Hu got success, everybody started talking about this genre. That’s the biggest change I’ve noticed. Our band’s getting more attention now than before.”
But Askhan couldn’t put his finger on what it was about the genre that had captured people’s imaginations so much. “Even though I’ve been playing this music for over a decade, I still don’t have a way to describe it,” he reflected. “I think everything’s just within the music itself.” It’s certainly a unique sounding genre, and isn’t simply folk metal sung in Mongolian. These bands don’t just take the sounds and themes of regular commercial metal and throw in some Mongolian lyrics. They have literally invented their own genre, bringing in traditional Mongolian instruments such as the horsehead fiddle and Mongolian guitar (tovshurr) and even the occasional harp thrown in for good measure. And if you did understand the lyrics, you’d realise they were quite often singing about traditional Mongolian topics and folklore too although Askhan told us Nine Treasures lyrics could be pretty varied. “I don’t think every band in this genre needs to write about Mongols. I’m not someone who really knows that much about Mongolian history!” he admitted, explaining that he mostly writes about “the things that are happening around me and what I think about them. Or something that happened to me in the past. I’m totally open to writing lyrics about anything.”
Askhan’s Buddhist faith also plays an important role in the music and fans may notice the influence in the title of latest release Awakening From Dukkha’, a greatest hits record comprising a collection of songs from their three full length albums. ‘Dukkha’ a Buddhist concept relating to suffering and the hardships of life. “I do hope every human being gets their own awakening somehow. I don’t think my album can do that,” he laughed. “But I really hope it can. Our next album will definitely be influenced by Buddhism too,” he added. “Because it changed my life, changed my way of thinking. Most importantly it gives me peace with everything even with my ‘enemies’. So I think it will help people if I write the lyrics based on Buddhism.”
Finding peace within a chaotic world is probably something we all could do with at a time like this but all things considered, Nine Treasures have had a pretty successful couple of years. “I have to say that we got really lucky last year because we played around ten festivals….and now the situation here is almost getting normal, we’re already booking for festivals in summer. Also we got a connection with a booking agent in Europe so hopefully we will get a European tour in 2022.” And now, with their greatest hits album out, they’ll hopefully be getting even more attention for themselves. The record itself serves as a wonderful introduction to the band and their music if you haven’t heard them before, and a sterling collection of their best songs if you are already a fan. “It was actually pretty easy to choose,” Askhan told us of the selection process. “Those 12 songs are the best of us, from the musicians’ perspective.”
Having been a band for a decade, Nine Treasures plan on sticking around for another decade or two longer. And of course they’ll ride the wave of this new sudden interest in their genre, but they’ll keep making music regardless, dedicated to their craft and driven by a passion for the songs. “I think our song writing skills will improve a lot in the next ten years cause we’ll put a lot of time into it,” said Askhan. “It will help us to write greater music. That’s the main goal for us. And a long term career needs health body and mind, so I hope we can all be healthy and happy.”
And for those of you out there inspired and excited by this genre and wanting to check out some more bands, Askhan had these recommendations: “Tengger Cavalry, SULD, Ego Fall. They’re all great bands.”