The Hu @ 170 Russell

I never expected to post about a concert by a Mongolian folk metal band, but now and then YouTube throws something truly special your way, and when they stop by your city you just have to see them. As it turned out, these guys put on one hell of a show.

An odd Metallica album aside, I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive metal fan, but The Hu put a very unique spin by blending metal with traditional Mongolian throat singing and instrumentation such as horsehead fiddle, flute, jaw harp and Mongolian guitar. Their primal, brutal, thrilling sound made The Hu a viral sensation and won them hordes of international fans, including Australia. Sometimes you wonder if internet and social media are tearing our society apart, and other times you’re reminded that a band like The Hu probably would have never made it to Melbourne before the digital age made it possible to discover someone with a click of a button.

I felt a bit tired after work and decided to have a brief snooze before the show, which then turned into a full hour. As a result I made it to the venue half an hour before the main act, and by that time 170 Russell was packed, and I mean packed. I decided it wasn’t worth trying to push in a bit closer in this can of sardines, and so stayed at the back. It was hardly the right time and place to start wondering what would happen if a fire suddenly broke out, but sometimes your brain doesn’t ask for your permission for morbid thoughts like these.

First, a Mongolian totem was brought onstage to the loud applause and cheers, shortly followed by the eight members of the band, who looked every inch the modern-day descendants of the feared Mongolian warriors of old. Despite their intimidating appearance, they came across as friendly guys who didn’t let the language barrier stop them from the audience interaction, encouraging the crowd to clap along and chant the band’s name in between the songs. Other than a couple of short phrases in English, the rest of the banter was all in Mongolian, which the fans didn’t seem to mind one bit. From the reactions of an Asian lady standing next to me, she seemed to be one of the lucky few who actually understood the language.

I thought it was a bit of a shame that some of the more delicate instrumentation got a tad lost in the mix, but overall I loved The Hu’s rich blend of musical traditions even more live. Despite the heavy, aggressive sound and growling vocals, there’s just something so otherworldly and hypnotic about their music, the plaintive fiddle, guttural chanting and menacing drone. I feel lucky to have discovered them and bands like Heilung, who likewise draw their inspiration from the distant past of their home countries.

The band blasted through a few energetic heavy-hitters early on in the set, before taking a mellower turn, with even a ballad or two! The crowd was enthusiastic throughout, and went absolutely berserk over familiar songs like Yuve Yuve Yu and Wolf Totem, the band’s signature track that first caught my attention. For the epic badass finish, there was a stellar cover of Metallica’s Sad But True, The Hu style.

P.S. I had fun clarifying to people that no, in fact I didn’t see The Who.

P.P.S. I appreciated the wind machine that made the singer’s long, long hair look even more fabulous.

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