SULD — City Rider (review)

SULD — City Rider album cover Album · 2015 · Folk Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
The region of China’s Inner Mongolia sits in the extreme northeastern part of the nation where the Han Chinese of the south meet the Mongolians of the north to create a unique fusion of cultures which sadly have been been dominated by the dominate Chinese population for quite some time now. This is a region that few cast their gaze upon for any length of time much less visit but the region still hosts some of the remotest parts of the planet as the territory covers a whopping 1,200,000 km2 (463,000 sq mi) and is 12% of China's total land area.

Given the remoteness of these vast lands where nomadic tribes still thrive, it’s hardly a place one would associate with metal music but the band SULD ( 战旗 in Chinese ) is a unique band that as far as a know is the first and only band to mix metal music with the traditional folk music of Mongolia which includes moments of throat singing with lyrics crafted in the native Mongolian language.

SULD ( 战旗 ) means “Battle Flag” in the Mongolian language which was the symbol of Genghis Khan and gives a hint as to the lyrical content of this band which recounts the narratives of traditional Mongolian history and culture. The band which features the six members 白斯乐 [Bai Sile] (guitar, vocals), 卓力克 [Zhuo Like] (bass), 徐晓晨 [Xuxiao Chen] (matouqin), 苏和 [Su He] (drums) and 米尔吉 [Mirci] (strings) play the usual metal instruments such as guitars, bass and drums but adds the exotic traditional richness of the horsehead fiddle, tobshuur and balalaika and is most uniquely characterized by the traditional throat singing style known as khoomei.

The band plays traditional Mongolian music completely unplugged as well so in many ways this is the same style of music only with metal instrumentation adapted which includes arpeggiated acoustic guitar intros and lots of metal guitar distortion. The band formed in 2014 in the city of Hulunbuir which sits on the Chinese border where both Mongolia and the Russian Federation all meet and have released two albums, a demo and a split so far. There seem to be two versions of this debut album CITY RIDER that emerged in 2015. The other is titled “City Nomad” but they basically have the same tracks in a different order and some have slightly different names as well. This one’s title track is titled “City Nomad” on that album of the same name. Why this is the case since both are only available as digital files is anyone’s guess.

For the casual folk metal aficionado steeped in traditional European styles and have never immersed themselves into the world of traditional Mongolian sounds and throat singing music, this will utterly blow them away however i’ve been a huge fan of fan of Mongolian folk music for a long time with familiarity with bands like Egschiglen and the Tuvan throat singing variety from the Russian side with bands like Huun-Huur-Tu and Kongar-ol Ondar so this music is not as exotic to me as it probably would be to many others. SULD do an excellent job at adapting the metal aspects to their traditional folk crafts however the laid back vocal style which registers quite low in the mix seems to prevent this album from really feeling like a metal album as the metal guitar, bass and drums are merely accent the folk music.

Despite the rapid bombast of the metal music that added, CITY RIDER seems pretty chill due to the fact the Mongolian instrumentation is not subordinate but has equal footing and often dominant. The music is quite infectious as the melodies are mined from the vast history of the Mongolian folk music style that has become quite popular internationally in recent decades and since this style of local folk flavors has cross-pollinated with hip hop and other world music forms, it’s no surprise that someone finally hopped on the metal bandwagon.

Overall this music is quite brilliant in its execution but also seems to be lacking for diversity as the tracks seem to suffer from a similar sound and the monotonic style of the singer seems to need some contrast with a secondary vocalist that has a wider range. Excellent album but only on the lower ranges as i can think of many ways this could be spiced up to keep it from stagnating at least stylistically half way through. While it’s not a chore in any way to listen to some kick ass Mongolian music with metal accoutrements, i simply wish the metal was more than just an adornment and allowed to dominate now and again.
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