ALIEN WEAPONRY — Tū (review)

ALIEN WEAPONRY — Tū album cover Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Vim Fuego
You know how thrash metal died in the early 90s, and it’s only produced rehashes of it’s glory days over and over again ever since? Yeah? Well, you don’t know shit.

In the past few years there have been a number of fresh, new, young bands revitalising the genre. Warbringer, Nervosa, Power Trip, and Vektor have done more than reanimate thrash’s mouldy corpse. Bands like these have taken the vital building blocks and constructed something new, keeping the foundations in the 80s, but the superstructure is something fresh and new. There is another name to add to that list of bands: Alien Weaponry.

Three lads of Maori descent from the Far North of New Zealand have been making a huge racket for a good few years now, and still aren’t out of their teens. For those unfamiliar with Alien Weaponry, the band is made up of brothers Lewis and Henry De Jong and their good mate Ethan Trembath, and formed in 2010. Henry was 10 and Lewis was 8. Ethan (the same age as Lewis) joined a little later, knowing Lewis from Primary school and then clown school. A former ukulele player, he got the job as bass player because he was the only one who’s arms were long enough to reach the end of a bass guitar. Yup. This is truly a 21st century band.

The martial spirit of Maori culture has been crying out for a full metal release for decades. Every Man For Himself came close with their 2010 EP “Te Pae Mahutonga”, but it was more a hardcore release steeped in self-help and wellbeing philosophy from a Maori spiritual perspective, and the lyrics were in English. “Tu” on the other hand is a bilingual tour de force.

So what’s the meaning behind “Tu”? Well, that’s open to interpretation. Maori is an expressive rather than strictly descriptive language, and meaning is often dependent on context. The album title is an example. The word tu can mean to stand, to stop, to be established, to be wounded, to remain, sort, or to take place. Which meaning is appropriate here? It’s up to the listener to decide. [Note: any translations from here on are my own interpretations and might be light years distant from what the band meant. I’m not a native Maori speaker, so any mistakes and limitations with the language are all mine. I also don’t have macrons on my keyboard, for the written language.]

Introductory first track “Whaikorero” (formal speech) opens with the eerie moan of the purerehua (bull roarer) and the otherworldly voice of the koauau (flute) accompanying the verse of the whaikorero. It is a short story about a nineteenth century encounter between the band’s ancestors and invading/colonising British forces. It was recorded in the Waipu caves, near the boys’ home, further enhancing the atmosphere. It is one of several tracks recorded by Tom Larkin, New Zealand metal royalty, better known for his role as drummer for Shihad.

And then into “Ru Ana Te Whenua” (Shaking my homeland). It starts with a chanted challenge, and then rips into an introductory riff, pounding drums, and suddenly it’s like Pantera reborn and singing in a different language. The guitars are fucking massive! The vocal melody and chanted breakdown are familiar to anyone who has experienced the Maori culture, with the call and response style chants, only it’s never been done before with chunky metal riffs and double kick bass drums.

“Holding My Breath” is written in English. It shows the maturity of songwriting of these young men. It could be considered a teen angst song, but that would be selling it well short. These lyrics apply to anyone suffering anxiety or depression at any age. This trio has already won song writing awards, competing against much older and more mature songwriters.

“Raupatu” (Conquest) goes fully political. To simplify a very complicated story, the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding constitutional document, a treaty signed between the British crown and Maori in 1840. There were problems right from the outset, as the treaty dealt with Maori as a united entity, when really it was a fractured, tribal society. Some tribes signed on behalf of others without their knowledge, giving away rights which weren’t theirs to give. What’s worse, there were problems in translation. The Maori word “rangatiratanga” and the English word “sovereignty” mean quite different things, but were used to mean the same thing in the treaty. The British settlers merrily confiscated huge tracts of prime land all over the country, while Maori thought of it as a loan, or thought they retained ownership. This led to armed conflict, and a number of wars between the Crown and Maori, including the massacre of unarmed civilians at Parihaka in the Taranaki region. The wars led to more confiscations by the crown, a shameless land-grab disguised as punishment. Much of the land confiscated came from tribes not even involved in the fighting. Right… Get all this straight in your head, and a lot of the songs here start to make more sense.

“Kai Tangata” (Human Food) sounds more disturbing than it really is. It’s not a Cannibal Corpse-style slasher cannibal story. It describes a pre-European war party, as they prepare for battle. Their goal is to take the enemy’s heads or liberty. Maori warriors defeated in battle expected their foes to eat their bodies, to incorporate their spirit, or to become passive slaves, who could also be killed and eaten at any time. It was a brutal, uncompromising custom, while the song veers between the brutal and the melodic.

And really, brutal but melodic is the prevailing theme for this entire album. “Rage – It Takes Over Again” could be about teen angst, online bullying, or just good old-fashioned rage-fuelled violence. “The Things That You Know” looks on the surface also like it could be another angst anthem, but a slightly deeper examination points at how some people have problems leaving behind preconceptions.

The whispers of “Whispers” are governmental promises made and broken. There is a sample of former conservative politician and reserve bank governor Don Brash (think Donald Trump minus the rampant ego and dead cat hairpiece), parroting anachronistic, patronisingly racist attitudes to Maori and their culture. Those attitudes almost brought Brash to political power in 2005. Almost… The lyrics pull no punches, in both English and Maori, and point out how the government of New Zealand does not look out for Maori interests, despite the Treaty of Waitangi.

The lyrical and musical maturity on show throughout this album belies the tender age of these three young men. For a debut album, “Tu” is highly impressive. It doesn’t go off the rails by the band trying too hard to impress. While there are a couple of missteps, these are minor issues. Thrash metal is far from dead, and has a bright future. The future has arrived already.
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UMUR wrote:
16 days ago
These Guys have been announced to play a show at the Copenhell 2019 festival. I´ll probably check them out if they don´t play one of the early or late shows (where I´m either in the process of gettting drunk, or too drunk to stand up anymore :-))

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