PHOENIX — On a late October evening in Downtown Phoenix, in a venue named for the street it sits next to – Van Buren – an audience gathered to witness an incredible night of musical diversity, and the final stop on the “Warrior Souls” tour. Three dynamic bands would take the stage this evening, bringing the desert night to life with powerful metal riffs and the pulsating rhythms from these unique bands: The HU, Blind Channel, and NERV. The HU is renowned for blending Mongolian tradition and metal, transporting the audience to far off horizons. Finnish nu metal band Blind Channel ignited the stage with incredibly kinetic music, and the hybrid genre band NERV left a lasting impression with their performance. It was an evening where boundaries were transcended, and as a result, the crowd was left craving more.
NERV bills itself as a genre-bending rock band, which is an apt description, as their music crosses boundaries between emo and metal, and some pop mixed in for good measure. Formed in 2016, the Sacramento, CA-based band is rather new to touring life, as they have only toured three times since forming. They released their first album We’re All Patients Here in October of 2022. However, while newer to the touring life and new to the majority of the audience, the band managed to do something that all openers dream of: win over an audience who has never had any exposure to them.
Lead vocalist Dillon Jones and guitarist and back-up vocalist Scott Buchanan took turns bantering with the audience, with Buchanan immediately gaining fans by wearing a Steve Nash Phoenix Suns jersey on-stage – unfortunately, the Suns would fall to the Lakers shortly after the NERV set ended – and both Jones and Buchanan made sure there was never a dull moment or awkward pauses during their set. Buchanan brought up the Arizona Diamondbacks’ improbable World Series run, which drew loud cheers. Jones also mentioned that singing karaoke until 2 in the morning was a really bad idea, apparently alluding to an incident earlier on the tour where the group had a little too much fun – if that’s even possible.
Buchanan and Jones are joined onstage by guitarist Jordan Grokett and drummer Tyler Clark, and the band put together a 30 minute set that was, in short, extremely enjoyable, and left many hoping for more from the group. Jones has vocals that switch from a buttery-smooth emo style to a gritty sound that would fit in well with Breaking Benjamin, as well as other giants of metal. There is a bright future for this band, and if spotted on a bill as an opener, it is well-worth your time to show up early. You will not be disappointed.
Up next was Blind Channel, a Finnish nu metal band that formed in 2013, and represented Finland in the 2021 Eurovision contest. They would finish in sixth place in the competition with their song “Dark Side.” The organizers of the Eurovision contest asked the band not to flip the audience off – something that did happen during this show, with both the audience and the band playfully flipping each other off – as the Eurovision contest is a family friendly show, so to get around this, the band painted their middle fingers red.
The show started off with “Happy Doomsday,” sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” with the band wasting absolutely no time in cranking the energy all the way up to 11 as soon as they started the show off. The band was heavily influenced by Linkin Park, and watching co-vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen sing using screams that would have made Chester Bennington proud, it becomes very apparent just how influential Bennington and Mike Shinoda were.
In fact, “Scream” from their 2018 album Blood Brothers was dedicated to Bennington following his tragic passing. The lyrics make it very clear just how much they admired Bennington: “My hero, where did you go?/You still echo deep inside my bones…You gave a choice to those who wanted to bleed/You gave a voice to those who wanted to scream.” The band also did a cover of “Numb” on video, but the song was never released as a standalone.
Hokka and Moilanen are joined onstage by guitarist Joonas Porko, bassist Olli Matela, drummer Tommi Lalli, and DJ/percussionist Aleksi Kaunisvesi.
The band expressed gratitude for being in town, for being on the tour, and made sure to inform everyone where they came from. The band is known in the EU, but had not made a name for themselves stateside. They call themselves the “Backstreet Boys of the metal scene,” and in fact ended their show with a short singalong to the song “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which may have been a bit confusing to anyone who is unfamiliar with the band and unaware of their nickname. There is a bit of a boy band element with the group, so it does fit, but they are far more than a boy band.
Blind Channel, like NERV, should be a must-see when spotted on a bill. The blast of pure energy and fun that comes from this group had a profound effect in bringing up the energy level of the crowd. You could not help but have a great time with these guys. The stage presence, the interactions, the ability to get the entire room to do what they asked with absolutely no hesitation (at one point asking the entire audience to crouch way down until given the word to go back to normal), were remarkable. It is just genuinely fun music with a band that is very good at what they do.
To say the crowd was buzzing, ready for The HU would be a bit of an understatement. The HU (which translates to the Mongolian root word for “Human being”) burst onto the scene in 2016 and has grown steadily in popularity ever since.
They are unique in that they only sing in Mongolian, including their Metallica covers, which are arguably significantly better than the originals due to the depth of sound that the traditional instruments provide, as well as the throat singing that provides a unique sound that builds on the growl of James Hetfield. Part of this success comes due to their extensive touring, including quite a few tours throughout the US. They are relatively frequent visitors to Arizona – frequent, that is, for a band that is based in a country half a world away from the Sonoran Desert. The band visited twice in 2022, once this year, and will undoubtedly be back many more times.
The band expands on tour, from the four core members up to a total of eight, which allows them to bring their immense depth of sound to life. The band uses traditional Mongolian instruments and Tuvan throat singing, or Khöömei, as well as the more modern electric guitar and electric bass.
The core band consists of:
- Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar, the lead vocalist and one of the throat singers, who also plays the morin khuur. This instrument is known as the national instrument of Mongolia and is sometimes called a horsehead fiddle.
- Nyamjantsan “Jaya” Galsanjamts, another throat singer, who plays the tsuur, an important instrument in Mongolian music culture, as well as the tumur hhuur, which is similar to a jaw harp in the US.
- Enkhsaikhan “Enkush” Batjargal, who is also a throat singer and plays the morin khuur.
- Temuulen “Temka” Naranbaatar, responsible for backing vocals and playing the tovshuur. The tovshuur is a handmade instrument with two or three strings and may resemble a guitar at first glance.
The four touring members include:
- Unumunkh “Ono” Maralkhuu, who plays percussion, tumur hhuur, and provides backing vocals.
- Jambaldorj “Jamba” Ayush, the guitarist and backing vocalist.
- Nyamdavaa “Davaa” Byambaa, the bassist and backing vocalist.
- Odbayar “Odko” Gantumur, the drummer.
The HU played a 15-song set, drawing mostly from their 2022 album Rumble of Thunder, including “Black Thunder,” “This is Mongol,” and “YUT Hövende,” which they dedicated to the indigenous people around the world, but especially to those affected by the Maui wildfire.
The lyrics of their songs are often about war and the old ways, with references to war in the song “Wolf Totem.” The wolf is a sacred symbol in Mongolia, with the Mongols considering them the messengers of heaven, and folklore holds that the great Chinggis Khaan – known to the west as Genghis Khan – came from a union between a wolf and an elk. As such, the song sounds like a war chant, one that would strike extreme fear into the hearts of any unfortunate foe who happened to hear it coming over the horizon, while simultaneously giving the army the ability to run through walls for their leader.
Throat singing was banned during much of the 20th century by the communist regimes that held the areas that the Mongolians call home due to the fact it was considered “backwards,” and the desire to eliminate all traditions and rituals from a culture before being forcibly assimilated by every communist regime in history. This changed in the 80s, and there has been an explosion of throat singers since the ban was lifted, allowing the general public to once again take part in their traditions.
There is another layer to the greatness that is The HU: The music videos are absolutely gorgeous, showing off the beauty of the Mongolian steppes, telling an incredible visual and audio story. Each music video, each song leaves you wanting more.
The same can be said about the shows: they are loud, they are fun, and if you are a fan of metal, you will absolutely have an amazing experience. The show ended with a cover of Metallica’s “Sad But True,” the only song in the encore, and the perfect end to an incredible show.
The HU and NERV have not yet announced new tour dates, but Blind Channel will spend much of spring 2024 touring Europe. While there are no current tours or local shows announced, it is well worth your while to listen to the catalogs and music videos from these extraordinary bands.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
The HU, Blind Channel, & NERV – The Van Buren 10-23-26
Photography © Reagle Photography
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