Every year we do a poll where the audience gets to decide what their favorite album of the year was. At the ending of 2019, we asked around what your favorite albums of the decade were and the number 1 answer was the “Te Reo” metal band, ALIEN WEAPONRY, with their impressive debut effort, “Tū” – news that prompted Kiwi newspapers to report about how the thrash/groove metal act has won the hearts of their Finnish fans. Two years have passed since then and now the three-piece is ready to present their sophomore record, “Tangaroa,” out on September 17th, 2021, via Napalm Records. Let’s find out whether this album has the potential of becoming the album of 2021.
It’s important to know that ALIEN WEAPONRY is not just a band that writes rad music and has a few cool riffs and tricks up their sleeves. The trio actually has the mission of promoting Māori culture inside and outside of New Zealand. They do this by writing many of the lyrics in their own language, te reo, as well as covering themes stemming from their culture. Many of these topics, however, are incredibly relevant to date (such as themes of colonialism, but also environmental issues), some are historical anecdotes tracing back to their ancestors, but most of all, there is something very rhythmic about this language, which seems to be a perfect fit for heavy metal music, especially surrounding their often groovy riffs. That’s instantly clear in the opener, “Tītokowaru,” which starts off with determined rowing chants and the sound of water, before it pummels into a groovy offset of fast riffs. There is one simple, repeated melody on top of the verses, which pushes through the feeling of rowing and moving, making this track into a very layered song and an excellent opener, as it literally pushes itself forward like a rowing boat. This seems like an excellent track to play when you’re on the rowing machine in the gym – if you, like me, can’t get your hands on a real boat, that is!
The track also lays down the most obvious difference with the previous album quite a lot, as while their original sound is pretty much still intact, the band seems to be influenced by the more progressive side of metal, which is why the outro of the first track feels more like an experiment, but also ties in the next track, “Hatupatu,” excellently. The track has more progressive, rhythmic, and aggressive riffs that take the main focus of the song, a little bit reminiscent of the French progressive metal act GOJIRA. The drums of this track almost sound tribal-like, adding more depth to the track, and it seems clear to me that the sound of each part of the drum kit was selected with a lot of care and attention. It’s interesting how the drums are used in such a different way in this band, not only as a way to keep up the rhythm, but also adding up to the atmosphere as a whole.
Next track “Ahi Kā” is one of the first singles the band has released off this album. Musically speaking, this song is a perfect bridge between the two albums, sounding a little bit more oriented towards the sound of their debut album. Thematically, the song talks about how in 1952, in preparation for a Royal visit by Her Majesty the Queen, the Auckland City Council – in a misguided attempt to beautify the city – evicted the local Ngāti Whātua people from their village at Ōkahu Bay and burned it to the ground. There’s a certain darkness present in this song that fits perfectly into the frameworks of its gruesome theme and is somehow quite thought-provoking. Title track “Tangaroa” follows the same path with one of the album’s most pressing themes: climate change and illegal fishing practices. This is the first track on the album that their non-te reo speaking fans can follow, being partially sung in English, and it’s such a heavy-loaded, relevant theme these days, that an aggressive track seems only fitting. It does make me happy that bands like ALIEN WEAPONRY and GOJIRA are standing up for things that we as humans do wrong, areas we must do better, and I’m glad that music can be a platform to raise more awareness for these issues.
The most progressive offering on this record is perhaps the slow “Unforgiving,” a track that centers around mental health. It’s easy to hear that singer Lewis de Jong wrote the lyrics to this track from a personal point of view, as his powerful vocals pierce straight through your soul. Interestingly enough, they have an almost jazzy tone to them. The track as a whole was quite a surprise to me and opens the door to new horizons in the future for ALIEN WEAPONRY. Continuing with “Blinded,” the band takes a different route again, with a groovy track mostly focused on rhythmic riffs and driving drums with incredible cymbal work. No wonder the track was released earlier as a single.
We’re back again to some te reo tracks, with “Kai Whatu” potentially being a great song to headbang to live. With its longish intro filled with heavy riffs and very subtle tribal-like sounds, this track is an instant killer. There’s something extremely proggy about it, perhaps not in the way that it’s played, but more like what it sounds like, with a more apparent, driving bass sound than the rest of the tracks and somehow a distant feeling in the vocals. Then follows the more atmospheric track, “Crooked Monsters,” which starts with a somewhat ambient psychedelic-inspired intro that ends around the 2-minute mark. This feels like the most experimental track the band has done, with more minimal sections, more complicating-sounding riffs, and more focus on the instruments than the vocals.
After that slightly more progressive turn, ALIEN WEAPONRY strikes back with the ultimate groove song on this record, “Buried Underground,” showcasing elements of nu-metal in the sound. That opening riff will cause a nasty mosh pit or even a wall of death among festival audiences. One of the best opening riffs on this intro is perhaps present on “Dad,” as the vocal performance of de Jong contrasts with the rest of the record and it’s certainly intriguing to also see him do such different styles within this record, experimenting more within the boundaries of what his voice can do, ranging from both emotional to aggressive vocals.
Winding down with the mostly instrumental track “Īhenga,” ALIEN WEAPONRY approach the ending of the record in style. While the track is almost fully instrumental, it has an ancient kind of feeling from the addition of indigenous instruments and nature sounds. Towards the ending, there’s a beautiful section with choirs singing in te reo, which is one of the strongest sections on this record. It is one of those songs that, when you close your eyes, you can imagnie the world around you. Powerful. The last track, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” is again very reminiscent of GOJIRA with its industrial-like riffs, creating an almost mechanical atmosphere, very progressive down to the core, so it’s no surprise that the three-piece will tour with the band whenever that is allowed again.
There we have it! We have reached the end of the album before we even knew it – that’s a huge compliment, by the way. All-in-all, “Tangaroa” is a versatile album combining elements from ALIEN WEAPONRY‘s first album with a more progressive edge. This mix of new elements into the sound makes their songs more mature and very layered, yet the three-piece embraced all the components of their debut that made so many people fall in love with their music. All of these tracks stand out in their own way, thoughnot all of them are equally catchy but contain plenty of hooks and perhaps more complex sides to them. From the kick-ass te reo tracks like “Titokowaru,” “Hatupatu,” “Tangaroa,” and “Īhenga,” and groovy offerings like “Ahi Kā” and “Buried Underground,” to more progressive tracks like “Unforgiving,” “Crooked Monsters,” and “Down The Rabbit,” ALIEN WEAPONRY have done it again.
Every year, artists seem to focus more and more on a plastic sound that has little to no authenticity left and this album right here is a clear exception to what is desired and hot in the music industry nowadays. This album breathes an organic nature, is incredibly raw, but somehow it still sounds big and epic, while not using any of the gimmicks that are in fashion right now. The three instruments and vocals equally shine in the mix, often showcasing groovy bass melodies, incredible drumming (where toms, cymbals, and every small other part of a drum kit each play an important role in contributing to the atmosphere and sound), aggressive riffs, and powerful vocals. Other sounds are included where they fit into the theme – for instance, “Titokowaru” includes the sound of water. In short, every little detail on this record is incredible. Since we still have 9 years to go in this decade, we can’t say anything about the follow-up of “Tū,” however, this definitely is a strong contender for the album of the year. ALIEN WEAPONRY seems ready to conquer the world again, now get ready for those mosh pits and train your neck muscles, for when shows are allowed again… it so happens to be that “Tangaroa” is the perfect prep for that!
Written by Laureline Tilkin
3. Ahi Kā
7. Kai Whatu
8. Crooked Monsters
9. Buried Underground
12. Down The Rabbit Hole
Lewis de Jong – Guitars, Vocals
Tūranga Porowini Morgan-Edmonds – Bass
Henry de Jong – Drums