NZ Week Day 2: Te Reo Metal: Alien Weaponry – Tangaroa

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Artist: Alien Weaponry

Release Title: Tangaroa

Label: Napalm Records

Release Date: 17 September 2021

Location: New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Digital Price: 10 USD

Length: 83min

The first time I heard Alien Weaponry, I knew this was something special. The music video for Kai Tangata appeared, and the thumbnail grabbed me straight away. I clicked and was assaulted with the brilliant sounds of thrash metal, the sort of riffs, vocal style, lyrics, and overall vibe conveying the kind of aggression and anti-imperialist fervor that Alien Weaponry does so well.

Aotearoa has a lot of brilliant musical talent, and since their debut album on Napalm Death Records – 2018’s – Alien Weaponry is making a hell of a name for themselves. Playing a unique blend of thrash and groove metal, they also bring to the table their own unique implementation of the sort of historical aggression that one gets from bands like Sabaton, Grave Digger, and Iron Maiden. Alien Weaponry’s take on that approach is unique by virtue of their heavy use of lyrics in the indigenous language of Aotearoa, te reo Māori. Let me tell you, friends – this language is absolutely brilliant for a metal band.

The members of Alien Weaponry consist of founding brothers Henry and Lewis de Jong, whose great-great-great-grandfather fought and ultimately died during the struggle to protect indigenous freedoms at Pukehinahina during the British invasion. With Lewis on Guitar & vocals, and Henry on drums, the two are joined by relatively new member Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds. Morgan-Edwards was the amicable replacement in 2020 for the original bassist Ethan Trembath.

Right from the very first track Titokowaru, Alien Weaponry’s trademark viciousness grabbed me straight away. There is a special combination here that works incredibly well. There is a historical aspect to Titokowaru, being a song about a legendary Māori resistance leader who waged a quite successful campaign against the British and had been obscured by history for many years before an effort to teach his story began. Alien Weaponry plays an invaluable role in broadcasting the stories of the indigenous history of Aotearoa and does so in a way that will no doubt have metalheads everywhere recognizing Māori history. Most importantly, by using Māori so much, they contribute to the ongoing attempt to revive a language the British once tried to make extinct. Their work using te reo Māori is just so good lyrically and gives such a great sound to their music, that I hope more bands in future decide to record lyrics in te reo Māori. It would be of great benefit to everybody.

Of course, there is the anti-colonial struggle of the Māori people that is at the forefront of this album, and rightfully so. The crimes of British colonialism in many parts of the world are well known, but those that occurred in Aotearoa are not so well known internationally. The crimes of the settler government are not necessarily confined to the famous wars of the 19th century, either, having continued well into the modern era. Some of these are discussed thematically as in Ahi Kā, where historical recordings are put to brilliant use. We hear a recording of the British queen Elizabeth II speaking about how she feels ‘truly at home in New Zealand’ while at the same time, the Māori perspective is one of their home villages burning.

This is not just a terrifying use of poetic license, either. In 1952, at Ōkahu Bay, the Auckland council burnt an entire Māori town to the ground after using eminent domain to forcibly take the land from indigenous people there. This was done to “beautify” the city for the sake of Elizabeth II. Things have slowly changed in the country for the better, but as Lewis said to The Guardian, “Māori aren’t treated the same as others in New Zealand and, until that changes, we’re not finished.” Boy, do they deliver a strong message with this song. Ahi Kā is bursting with an almost Rage Against The Machine like frustration and fury, from the quiet buildup of simple instrumentation beneath Elizabeth II, to the furious delivery of the first few lines of the second verse. Lewis has a strength and rage that comes across brilliantly here, but also throughout the whole album, really.

Naturally the Māori people’s resistance is recounted in song in tracks like Titokowaru whose lyrics and vocal delivery carry the aggression that metalheads often crave. Lyrics like “Ka pīrangi au te kikokiko pākeha” singing of someone craving the flesh of settlers, later on slaying them, and goading even more soldiers to their deaths. But there are a variety of themes in this – from legends like in Hatupatu of a man facing off against a witch, with some intense chanting and great percussion, to tales honoring the ancient explorer Īhenga. Songs like the title track Tangaroa discusses the impact of climate change on the land, the suffering of the oceans and how our mistakes could lead to our ultimate decay.

There are personal themes too, with tracks like Unforgiving and Burial Underground discussing issues like depression, self-loathing, and drug abuse. Musically the band has given us some nice variety compared to , with a more oldschool thrashy sound at times in terms of the production style and riffs. There is a little more soloing and a little more complexity to the composition here, while still remaining good, strong thrash with the kind of energy and aggression that has me wanting to take up arms against the redcoats. In the meantime, I’ll be blasting Tangaroa loudly from all corners, spreading their message to the world, and going to their gigs whenever possible. Give Alien Weaponry a chance – they’re one of the best things Aotearoa has to offer today.

I hope you enjoy Tangaroa.

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