Tu is passionate, direct and uncompromising – a battle cry for social justice from a trio of angry young men. And not just any young men. Lewis De Jong, Henry De Jong and Ethan Trembath hail from New Zealand’s north, and raised in the Maori language and hearing stories of their history, the teenagers have assembled a heavy metal album here fairly and squarely aimed at addressing this country’s past and present injustices against its indigenous people.
The word “tu” has several meanings depending on the context in which it is used, but primarily it’s about a wound or injury, or being wounded or injured. Wounded, but not defeated. So Alien Weaponry’s album serves as a rallying call. Its heavy metal songs rage and soar, guitars thrashing, drums pounding, the vocals more yelled than sung. Although this is heavy metal and not punk, with Tu’s politics so obviously on display, you can’t help but think of a band like The Clash.
The songs traverse stories old (Te Whiti, Parihaka, the Treaty of Waitangi itself) and stories new, with mentions of Tariana Turia, John Key, and most notably in an excerpt from an interview with RNZ’s Kim Hill, Don Brash. If you’ve seen them live, as I did at Auckland’s City Limits Festival in March, you’ll know all about the near frenzy of their performances. What’s interesting about the album Tu, is how producers Simon Gooding and Tom Larkin have harnessed that energy, and while not diluting it, they’ve managed to add a degree of production polish that makes the album different from a live performance. From the album’s welcome, “Whaikorero”, recorded in the caves in Waipu in Northland, to its testosterone-charged first song, Ru Ana Te Whenua, with haka-like opening call followed by as dramatic an opening drum stanza as you could hope to encounter, Tu is a tour de force. It’s dominated by guitar bass and drum, with a keyboard making an appearance in only a couple of songs.
You’d think a key question in assessing how much you appreciate an album like this is of course how much of a heavy metal fan you are. In my case, the answer is not much of a fan at all. I’ve generally found heavy metal rather overpowering, lacking light and shade, and its lyrical emphasis on sex and satan not that interesting. But I’m willing to put much of these concerns to one side in the case of Alien Weaponry. Yes, the album is an assault on the senses and I find it hard work to listen to all thirteen tracks in one sitting. And yes, without the assistance of the lyric sheet in the cd sleeve I might struggle to understand all the vocals, which are occasionally lost in the mix. (Certainly I need the helpful translations of the Te Reo in the songs).
But the power of the message, delivered by young people for whom the world is still a clear black and white, who lack no courage or determination, is immensely appealing. These guys take me back to my teenage years when I recall seeing television images of the Maori Land March, or the occupation of Bastion Point, or when I took part in various protest marches at university. A cynic might dismiss Alien Weaponry as naïve, but they’ve got themselves informed, they’ve got a view they want to share, and they’re not holding back. I find this a rather hopeful piece of work. There’s fire in young bellies out there. Thank goodness.