As Aotearoa slowly emerges from the latest Covid-19 lockdown, Alien Weaponry are once again preparing to take on the world.
The young Northland te reo-inspired rockers – hailed "the future of metal" by the headbanger's bible – are releasing their highly anticipated second album Tangaroa on September 17.
The trio is also ticking all the right boxes regarding vaccinations and planned health precautions for their upcoming US tour throughout October and November.
"It's been this huge undertaking. Organising a tour is normally difficult in of itself but adding Covid to it is just another step," explained 21-year-old drummer, Henry Te Reiwhati de Jong.
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The Waipu band – also consisting of Henry's brother, guitarist and lead vocalist Lewis Raharuhi de Jong (19), and relative newcomer, bassist Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds (21) – have obviously had to be vaccinated, and must provide a negative Covid test 48 hours before they fly.
Once they are in the US however, they simply have to continue to adhere to mask and sanitising procedures that are now a regular part of life.
"We've got a tour-wide set of rules for all the bands involved in the tour," said Henry. "The second we're on the bus its using hand sanitiser, throwing your mask in the bin, and constantly having to swap out things like that.
"There’s always going to be some doubt until we know there’s no issue in regard to Covid, but we've done everything that we can to make it go ahead."
Since releasing their acclaimed debut album Tū – which saw them crowned Best Rock Artist at the 2018 New Zealand Music Awards – Alien Weaponry have quickly carved out a unique place in the global metal scene.
Their early music combined elements of thrash and groove metal, while their te reo lyrics showcase the band's Māori heritage and culture. The de Jong brothers are affiliated with Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Raukawa, and Morgan-Edmonds hailing from Ngāti Rārua, Ngātiwai and Ngāti Hine.
The group's new offering has a more developed and mature sound, while still retaining the familiar energy and aggression that helped the video for their 2018 single Kai Tangata rack up more than 10 million YouTube views.
"We've taken a much more progressive approach," explained Lewis. "When we started out, we were a thrash band, but we've both got much more into progressive music over the past two or three years, so these days we're a mixture of a few things."
Much of Tangaroa continues to explore historical Māori stories with many tracks featuring taonga puoro – natural sounds drawn from their environmental surroundings.
Album opener Titokowaru features traditional rowing chants which were recorded in Waipu, and the sounds of waka paddling through the water – a gentle contrast to the tale depicted, of a war chief that led a rebel army against Aotearoa's colonial government.
The second song on the album, Hatupatu , explores a famous traditional Te Arawa story, about a de Jong ancestor and his wily escape from the bird-woman Kurangaituku.
"Hatupatu, very far down the line, is a tūpuna of ours – a very old relative. Dad's very good with our genealogy, so he can trace us back," said Henry.
"That particular story was one of those giant picture books which we had as kids, and mum and dad used to read it to us. That's pretty exciting for us, and it’s stepping out of colonial history and going more to the word of mouth folklore aspect of Māori history and culture."
The album title track also examines the band's concerns around climate change, sea pollution and illegal fishing practices, which have had an impact on the natural waterways at their doorstep, and around the globe.
"For us the water has always been a huge part of our lives anyway, and so it was only a matter of time before we wrote a song about it," said Henry.
The new album comes as foreign fans and critics continue to embrace Alien Weaponry's invigorating brand of heaviness and the band's unique cultural background.
Stunning video footage shot during their previous European tours showed audiences at the world's biggest metal festivals surprising the group by not only knowing their songs, but shouting their te reo lyrics back at them.
The band once performed a pre-show haka in Copenhagen, before the 6000-strong crowd – following the guidance of Taihape-born expat Kane Harnett-Mutu (Ngati Kahu) – responded in kind.
The group is proud to be able to elevate the profile and people's understanding of Aotearoa but concede there is something of a disconnect with local audiences. For a variety of reasons – perhaps relating to cultural cringe – some Kiwi fans seem less ready to join in a heavy metal te reo sing-along.
"I definitely think there is a bit of a stigma around it," said Lewis. "People are scared to delve into it because they're scared of getting s… wrong, or they're scared of not fitting in. I don't know."
Henry is sympathetic to Kiwi fans who feel too self-conscious to attempt singing their lyrics, and slams those who might mock or condemn others for trying.
"It's like this social filter that's been created, which obviously Europeans don't have. They're like 'wow, music in another language – I'm going to learn the lyrics'," he said.
"Whereas a lot of Pākehā, especially here, feel like even trying to speak Māori is going to offend someone. But as long as you're trying, you shouldn't be offending anyone. And anyone who is getting offended needs to shut up and let you learn."
Alien Weaponry's new album Tangaroa is out September 17
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