After a Covid-induced year of working in the hospitality and landscaping sectors, followed by a recent stint in lockdown, Waipū's global te reo metal stars Alien Weaponry are itching to get out and perform their new album.
The album drops at midnight and, like their first released in 2018, comprises 50 per cent te reo. However, it was a coincidence that their second album, Tangaroa, makes its debut during Te Wiki o Te Reo - Māori Language Week, said drummer Henry de Jong.
"It was a happy coincidence for us," he said yesterday from their Waipū home-based studio where he has spent lockdown with brother and fellow band member Lewis.
"It's pretty cool that it has worked out this way," said lead singer and guitarist Lewis. "But the album release was actually planned to coincide with our international schedule, as we are touring the USA with Gojira in October and November."
It's the band's first time overseas in two years and feels like a lifetime ago, said Henry.
The thrash metal band was formed in 2010 when Henry and Lewis were only 10 and 8 years old respectively. They were joined by electric bass player and vocalist Ethan Trembath in 2013 before he stood down last year and was replaced by long-time friend Tūranga Morgan-Edmonds.
All three members have Māori ancestry – with the culture a large part of the brothers' upbringing. Both attended kohanga reo, and Māori is Lewis's first language after he went to his grandma's for a month as a child and returned speaking it.
Their live sets consist of 50 per cent Māori lyrics. Māori ideas are also incorporated into the English lyrics and many of the songs are based around the haka.
Tangaroa is immersed in important historical accounts and cultural heritage of the Māori people; in addition to lyrics written in te reo Māori, many tracks feature traditional instruments, called taonga puoro, providing the tracks their own warrior-like attitude.
The trio spent last year's lockdown working on their second album, released tonight, and, forced to cancel several big festivals in Europe, have since spent the time preparing for Tangaroa's release which has included up to eight interviews a day.
"Most of them are for US-based media and, because of the time difference, involve us getting up super-early and Lewis and I are night owls so I'm not sure what they must think of us after some of them," said Henry.
"There was one time where I actually fell asleep," admitted Lewis.
As well as preparing for the album release, they have performed around their home country, including collaborating with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
"It was pretty mind-blowing," said Lewis. "To work with an 80-plus piece band compared to a band of three."
It was here the band gave a sneak peak of their new album performing versions of their new songs embellished with the orchestra.
Tangaroa's New Zealand live debut has otherwise had to be cancelled due to Auckland's level status.
"The plan was to do an album release show in Auckland but they're in lockdown obviously," explained Henry. "At some point you've got to pull the plug on it."
Instead, the band's eager American fan base will hear it next month when the trio jet off to the States for their international tour.
"We'll be playing some of our popular bangers off the last album to make sure we please the fans who are there for the old stuff, as well as those that are dying to hear the new stuff.
"We do have a large international fan base from the likes of the US and various European countries," Henry said.
The international fans seemed to be drawn to the energy of the Māori culture embedded in their performance, the brothers mused.
"People love it. The entirety of Europe, people in Russia, America and South America – our Facebook posts get flooded with comments saying, 'Come to Brazil'."
As for back home in New Zealand, the response is somewhat perplexing.
"The fans we've had here are fantastic but in terms of your general radio, it has been a little lacking here in Aotearoa," said Henry. "I don't know why but I hope that does change."
Indeed, while the band was dubbed "The Future of Metal" by UK-based Metal Hammer magazine, and their music is played regularly on stations such as Sirius XM across the USA, they have yet to feel the love from local mainstream radio.
"We've always had great support from Radio NZ, iwi and student stations, but with the groundswell of support for te reo Māori from just about every other part of the New Zealand music and entertainment industry, we're hoping this year will be the year that even the big rock stations in New Zealand will turn a corner and playlist our Māori songs. Mahuru Māori would be a great time to start," said Henry.
"When we released Tū, it was definitely unusual to have songs in te reo Māori, and we were really nervous about how it would be received. This time, with so many mainstream artists translating their music into te reo Māori, it almost seems like English songs are in the minority."
In fact, Kai Tangata, the biggest hit off Tū, is a seven-minute anthem entirely in te reo Māori, with millions of streams on Spotify and 12 million views on YouTube.
Other artists to jump on board and join the Waiata Anthems project – whereby Kiwi artists re-record songs in Māori - include Drax Project, Bic Runga, Six60, Stan Walker, Benee, Tiki Taane, Sons of Zion, Tami Neilson and Kings.
"Waiata Anthems was set up as a platform to create te reo Māori versions of popular English songs. And since our songs are already in te reo Māori, we just don't fit that format," explained Henry.
Added Lewis, "People have suggested we translate some of our English songs, but for us the language we use in our songs is part of the emotion and ideas we are trying to express, and we feel fortunate to be able to make that choice ourselves.
Due to Covid, the band members were forced to take up day jobs. They happened to be in Waipū when lockdown was announced last month. The brother's bubble included their parents and partners and nearby Tūranga joined in level 3 and band practise resumed.
"This is probably the longest length of time that we've been at home for a year, give or take. It's been pretty good and we've been practising like crazy over the last few weeks but we can't wait for Covid to pack its bags and let everyone out."
Though Covid safety practice varies from state to state in the US, the band plans to keep New Zealand Covid standards in place during their tour, including restricting who boards the tour bus, mask wearing, hand sanitising, and they will undergo regular tests.
Alien Weaponry's string of accolades include occupying the number one slot for 13 weeks on the Devil's Dozen countdown on US radio station Sirius XM; their debut album Tu was voted album of the decade by Finnish metal magazine Tounela; in Denmark they were welcomed to the Copenhell festival by a crowd of 10,000 doing a haka in their honour; and they opened for Slayer in Stuttgart, Germany on their final European show last year.
The band enjoyed further success after being scouted and approached to join Los Angeles-based management company The RSE Group, home to high-profile genre artists including Slayer, Gojira, Mastodon and Ghost.
Tangaroa will be released at midnight, followed by a new music video for Hatupatu – a song based on the story of the band's Te Arawa ancestor, Hatupatu, and his escape from the fearsome bird-woman Kurangaituku.