Unearthing the Metal Underground: The Taiwan Metal Scene, Part 2
Each week in "Unearthing the Metal Underground," we'll be putting a few quality underground bands in the spotlight in an attempt to get the word out about them. A while back, I wrote about some of the heaviest bands to come out of Taiwan in recent years. This week I am showcasing a few more great bands from the burgeoning Formosa metal scene.
Thrashy metalcore act Solemn has been around since 2003, and in that time the band has kept consistently busy, turning out promo CDs yearly from 2005 through 2007, as well as penning a couple of tracks for the Ultimate Metal Fest compilation that was released in Taiwan in 2008 to coincide with the staging of the one-off festival. Then, in 2009, the band made the trek from their home base of Tainan in southern Taiwan to the northern port city of Keelung, the home of the studio run by Anthelion’s lead singer, Code, who was also one of the founders of the Taiwanese metal label and promotional company, Ultimate Music. It was there that the band recorded their first full length album, The Road to Reform, which was sent for mastering at Hansen Studios in Denmark, where engineer Jacob Hansen has in the past done work for global metal heavyweights such as Destruction, Heaven Shall Burn, and Hatesphere. Following the album’s release later that same year, the band earned an opening spot for Bay Area thrash titans Exodus in early 2010, and has been tapped for a quick weekend jaunt to Singapore and Bangkok with Singapore melodic death metal act Bhelliom in July.
Now is probably as good a time as any to mention the fact that the band has a female vocalist, Wendy, who is just as at home unleashing granite crumbling guttural screams as she is in finessing her melodious clean vocal lines. Think Grace Perry of Landmine Marathon, meets Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy, crossed with Iwrestledabearonce’s Krysta Cameron. She doesn’t kick ass just because the modern metal world likes to hoist up its female flag bearers as contemporary suffragettes. She kicks ass because her vocals shred crowds into tiny pieces, coax them back together with silken thread, and then tear them up all over again. The duel guitar attack of rhyming duo Zac and Black, along with bassist Ray, and their humorously named drummer, Coolio, who unsurprisingly is of no relation to he of “Gangster’s Paradise” fame, provide Wendy with a highly professional and unquestionably tight backdrop, and have obviously put in their time studying the showmen, and women, of metal. The music is hook-strong and ready for the mainstream metalcore crowd to embrace. With the right marketing behind them, and an increase in touring, Solemn could easily become the region’s answer to Walls of Jericho.
Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Abigail Williams, Graveworm—what do these highly regarded symphonic black metal bands have in common? They could all be blown off the stage by Keelung’s own contribution to the genre, Anthelion. Granted, they still have a lot to prove, having only released one album thus far. But if this seems like overblown hyperbole from a writer with an overtly acute sense of enthusiasm for the Taiwan metal scene, then by all means pick up a copy of their 2007 debut album "Bloodshed Rebefallen." The concept album tells the story of the Snake Corpse, a creature condemned to suffer for eternity for its nefarious attempt to lure mankind into temptation. Millennia into its sentence, the Snake Corpse joins forces with the Snake Tribe to take its revenge on humanity for dooming it to a life of unparalleled agony. This was a disc five years in the making, and was recorded at the famed Studio Fredman in the hallowed and undeniably metal community of Gothenburg, Sweden. Anthelion, led by the aforementioned vocalist with an ear-defiling high range, Code, is a band that knows how to take its time in creating a truly epic classic of their chosen genre.
In metal, bands are really left with two basic options, with some room to slither around in the gray areas in between, of course. They can go off on a previously unexplored tangent, and attempt to take listeners into uncharted territory, as Mayhem did with Grand Declaration of War. Or, they can take what has already been done before, and do their damnedest to do it even better, despite the inherit danger therein of becoming a redundant afterthought. Anthelion chose the latter on "Bloodshed Rebefallen," and with their debut offering proved that they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those bands that are regarded as the gatekeepers of symphonic black metal. The truly scary thing about this band is that they set the bar so high on their first album. Imagine what a little progression will bring when their second record drops. This is a band the mainstream metal media needs to pay attention to, lest the press find themselves needlessly embarrassed when the underground starts screaming the name of Anthelion before the scribes of note have a chance to write a single word in praise of them. Currently, Anthelion is in the studio recording their next single for a planned August release.
Ashen is a down and dirty, grime-infused, punk-steady grindcore band, plain and simple. This is a band that has proven just as comfortable sharing the stage with local gore grinders Brain Corrosion as they have alongside Japanese noise punk pioneers Melt Banana. No matter who they share the bill with, be it on an elevated rock God club stage or a beer soaked basement floor, Ashen brings the grind in the vein of early Napalm Death, Assuck, and any of the innumerable crusty grind acts populating the global scene today who stay true to the old school ethos.
The three-piece act, consisting of vocalist/guitarist Bruce, bassist and backup vocalist A-Si, and drummer A-Dai, have released a split CD with Usepentosing, featuring two Ashen tracks, that came out in 2008 on Psychoyouth Records, and a four-song EP, entitled "H1NI," that was put out independently the following year. The tracks range from oozing molasses sludge to blast beat death metal territory, with the typical socially conscious grindcore lyrics serving as an earnest accompaniment for Ashen’s brutally honest, no bullshit grind. Ashen takes the audience back to that watershed moment in the incubation stage of UK grindcore in the eighties when punk got its dirty little claws on some metal bands from Birmingham and beyond, cut itself into their flesh, crawled its way into the open wound, and courteously sutured the gash shut behind it with a rusty clothespin and razor wire.
This is another small sampling of what the Taiwanese metal scene has to offer. For more information on metal in Taiwan, check out TaipeiMetal.com, and feel free to mention any other bands you feel are worthy of recognition in the comments section below.
Check back every Monday as we delve into a different scene or genre to unearth some new underground metal bands.
Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.
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