Unearthing the Metal Underground: The Chinese Metal Scene
Freedom of expression is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when one mentions the People’s Republic of China. It’s a place where the mere mention of anything that might be construed as being the least bit anti-authoritarian by the powers that be can land a person in jail, and dissidents are regularly executed by the state or simply disappeared without even the pretense of due process. But luckily for the metal heads residing in the world’s most populous nation, the government censors have bigger fish to fry than metal bands, and so China’s budding metal community, which features its own independent labels dedicated solely to various facets of the broad genre, and even a nationally published print magazine focusing on all sounds hard and heavy, has been allowed to develop as the country has opened itself up to outside influences in the past couple of decades. Here’s a look at three bands waving the metal flag in the pseudo-communist house that Mao built.
Imitation is often considered the sincerest form of flattery, and if that is indeed the case, then by all means keep Chaotic Aeon’s music away from John McEntee, Ross Dolan, and Gene Palubicki, lest the founders of Incantation, Immolation, and Angelcorpse respectively experience a simultaneous head implosion. If you don’t believe me, try playing any one of the tracks currently streaming on the band’s myspace page, and see if the death metal freak in the room doesn’t confuse Chaotic Aeon with any one of the three. But though the band, hailing from Xi’an, the midwestern Chinese city of Terra Cotta Army fame, may just be aping these American death metal greats, they do a damn good job of capturing their grimy, down tempo brutality that satisfyingly grinds down a mountain of granite like a dirty blackened glacier. The band currently has a six-song EP out on Pest Productions, a Chinese label specializing in black metal.
The unforgiving force of nature has long influenced black metal bands to wail about the biting winter frost and foreboding mountains of northern European climes. So, what’s a band to do when all that there is to say about winter’s lack of sunlight and subzero temperatures has been screamed about ad infinitum? For Jinan’s Zuriaake, the solution was simple: shift the focus from winter’s might to autumn’s crisp, cool indifference. The band’s 2007 full length release, "Afterimages of Autumn," and its 2005 split, "Autuman of Sad Ode," are full of lengthy, sweeping compositions bisected by sounds of chirping birds, falling rain, and trickling streams. Ambient passages are accompanied by the mournful strains of traditional Chinese instruments, with a vocal delivery reminiscent of Burzum’s resident former convict and sanitarium candidate Varg Vikernes. It all makes for a hauntingly beautiful mix with a distinctly oriental tinge that adds to its compelling aura of mystery and despondency.
When you consider the fact that mainstream bands like the Rolling Stones have been forced to censor or even omit songs from their set list when playing in China, it makes it all the more unlikely that Beijing’s ultra brutal Hyonblud, a band with a song called "Ultimate Orgasm," is even allowed to exist within the country’s borders. It just goes to show that extreme metal likely isn’t even on the radar of the government censorship board yet, and let’s hope it stays that way so the band can continue on its current trajectory of abject decimation. Founded in 2003 as Cervical Erosion, the band later changed its name to the already-taken Gorgasm before settling on its current moniker. Hyonblud released one three-song promo CD in 2006, which was later re-released by Mort Productions with a bonus track. They have a sound akin to Devourment, Deeds of Flesh, and Abominable Putridity, with vocals heavily reliant on pig squeals and unintelligible gutturals that occasionally rise from the depths of the bowels to somewhat resemble actual enunciation. Apparently Hyonblud opened for Napalm Death a few years back, and in September the band will occupy one of the coveted opening slots for American veterans of brutality Dying Fetus on the China leg of their Asian tour.
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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