Unearthing the Metal Underground: The Seoul, South Korea Metal Scene
Do a little digging and you’ll find a metal scene in just about every country around the developed world. So it should come as no surprise that there is, in fact, a thriving underground swell of support for the dark arts known broadly as metal in South Korea. From the southern port city of Busan to the sprawling capital of Seoul, metal lives in the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. Here’s a look at three of the bands keeping the scene alive and growing in Seoul.
Melodic black metal band Oathean is one of, if not the longest running metal act in South Korea. Oathean was founded in 1993 as a death metal band, then known as Odin, and didn’t adopt its current sound until 1997. A year later the band released its first album under the Oathean moniker, “The Eyes of Tremendous Sorrow.” Since then, Oathean has released four more full-length albums, the latest a self-titled effort that came out this past summer. Oathean enjoyed a brief glimpse of broad exposure in 2005 when their album, “Falling Away into the Grave of Nothingness,” was released in North America via The End records. All other Oathean records bar their debut have been released on band founder, vocalist, and guitarist Do So Kim’s own label, Jusin Productions, marketed as the first extreme metal label in South Korea.
Kim is also the man who brings many of the major touring metal bands to Seoul, as well as being the driving force behind the Asia Metal Festival ongoing series of concerts featuring bands from around Asia and further abroad. What’s more, he is the owner of a rock and metal bar in the trendy Hongdae district of the city, Sapiens 7, and he also owns a large concert hall located in the Sangsangmadang building in the same area, making him an all but indispensable part of the local metal scene as both a promoter and performer.
Oathean’s sound incorporates traditional Korean instruments and, at times, haunting operatic backing vocals into lengthy compositions inspired by the likes of Dissection and Emperor to create a truly compelling mix of Scandinavian and Korean soundscapes. The band has toured to Taiwan and Japan several times, and shared the stage with the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Kreator, and Graveworm. Oathean currently has a lengthy European tour in support of their latest release in the planning stages, their first sojourn to the continent in the band’s history.
Method is another long-running South Korean metal act that is extremely active in the Seoul scene. With a sound rooted in melodic Scandinavian thrash and lyrics that veer sharply toward the spiritual realm, the band has taken a workmanlike attitude toward its progression as a unit. Method has been featured on national television programs in their homeland, and, interestingly, has also had their second album, “Spiritual Reinforcement,” lauded in the pages of the local version of Esquire magazine as one of the four Korean albums to listen to in the summer of 2009. In addition to domestic coverage, Method has also appeared in the Japanese music magazine, Burrn.
Method has been a mainstay at the Asia Metal Festival shows and has opened for notable acts such as Heaven Shall Burn. Method also embarked on its first overseas tour earlier this year, staging three shows in Taiwan, including an appearance at the ongoing Metal Monster concert series, Taiwan’s answer to Asia Metal Festival. Band founder and vocalist Min is a charismatic and passionate figure with a powerful growl to match. He has assembled around him a tight group of musicians who definitely have command of their instruments and have an ear for melodic Euro-inspired thrash hooks. At present, Method is still staging shows in support of “Spiritual Reinforcement.”
What do you get when four guys from the ROK worship “Roots” era Sepultura and Machine Head circa 2003? The answer is another Seoul thrash act, Sacrifice. Signed to Jusin Productions, Sacrifice is yet another regular on the Asia Metal Festival bill, with a tribal thrash sound drawing heavily from Max Cavalera’s work with both Sepultura and Soulfly. Vocalist and guitarist Ozzahn even follows the Cavalera school of guitar playing, abandoning the instrument entirely at times to allow lead guitarist Sae-hun Park to hold down the song while he barks shout-along choruses into a down turned microphone.
Sacrifice’s songs are heavy on the catchiness factor, especially in the live setting, with an infectious sound that never fails to get the crowd whipped into a primitive frenzy. Their songs will be put to the ultimate test on October 30th when Sacrifice opens for American hardcore legends Hatebreed at Trendkill Extreme Fest in Seoul.
Certainly there are more quality metal bands in South Korea. So if you'd like to recommend some other good underground metal bands, please feel free to discuss them in the comments 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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