Napalm Death Dominates at Asia Metal Festival 2011
Band Photo: Napalm Death (?)
Another edition of Asia Metal Festival went off this past weekend in Seoul, South Korea, bringing together extreme metal bands from all parts of the metal spectrum hailing from the host nation, Japan, Taiwan, and the U.K.
Roughly 600 fans, largely from South Korea but also with a large ex-pat contingent from the U.S., Canada, and all over Europe, turned up for the event in raucous anticipation of headliner Napalm Death’s first appearance on Korean soil.
Seoul melodic death metal act Terrormight kicked off the evening, or rather late afternoon with the festival’s 4:30 start time. The five piece band took full advantage of their 25-minute time slot, showcasing their rich, early-era In Flames sound with a keyboardist adding some rich underlying textures. Many punters showed up early and were ready to expend some energy, head banging enthusiastically at the front of the stage at V Hall in the city’s Hongdae District, an area filled with restaurants, bars, and drunken revelers of all ages.
Next up was Revilement, from Taiwan, with your loyal Metal Underground scribe pulling vocal duty. We laid down our usual set of death metal brutality, noticing some familiar faces in the crowd from our last appearance at AMF in 2010 just over a year previous. It’s hard to be objective when writing about your own performance, but people really seemed to respond well to our songs, with the pit occasionally exploding into a sea of hammers, chops, and slam dancing. In the end, I think it’s safe to say we walked away with a few more fans and definitely met some great people. What more can you ask for?
Following us onto the stage with military efficiency, a testament to the professional and amiable crew at V Hall and Jusin Productions, the promotions company that puts on Asia Metal Fest and is run by Oathean’s vocalist and guitarist Do Su Kim, was Ishtar, a local symphonic power metal act with operatic vocals that reach octaves few could likely match. The crowd stood in place in awe as the supremely talented singer, clad in a slinky red dress, held onlookers spellbound with her otherworldly range and titanium shattering pipes. Fans of Nightwish would do well to check Ishtar out.
Long-running South Korean thrash act Mahatma was up next, a band that has been around for nearly two decades. The band put on a display of world-class thrash that was as rich in mosh anthems as any old school thrash quartet going. Their set inspired the fiercest pits of the night to that point as Mahatma’s dual lead guitar attack simply laid the crowd to waste with their wanton displays of musicianship and fret board acrobatics. If lead guitarist and vocalist J.K. can manage to bring Mahatma outside their usual stomping grounds of South Korea and Japan, this could band could be in line to break out in a huge way, but realistically it will have to happen sooner rather than later, given that the band, even though they don’t look it, are getting on in years, relatively speaking of course.
The parade of heavyweight South Korean bands continued with tribal thrash act Sacrifice, a group that never met a Sepultura riff it didn’t like. Sacrifice is a potent force on stage, with the well-honed presence every veteran band should aspire too. Their simplistic but bombastically heavy rhythms whipped the audience into a sweaty, circling inferno. Heavy on the crowd participation factor, singer and guitarist Kwon Oh-Sang had everyone throwing fists and chanting fervently during the breakdowns.
Rounding out the trifecta of South Korean thrash bands was Method, another longstanding group familiar to the eyes and ears of the Seoul scene that also has hints of melodic death metal in its sound. Having changed singers since the band’s appearance at AMF 2010, it was chance for the new vocalist to put his growls and screams on display, and that he did, stalking the stage from side to side, letting out long winded, bunker busting rumbles and highs that did nothing less than impress. All three thrash bands on the bill were air tight in terms of their performance, and played as all bands should on any given night—as though they have something to prove, even if they don’t.
Founder of the feast Do Su Kim and Oathean followed with their melodic, beautiful, dark and depressive form of black metal featuring symphonic elements and oriental instrumentation. For a band in which all three members at the front of the stage mainly stand rooted to the spot, Oathean still manages to command an overpowering presence with the dominance of their songwriting skills alone. Playing tracks from the band’s last two albums, 2008’s “Regarding All the Sadness in the World” and last year’s eponymous effort, Oathean showed exactly how it has managed to remain in such high standing since it was founded 18 years ago. Talks are currently underway for a European tour, which would be Oathean’s first should everything fall into place.
The second of three foreign acts hit the stage next. Survive, a melodic thrash and metalcore band from Chiba, Japan, has made South Korea its second home, embarking on approximately ten trips to the country over the years, making them much more of a local favorite than an unknown commodity. With all the band’s songs sitting around the five minute mark, there as only time enough for six songs, but Survive managed to milk each second for every ounce of blood and sweat it was worth during their 30 minutes front and center. With new members on guitar and bass, Survive exhibited that it had lost nothing in crowd generalship or the ability to turn an audience into rapt loyal subjects with its changing of the guard. All four members played a perpetually active role in inciting the crowd to participate as fully as humanly possible, and were rewarded for their diligence in returning to their adopted homeland in kind.
With the last of the opening acts out of the way, the crowd buzzed in intense expectancy of headliner Napalm Death’s set, with chants of the band’s name going up long before the projector screen that fell in front of the stage following each band’s exit went up again. Succinctly put, the boys from Birmingham and the U.S. dominated from start to finish, playing all the hits from the old and modern epochs of the band's evolving sound. Fan favorites “Scum,” “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” and “Suffer the Children,” birthed pits of unparalleled decontrol that left people drenched in sweat, covered in bruises, beer, and whatever else was let loose in the tempestuous melee. Truncated fan favorite “You Suffer” was, as always, snuck in, drawing a huge roar from the crowd when the band cheekily tried to blow it by them.
At the end of every song during the 75-minute set, the chant of the band’s name was raised again, with vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, hands down the most intense front man in metal, politely thanking the audience each and every time before launching into at times politically and socially conscious intros to the next track, including a heartfelt wish that perhaps in time Napalm Death will be able to perform north of the border on the Korean Peninsula. After leaving the stage, the band returned for a three song encore, and lingered on stage to shake hands and meet fans once they were done in a true show of class that has allowed the band to carry on, in varying forms, for three decades now. No doubt many attendees were waking up sore in their beds on Sunday morning, but all were left waiting anxiously for the next time they’ll get to see Napalm Death assert and reassert their claim to the throne of grind they forged decades ago.
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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