Unearthing the Metal Underground: The Beijing Metal Scene
Though many touring bands are starting to make inroads in China, with most of them bypassing government censors by way of venturing to the Middle Kingdom on tourist visas rather than foolishly attempting to secure an elusive performance visa, few metal bands from China are able to tour outside the country due to the government’s travel restrictions placed on the Chinese people.
“How can that be?” you might ask. “Chinese tourists are everywhere these days, spending RMB like they’re going out of style.” Well, what you might not know is that each and every one of these tourists is only allowed to become well-heeled because they’ve posted what is essentially a large cash bond that is meant to ensure their return to China. And as we all know, being in a metal band and the ability to post a large cash bond are pretty much mutually exclusive.
Getting out is made all the more difficult when you’re a musician playing what is regarded by many authorities in China as a dangerous and highly disruptive form of music. Hell, some bands in China even get banned by the government from playing in their own country, which is exactly what happened to Ordnance, a modern-era Sepultura-esque band from the capital. Ordnance drew the Communist Party’s ire for its overtly subversive lyrical content, and now can basically only perform in the guitar player’s own venue, 13 Club in Beijing. Freedom of expression? Not in Mao’s house.
As another case in point, Painkiller magazine, the nation’s top metal publication, has sponsored a national Wacken Open Air Battle for local bands for the past few years, with the winner gaining a spot at the venerable German festival to beat all festivals. However, in the history of this competition only one band has thus far managed to secure the right to travel outside China and make it to the fest, while the other winners have had to resign themselves to merely enjoying the pride of winning.
Luckily, though, none of this can stop us from reporting on some bands from China that are worth checking out, all of whom made an appearance at the 2012 rendition of the Wacken Battle. We’ll start in Beijing on this week’s installment of Unearthing the Metal Underground.
Ready to Die
Female-fronted five-piece Ready to Die plays an old school, filthy brand of death metal that would fit right on the Ibex Moon label alongside acts like Funerus, or decimating the stage at St. Vitus in New York with Disma. Taking cues from Obituary, Bolt Thrower, and other plodding death metal bands of similar, sludgy taste, Ready to Die is a band that places its focus on simplicity, opting for the one-punch knockout riff rather than the overwhelming jabs and slaps of abject technicality.
The band’s front woman has a growl that could rip the short and curlies off of any of her male counterparts, as can be heard on their lo-fi demo that’s currently streaming online. The production really captures the overall atmosphere of death metal’s early days. This band is one to watch in the Middle Kingdom, and yet another reason to wish that it could be easier for bands from China to actually tour outside their home country.
Raw and blasting black metal straight out of the grimy, cluttered heart and gray, overcast skies of Beijing. Evilthorn is one of Beijing’s longer running extreme metal outfits, and is a key contributor to what is actually quite a thriving underground scene in the national seat of power. At the most recent Wacken Open Air Battle, it was, in this reporter’s opinion, Evilthorn that stole the show, with its members well-versed in both the sonic subtleties and aesthetic qualities of pure Fennoscandian black metal. Fans of Immortal, Mayhem, Carpathian Forest, and Watain wouldn’t find Evilthorn out of place in their record collection.
As Evilthorn was one of the early members of the extreme metal scene, emerging in 2001, the band had trouble finding a drummer to handle the blast beats for a few years, and had to rely on a drum machine instead. It was only recently that Evilthorn enlisted a full-time man behind the kit. Evilthorn has a demo that came out in 2002, a lone full-length, “War Plague,” Which came out in 2007 on China’s Mort Productions, and a compilation appearance from 2008. Though YouTube is considered website non grata in China, the band has luckily found a way around the Great Firewall to get some of its live material online.
We end this week’s installment with the winner of the 2012 Wacken Open Air Battle, The Falling. According to the band’s official blog, The Falling will indeed be making the long trek to Germany this August, bringing its deathcore sound to the sunburned and beer-logged masses in just a couple months. This is a big step for the band, which just got started in 2006, and has just one full album, 2006’s “New World Order,” under its belt. The band also had a track on the “Core in China” compilation that came out just last month.
The Falling has already accrued an impressive array of support slots for international acts that have toured through China, opening for the likes of Suicide Silence, Heaven Shall Burn, Psycroptic, and Mnemic, as well as appearing at the Beijing Midi Music Festival, one of the few metal-friendly fests in the country. After going through a few lineup changes, The Falling seems to have found a steady collection of members, and could be poised to parlay its recent string of successes into a solid run at underground notoriety.
These are just a few metal bands from Beijing, China. If you know of any more worthy of discussion, feel free to let us know in the comments below. Check back every Monday as we unearth more underground metal bands from another scene or genre.
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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