Unearthing The Metal Underground: The Chinese Scene Part 2
Despite misconceptions, how could the huge country of China not have a big metal scene? It most certainly does. Even though social media, ISPs, chat rooms, forums and much of the internet is highly state regulated in China, there are enough ways for Chinese metal bands and fans to communicate out there. Like Deng Xiaoping once famously said - "If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in."
The growing number of metal bands and their legions of fans in China find several forms of communicating their love for metal music the old school way. In fact, the first heavy metal magazine in China, Painkiller, started publishing in 2000 and put out its 48th edition earlier this year. Starting out quarterly, it now releases a magazine bi-monthly. Painkiller's foray into magazine publishing was fraught with difficulties in the beginning. Editor Hua Cai had to drive two hours south of Beijing to Zhengzhou to get an official barcode from the state-owned sponsor. Then he found a national book publisher/distributor to put it out, the same one from whom the 25,000 subscribers get the magazine.
Each issue features a section on Chinese metal, a CD compilation and interviews, while funding for the publication comes from musical instrument companies and co-sponsored concerts. Painkiller promoted the German act Edguy back in 2006 and basically took off running from there, now regularly doing the co-promotion on several live acts - besides putting on its own Painkiller Fest. The Chinese metal acts are breaking out into the underground in a big way as well. Chinese metal band Nine Treasures won the WOA Metal Battle 2013, setting them on a course for Wacken. Now bands such as melodeath act Fearless are releasing material, the aforementioned with the 2012 EP "Lord of Twilight". Large venues such as Beijing's Yugong Yishan present metal concerts with more frequency as well.
Today, as we look at the metal scene in China, I was struck by a comment that Hua Cai made in a Cluas blog interview years ago about too many Chinese bands getting absorbed into the western influence to the point of losing their respective identities. For this reason, we will unearth three Chinese metal bands that make a point of remaining distinctly Asian and exploring their rich folk traditions to convey an unusual and distinct spin on metal that is both different and refreshing.
The Beijing-based Tengger Cavalry is now on its fourth album, "The Expedition," which was just unveiled in June. The new one contains some songs from its other 2013 release "Black Steed," but this time with the titles in English. Tengger Cavalry, in Mongolian shamanism, translates into The High Lord - Father of the Welkin. Indeed, the sextet is highly influenced by Mongolian culture, shaman religious music, buddhist music, Chinese folk and black metal.
The band, who opened for the Finnish act Turisas in Beijing back in May, has a truly unique sound rooted in the Mongol nomadic traditions. Of the six musicians, one plays the dombra and two play a horsehead fiddle. They even do a cover of Arch Enemy's "Nemesis," but what is truly captivating about their music is the unbelievable throat singing and usage of buddhist bells and other sound effects.
Tengger Cavalry - "The Expedition"
Tengger Cavalry - "Sunesu Cavalry"
As incredulous as it may sound, Shangren is the one-man project of multi-instrumentalist Leonard Ong. Starting his 'Shangren Dynasty' musical project back in 2009, he took the moniker from the Chinese mythological Daoist deity known as Honjun Laozu - teacher of the Three Pure Ones. The six-track "Warriors of Devastation" demo marked Shangren's debut. The band was hoping to release a debut full-length album, "Rise of the Dynasty," last year upon which Shangren planned to use Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' in its musical context.
Shangren - "Warriors of Devastation"
Shangren - "Monkey King"
Spring And Autumn
One of the most important metal bands in the nineties Chinese metal scene was the act Tang Dynasty. Here you have guitarist Kaiser Kuo from said act and his current folk art/metal band Spring And Autumn. Kaiser Kuo has a very unusual background, one contrary to the traditional path taken. Whereas some artists strive to be more Western, Kaiser's quest is to be more immersed in his Chinese ancestry. He is both American and Chinese, with English as his first language. His day job is as a computer/media specialist, and has several interviews where he actually says that some things on the internet are actually easier to get to than in the US since sites are not shut down due to piracy.
As an undergrad at UC Berkeley, he had only visited China three times by his 22nd birthday. By playing at a San Francisco music store, he met the lead vocalist of Tang Dynasty. Listen to this interesting interview with Kaiser Kuo here. Now a married father living in Beijing with his wife and two kids, and practically fluent in Chinese, Kaiser has been involved with the band Chunqiu (Spring And Autumn) since 2001. Named after the seasons of life and death, Kaiser navigates between more acoustic fare and metallic numbers, much like life's emotions.
Spring And Autumn - "Legend"
Spring And Autumn - "Murder Room"
That is just a small window into the bands that have attained a measure of popularity in the Chinese metal scene. Whereas nine hundred people gathered at the Painkiller stage at the Modern Sky Music Festival a few years back, the number has grown exponentially. The scene belongs to the independent artists, the ones willing to sleep in cheap motels and play for very little - in other words, the underground. Join us again next week when we unearth yet another genre or scene here at Metal Underground.
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