A Chinese Symphonic Metal band sets its sails to conquer American shores
SCREAMING SAVIOR is one of the most popular Symphonic Extreme Metal bands from the People’s Republic of China. After their first record “Eclipse of the Dark Lunar” (2009) and an EP entitled “Ocean of Asura” (2011), they released a second full length album called “Infinity” (2012). This last record will soon be released to the North American market by Metal Hell Records in a remastered form with two bonus tracks. In order to promote this re-release, I decided to contact the band via e-mail and talk with guitar player and song writer Chen Jie Jun as well as with singer and lyricist Yang Cheng. In this interview, we discuss about the band’s first difficult steps on their career ladder, the emerging metal scene in the People’s Republic and China and its diverse challenges and their homage to ancient Chinese culture and history.
Before you start reading the entire interview, the band and me highly suggest you to check out the band’s music first under the following addresses:
SEBASTIAN KLUTH: Hello and thank you a lot for taking your precious time for an interview. First of all, may you introduce yourselves? Tell us a little bit about your band history. What does your music sounds like? Tell us about your inspirations for the lyrics. What are you doing for a life time apart of being musicians?
CHEN JIEJUN: Hi, this is Jiejun Chen, guitarist of SCREAMING SAVIOR. We play Symphonic Black Metal in Shanghai of China. SCREAMING SAVIOR were formed in 2001 by Tilo (bass), Xuan Zhu (guitar), Shaun Tian (keyboard) and me. At the beginning, we couldn’t even find a drummer. We were just some friends who covered metal songs with the help of a drum machine. Several years later, we started to write some own songs and became more and more famous in Shanghai. But in 2005, our bassist Tilo, burned his hands in a fire accident. The doctor said he could never play any instrument. So we had to dismiss the band at that time, and I entered TERMINAL LOST as keyboarder. Fortunately, more than one year later, Tilo recovered his hands. So we (Tilo, me and Tian) formed the band again and found three other young members: Yang (vocals), Feng (lead guitar) and Zhao (drums). This time, the members became much more stable, so we could grow stronger and then released two albums and one EP smoothly. Recently, Zhao left us because of his life. We found Shi as our new drummer. That’s what we are now. About life time, I’m an algorithm engineer of electronic music instruments.
YANG CHENG: This is Cheng Yang, vocalist of SCREAMING SAVIOR. About inspirations for the lyrics, we are always trying to express our respect for the spirits of ancient saints in Chinese history, or legends maybe, the true, native, local Chinese style things, but the saddest thing we found was that most of the culture heritage was destroyed during the so called “Culture Revolution” and the rest was abused with commercial orientation. People started to lose their faiths, or maybe have some faiths only in RMB (Renminbi, the official currency of the People’s Republic of China), and even do not know how to be respectful. On the other hand, we also find that such a blank of ancient traditions gives us the chance and space to discover the heritage and re-build people’s faith and belief with our music and lyrics.
SEBASTIAN: Your band name is quite intriguing. Where did you get the inspiration for the name? Does your band name mean exactly the same thing in English as in Mandarin? What’s the meaning behind it?
CHEN: In fact, it’s just a name. Our first guitarist Xuan Zhu created the name 12 years ago and then left the band. So I can’t tell anything about that.
SEBASTIAN: Many critics and fans compare your band to the Taiwanese Extreme Metal formation Chthonic. Are they an inspiration for you or would you point out other bands?
CHEN: No, I don’t think we are similar to them. We are both Symphonic Black Metal bands from China, so the comparison is unavoidable. Though I like their music too, the temperaments of our music are totally different. I think our main inspiration is from EMPEROR.
SEBASTIAN: You are also involved as keyboarder in the melodic black metal band TERMINAL LOST which I also like quite a lot. On the other side, SCREAMING SAVIOR have a different own keyboarder with Tian Shen. Do you take any influences from your involvement in the other band?
CHEN: Yeah, as I said before. I entered TERMINAL LOST when SCREAMING SAVIOR was dismissed in 2005. But I’ve already left TERMINAL LOST in 2009 because things within SCREAMING SAVIOR were getting always busier. But I still took part in some keyboard compositions of the second album of TERMINAL LOST “Phoenix Mountain”. I think the experience in TERMINAL LOST is quite valuable for me. It also affects my music composition in Screaming Savior.
SEBASTIAN: According to several sources, your band has been founded back in 2001 but it took you eight years to release your first record “Eclipse of the Dark Lunar”. Why did it take so long and how would you analyze your first record today? Are there any plans to rerelease the record or parts of it in the near future and make it available to a larger crowd?
CHEN: Concerning the band history, when we reformed at the end of 2006, we decided to discard all the songs written before and to begin a new start. So it took us three years to write and record the first album “Eclipse of the Dark Lunar”. Today, I still like some songs on the album, but the record and mix seem awful to me now. Now, we are writing our next album. And once we have completed this, I’d really want to record and mix the first album again. Or it will always be a pity to us.
SEBASTIAN: On your EP and second output “Ocean of Asura”, you did an amazing cover version of the song “A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty” from one of the People’s Republic of China’s first metal bands ever which is TANG DYNASTY. Thanks to this cover, I got to know this band and listened to all of their records by now which I find truly amazing. What’s your opinion about them and why did you chose to cover this song? Would you cover other tracks in the future and which bands would you chose?
CHEN: TANG DYNASTY was my favorite metal band for very a long time. This song was also my favorite one of them. It’s TANG DYNASTY who made me begin to love metal music. So cover this song as a tribute to them is our pleasure. We haven’t any plans for another cover in the future.
SEBASTIAN: The Metal scene is emerging more and more in the People’s Republic of China but it’s still rather hard for many fans from the Western world to purchase merchandise or see bands live. Might you describe us the contemporary metal scene in China and especially in your home town Shanghai? Are there any bands one should absolutely check out?
CHEN: There are many cool Metal bands in China. But in comparison to the giant population of China, there aren’t that many Metal fans. Most of the Chinese Metal bands can’t earn money from albums and concerts. In fact, most of us are losing money when we play live as Metal bands. And due to the GFW (the Great Firewall of China, a well-known part of the Chinese government’s censorship of the Internet), it's difficult for Chinese bands to spread their music outside of China. We even can’t connect to Facebook, Youtube or Twitter without GoAgent. So in China, there are good Metal bands, but making Metal music is difficult here. But it’s getting better and better now. Some Metal bands start to appear in important TV shows such as SUFFOCATED. And more and more bands start to have performances out of China, such as SUFFOCATED, YAKSA and THE FALLING that took part at the Wacken Open Air in 2012.
SEBASTIAN: Your latest record “Infinity” gets a US release in early 2013. How did you come to this opportunity? Are there any differences between the original version and the new one? Is there any chance for some international tour dates?
CHEN: It’s Metal Hell Records who invited us to remix and re-release the album out of China. The remixed version will sound better than the Mort Productions version, especially the guitar and drum parts. I wish one day we can have an international tour but maybe that day is still far away.
SEBASTIAN: Do you think other Chinese metal bands could soon get a similar access to the American and European market?
CHEN: Yeah, now three Chinese bands have already signed MHR. Besides us, there are TENGGER CAVALRY and NINE TREASURES. I’m sure Chinese Metal will get more and more attention in the future.
SEBASTIAN: I really adore Mandarin as it’s a very rich and poetic language but most metal bands that perform in their mother's tongue and not in English fail to get international attention or a commercial breakthrough. What's your opinion about that phenomenon? Would you one day perform your songs in English to get more attention or do you want to stay faithful to your language and culture at all costs?
CHEN: I don’t think Chinese bands fail to get international attention just because of the language problem. There are some Chinese bands that perform in English and they also haven’t much more attention than those bands singing in Chinese. I think language will never become an obstacle for spreading music unless your lyrics are more important than the music, then that is poetry recitation with music background rather than a song. So we will continue to write lyrics in Chinese because we love to.
SEBASTIAN: What are your plans for the future? Do you have already written material for a third full length release?
CHEN: Yes, we are writing songs for the third album and already have finished some.
SEBASTIAN: Thank you for the interview. Do you have any last words for the metal fans around the world?
Chen: Thanks Sebastian for the interview. Definitely we are from different places, have different minds, cultures & so on. But I believe music will be one of the best tools to let us know each other much better. I hope one day we can play and celebrate our gigs with you guys.« Thormesis - Von Leere und Tod (2012) - Climb the towers of shadow - 96% (13/01/13)A brand new interview with the Chinese Symphonic Black Metal band "Screaming Savior" »
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