Heavy Metal in China: Part III – Rising from the ashes (2003 – 2013)
In 2003, SARS struck China and affected the entire society, including its musical culture. Famous bars were closed down, and more and more concerts and festivals got were canceled or postponed. Marketing business also suffered and broke down during that same year. Even the 2003 edition of the famous Midi Music Festival had to be canceled in May, and was finally postponed and held in October of the same year. The crowd at that edition of the festival was particularly aggressive and nervous, throwing bottles and eggs on stage when the Japanese band Brahman (“日本”) performed. Even the promoter, who tried in vain to calm the spectators, had his glasses broken by a thrown water bottle. Towards the end, the crowd finally ended up enjoying the show and cheered the Japanese band’s performance. I’m illustrating that, even from a musical point of view, Chinese and Japanese culture remains profoundly distinct from one another. These events led to a bad image of the metal scene and a lot of grim discussions, not only in Japan but also inside of the People’s Republic of China, after a year filled with bad coincidences.
Even after the end of the epidemic, the Chinese rock and metal scene remained paralyzed. Many old venues remained closed, changed costumer bases, or had a complete change of style. After a half-year long hiatus however, the scene arose like the famous phoenix from its ashes, and many new bands began to spread their names abroad by performing shows and selling records in other Asian countries, but also increasingly in Europe and North America. International festivals inside and outside of Asia, from the Hong Kong Rock It Music Festival to the Wacken Open Air in Germany, helped the bands diffuse to a larger public and to get record deals with international labels. In 2012, three Chinese bands from Beijing played at Wacken Open Air: the Death and Thrash Metal formation Suffocated (“窒息”), and the Metalcore acts Yaksa (“夜叉”) and The Falling (“夜叉”).
At the same time, more foreign bands began touring China, the first being a show by the (at that point) internationally rather unknown Italian power metal band Labyrinth in Beijing in 2004. In the years following, one could later cite bands such as the Dutch Street Punk formation Disturbance, German power metal icons Edguy, the legendary British rockers The Rolling Stones, and British alternative rock acts Placebo and Supergrass as playing in the Orient. In 2006, the female-fronted Austrian symphonic metal bands Edenbridge and Visions Of Atlantis arrived, along with American dark wave formation The Crüxshadows and thrash metal legend Testament in 2007, along with big names such as Nightwish and Dream Theater. German Medieval rock bands arrived around this time as well, including Corvus Corax, In Extremo, and Subway To Sally. The gates truly opened in 2009, with the arrival of Stratovarius, Turisas, Exodus, and Opeth in 2012. Many local bands were influenced by these concerts, and attendance increased in number. Several foreign bands recorded live albums in China, such as Taiwanese symphonic metal act Seraphim in 2006, and Corvus Corax at least partially in 2008. Foreign bands commentated frequently and very positively on Chinese crowds and the growing metal scene in the Middle Empire.
The internet also helped to rebuild the Chinese Metal scene, thanks to sites such as Douban in China, and Myspace on an international level. Small radio stations such as Hongkong’s Dragonradio formed in 2005, and steadily supported local underground scenes. New underground clubs such as Beijing’s D-22 venue became a new home to the increasing number of underground bands, and innovative events such as NOIShanghai helped organize and promote Noise acts from 2005 on. The Antidote Shanghai group united several disc jockeys, foreign guests, and local music producers who organized monthly music events around all kinds of electronic music, helping to diversify the Chinese rock and metal scene considerably in only a few short years. At last, these scenes were finally about to catch up with their respective Western counterparts.
Many new compilation record series such as “Resurrection Of The Gods” (2001), “Dead Night” (2003), and “Black Battle Corpse” (2007) started to specialize in different subgenres, and often promoted underground bands without record deals. These compilations helped promising acts such as the Chinese progressive metal bands The Last Successor (“末裔“) and Mirage (“海市蜃楼”), or melodic black metal acts like Screaming Savior (“惊叫基督”) and Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) to increase their fame or even get their breakthrough.
Projects like “Core In China” (organized by two people involved in the website “Rock In China”) received international acclaim in 2012 by spreading the name of bands such as Luktomo (“六道母”) or Why Lazy. Even though the metalcore bands Purgatory (“炼狱”) and Soma TNT (“索玛TNT”) didn’t release any official studio albums, they gained some popularity due to a Youtube video of the former band featuring the country’s first female guttural vocal performer Fan Doudou.
The fact that many promising Chinese metal bands don’t release records remains a main problem. Despite emerging tendencies thanks to the internet, it’s an underground scene that basically exists around its vivid live shows in big cities like Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, many underground fanzines, and obscure compilation records from black markets.
Both the metal scene and the music itself became more and more open-minded as time went by. A good example is the band Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”), that got together in Beijing in 2003 to play a mixture of black, folk, and industrial metal by including special members who performed a Mongolian Cello or who contributed traditional percussion and electronic samples to the sound. The metalcore formation Tarot Saint (“塔罗圣徒”), founded in the year 2007 in Beijing, mixes melodic death metal and modern thrash metal with folk influences. One could also cite the experimental psychedelic rock band LAVA.OX.SEX from Hefei, which is composed of four members with completely different or even conflicting musical backgrounds.
Chinese bands also started projects with foreign musicians. The psychedelic, alternative folk rock formation Proximity Butterfly (“变色蝴蝶”) from Chengdu was founded by male and female musicians of American, Canadian, and Chinese origins in 2003. The post punk and gothic formation Boys Climbing Ropes was formed in Shanghai in 2006 by three Canadians musicians living in China, as well as a female Chinese keyboardist and singer. The melodic power metal band The Barque Of Dante from Mianying collaborates closely with Austrian singer Thomas Winkler and Greek vocalist Vicky Psarakis on the 2013 album Lasting Forever. Finally, the Beijing thrash metal act Raging Mob is fronted by German vocalist Robert Gonnella, and also features American guitar player David Hemmer.
In Germany, Chinese artist, dissident, and political whistleblower Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) released a controversial and highly experimental metal album entitled The Divine Comedy (神曲) in 2013, that talks about current problems in the country and the artist’s negative experiences with the Chinese government and other institutions. Indirectly, this political release introduced a larger public to the contemporary Chinese arts and music scene.
Along with many new bands and original collaborations, some of the genre pioneers decided to explore new ground and become more active again. In late 2013, the legendary Tang Dynasty (唐朝) released a brand new album entitled Prick (芒刺), with a colder and more technical progressive metal sound, featuring a surprising title track accompanied by a video dealing with the horrors of the Iraq War. This release clearly strayed from the band’s melodic heavy metal sound that previously focused upon folk influences and lyrics about Chinese culture and history. Nine years after their last record, Chinese hard rock legends Black Panther (黑豹) also made their return with a mixture of classic and more modern elements with a new and energizing singer on the critically acclaimed album Who We Are (我们是谁).
In 2008, the organization of the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, the Zibo train collision, and the terrible impacts of the Sichuan earthquake led to many canceled concerts and festivals. In comparison to the SARS epidemic five years earlier however, the scene stood together this time, and improvised many charity events for the victims of the train accidents and earthquake. From that point of view, the metal scene even took certain advantage of these events and gained a lot of respect for its charity, which helped to slowly re-establish its lost glory from before 2003. The Shanghai Expo in 2010 led to several temporary shutdowns of important underground venues, but by this time the impact had become a lot less menacing for the flowering metal scene than expected. Instead, some artists realized the potential of this event and released an “Expo” compilation featuring ten rather unknown electronic independent artists like B6 and Sun Ye (“孙晔”).
The rock and metal scene has finally built up a solid basis, and has continued to explore new ground and gain more and more international popularity. Thanks to the internet and movie projects like “Global Metal”, the Chinese metal scene is in a very healthy and stable state, and its future looks quite promising for 2014 and beyond.
Important records (2003 – 2013):
Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) – Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) (2008)
The Last Successor (“末裔”) – The Last Successor (“末裔”) (2010)
Rainbow Danger Club (“彩虹危险”) – Where Maps End (2011)
Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) – Voulme Two: Phoenix Mountains (“卷贰 凤凰山”) (2012)
Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) – The Divine Comedy (“神曲”) (2013)