Heavy Metal in China: Part II – Going through difficult changes (1994 to 2003)
In 1991, the freshly formed Overload (“超载”) with singer Gao Qi of The Breathing (“呼吸) became one of the country’s next biggest metal bands. Inspired by the successes of American groups like Metallica and Slayer, their style was rather oriented towards thrash metal. This band helped diversify the Chinese metal scene, even though it took the band five years to pull off their first self-titled full length release in 1996.
China’s first death metal band saw the light of day in the beginning of 1992. The band’s name was Tomahawk (“战斧”), and they soon adapted a more modern metal style that could be described as groove or post-thrash. The band’s first album also saw a very difficult birth and finally came out in 2001 under the title Dead City, which united the band’s compositions from the nineties with a few new tracks. Also coming to light was the country’s first doom metal act, formed in 1993 and called Hades (“冥界”). This band also didn’t release its debut album until 2002.
These examples already indicate a certain decline and period of difficulty for Chinese metal music after a growing popularity in the late eighties and early nineties. On one hand, the Beijing Midi School of Music opened its doors, offering three month courses on the basics of Western blues and rock music, and several cities such as Wuhan developed a small underground culture. However, the Chinese government soon realized that Western rock and metal music would promote a more democratic movement and diffuse the regime’s message of globalization. It therefore began to ban rock music from television, and restrict artists in concert apart from a few public appearances during international events that the government tried to use as propaganda: to prove to the world the development of new expressions of art and culture in the country. The commercialization of the music industry advantaged pop artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while the metal scene sank back to the underground.
In contrast, the first punk scene emerged from 1994 on, led by the charismatic musician He Yong and his debut record Garbage Dump, which tried to discover new means of artistic expression. Bands such as Underbaby (“地下婴儿”) and The Catcher In The Rye (“麦田守望者”) soon joined the movement, and inherited the cultural, political, and social expression of the metal scene, which itself was going through a hard time, struggling to compete with the foreign pop, the local punk, and a more and more famous grunge scene. In addition to this, several tragic events occurred, such as the motorcycle death of Tang Dynasty’s (“唐朝”) bassist Zhang Ju in 1995, that stopped the activities of the country’s first big metal band for a while.
With a new underground spirit, the growing metal scene slowly developed new methods to gain popularity, began slowly to return to old strength in the late nineties. The Beijing Midi School Of Music moved to a bigger school yard and established the very recognized Midi Festival in 2000. Around this time, new rock festivals began emerging all around the country.
In the late nineties, brand new subgenres saw the light of day, and quickly emerged along with the extreme metal, nu-metal and post punk being the most popular among these. A second punk wave centered around Beijing-based bands such as Brain Failure (“脑浊”), Reflector (“反光镜”), or the all female shock band Hang On The Box (“挂在盒子上”) emerged, as well as the first serious hip hop scene around artists and bands such as CMBC from Beijing, Gongfu from Tianjin, and Yin Ts’ang (“隐藏”) from Beijing.
As for examples of the new metal subgenres, one could cite the Beijing rapcore formation Yaksa (“夜叉”), the Beijing metalcore formation AK 47 (which also used electro and punk elements in their sound), and the nu-metal band Overheal Tank (“检修坦克”) from Xi’an towards the end of the nineties. One of the most popular metalcore bands soon became Ego Fall (“颠覆M”) from Inner Mongolia, that mixed modern metal sounds with traditional folk influences and often spiritually driven lyrics. The first emo rock band of the country was formed in 1999 under the name of Tookoo, and extreme metal bands gained popularity in the first years of the new millennium. One should mention formations such as the Kunming death metal band Purgatory (“炼狱”) and the Beijing black metal formation Ritual Day (“施教日”) as well. In general, all these new subgenres became popular in the People’s Republic of China with a delay of about two to three years in comparison to the Western world.
But the new wave of rock and metal music was not due only to numerous new bands or Western influences, but also thanks to a larger and especially well organized fan culture. The first independent Chinese music community organization entitled Noise (杂音) saw the light of day in 1997, as well as the country’s largest independent record label, called Modern Sky Records, that started to release popular compilation albums from Chinese bands. The underground punk magazine, called The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, first appeared in 1997, and the So Rock! magazine was published for the first time in 1999. Local magazines such as We (“我们”) from Chengdu (founded 1999), Painkiller Magazine from Beijing (founded in 2000), or specialized compilation records such as Made In Shanghai in 2003 became more and more popular, and supported many local metal scenes. At the beginning of the new millennium, the diverse subgenres increased in popularity thanks to new mass media, and particularly by use of the internet. Thanks to this new diversity, several older groups gained some much-needed new energy, and released new records in the late nineties and in the beginning of the new millennium.
But another sad event would soon affect this flowering scene in the middle of the year 2003.
Important records (1994 – 2003):
The Face (“面孔”) – Instinct Of Fire (1995)
Overload (“超载”) – Overload (“超载”) (1996)
Tomahawk (“战斧”) – Dead City (“死城”) (2001)
Hades (“冥界”) – Hades (“冥界”) (2002)
Purgatory (“炼狱”) – Dream Of Moribund (“垂死者之梦”) (2002)