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Heavy Music in China: 12 Bands You Need to Know

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It’s no secret to your average metalhead in China that the country is currently undergoing a massive resurgence in its heavy music scenes. Sprouting up from the depths in cities across the country are a new generation of dynamic bands, their hunger and energy matched only by the continued onslaught of many of the country’s fiercest metal veterans.

Bands with histories reaching back ten years or more are continuing to release new and exciting music, with many embarking on tours outside the country’s borders. Simultaneously, a younger crop of bands has been rising up over the past few years to add their voices to the cacophony. This convergence of frenzied activity has been nothing but an infernal blessing from the Dark Lord himself to metal fans within China and beyond.

From black metal in Beijing and hardcore in Shanghai to thrash in Nanchang and more, here are 12 China-based bands absolutely worth your attention. Ranging from established mainstays to fresh newcomers, all the bands on this list are driving Chinese metal forward with hunger, determination and, above all, fiercely original music.

Beijing
Anyone looking to dip their toes into the wellspring of independent Chinese music would do well to begin in the capital city of Beijing. Though many of China’s other cities boast healthy music scenes of their own, Beijing continues to serve as the primary flame in which many of the country’s top bands are forged. Beijing’s status as the seat of China’s government often results in stricter scrutiny from on high, yet the city remains home to many of China’s record labels and best-known bands.

Ritual Day [melodic black metal]
Formed in 2000, Beijing’s Ritual Day quickly made a name for themselves in China’s independent music circles with their debut album Sky Lake. With a fresh new lineup, Ritual Day reemerged in January of this year with their explosive second album Devila Grantha. The music overlays progressive and melodic elements onto a firmly black metal foundation, complemented by the band’s fearsome costumes and stage presence.

Skeletal Augury [black/thrash]
Skeletal Augury, formed in 2008, present a classic take on black metal with a sound firmly rooted in old-school influences such as Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory and early Mayhem. Their latest release Bless of Destroyed, Raped, Dismembered Flesh comes courtesy of Nanchang, China-based metal label Pest Productions, and serves as an ideal representation of the Pest aesthetic — sometimes raw, usually mirthless, always at least a bit blackened. The record is a nonstop maelstrom of blistering guitars, frenetic blast beats and oozing vocals from outspoken frontman Lord Freeze.

Saving Molly [post-hardcore]
These scene favorites pen songs that are as undeniably catchy as they are musically complex. Saving Molly’s brand of sophisticated post-hardcore is reminiscent of early-2000s Thrice, yet with a much harder and heavier edge. Vocalist Xi Lin Hu’s throat-shredding screams are interspersed with clean melodies as the band’s constantly shifting riffs and grooves propel the music along.

Shanghai
Approximately five hours south of Beijing on one of China’s high-speed rail lines is Shanghai, the country’s largest city and preeminent financial hub of the mainland. Toiling tirelessly beneath the city’s craft cocktail bars, luxury shopping malls and hip eateries are a wide range of local bands, each adding their own element to the city’s ever-changing independent music scene. With a large portion of expat musicians, Shanghai’s lineup is a transient one as band members and promoters constantly come and go. However, an upside of this revolving door of participation is the scene’s constant yield of new and exciting musical output.

Loudspeaker [crust]
When I moved to Shanghai in 2008, Loudspeaker was already one of the top local bands on the heavy scene. With their original lineup intact, the band’s sound has shifted over time before arriving at its current crusty form with tangible black metal and thrash influences. Drummer Wang Lei in particular is a sight to behold as he flawlessly executes the band’s furiously paced songs with graceful fills and always-stoic composure.

Spill Your Guts [hardcore]
Spill Your Guts emerged in 2012 and quickly climbed to the top of China’s hardcore scene due to their powerful live performances and unflagging work ethic. The fact that drummer Tyler Bowa and vocalist Dima Bir are the only remaining original members has not once managed to hinder the band’s progress as ambassadors of Chinese hardcore, with tours across Japan and Southeast Asia under their belts along with an upcoming Russia tour in September. Their most recent EP Full Blast showcases the band’s diverse range of influences. I’m told by the band to expect a full-length release from them in August of this year, and having heard some demos of the tracks, I’m positive that it’ll be an album well worth picking up.

Hitobashira [groove metal]
Formed in December of 2015, Hitobashira sling aggressively infectious Pantera-esque groove metal with a hint of nu-metal riffing thrown in for good measure. The band has progressed quickly, already having toured Japan in 2016 with memorable live shows characterized by vocalist Si Shen’s animalistic stage antics and drummer Joshua Thompson’s pounding, primal technique. Their most recent release is 2016’s EP The Famine, with cover art by notable Shanghai-based tattooist Zhuo Dan Ting.

Across the country
The remaining bands in this list hail from cities across China’s massive landscape, illustrating the depth and variety of the creativity and determination present in abundance amongst the country’s musicians.

Zuriaake [folk/atmospheric black metal] – Jinan, Shandong province
No list of heavy bands in China would be complete without the monstrous Zuriaake. The band’s iconic outfits are as recognizable as their Chinese folk-influenced atmospheric black metal, which they craft and perform at world-class levels. Masters of subtlety and mood manipulation, Zuriaake write epic songs which whisk the listener along on gut-wrenching journeys steeped in equal parts blissful transcendence and hellish misery. They’ve just wrapped up their first European tour, for which they reissued their landmark record 孤雁 Gu Yan with lyrics translated into English.

Demogorgon [atmospheric black metal]
Demogorgon is a black metal supergroup comprising members of the above-mentioned Zuriaake as well as fellow Chinese black metal acts Holyarrow and Destruction of Redemption. Their sole release is the 2016 two-track EP Dilemma. Revenge. Snow., a spellbinding 25-minute odyssey inspired by the classic wuxia novel “Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain” by Jin Yong.

SMZB [Celtic punk] – Wuhan, Hubei province
Wuhan punks SMZB are nothing short of legendary. Frontman Wu Wei has kept the virulently anti-establishment band going through two decades, making SMZB one of China’s first punk bands and certainly its most enduring. As if that’s not enough, Wu Wei also owns and operates Wuhan Prison, an iconic punk bar in his hometown of Wuhan and just around the corner from its premier live music venue Vox Livehouse. Persisting ceaselessly despite countless obstacles from a government that would prefer he keep silent, Wu Wei and SMZB are a shining beacon of resistance for legions of Chinese punks across the country. Their most recent release is the 2016 album The Chinese Are Coming on Beijing label Maybe Mars.

Ego Fall [Mongolian folk/nu-metal] – Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia
Ego Fall’s songs present listeners with a wide range of stylistic influences, unified throughout by the common thread of Mongolian folk. Their 2016 EP Jangar features chuggy breakdowns, industrial grooves, a clean ballad, EDM effects, and plenty of traditional Mongolian instrumentation and melodies. It’s worth your time if only for the stunning array of genre shifts the band manages to include across the EP’s four songs. Ego Fall released a documentary following their 2016 European tour, and has a new album lined up for release later this year.

Explosicum [thrash] – Nanchang, Jiangxi province
These guys are perhaps China’s best-known thrash band, and for good reason. Their 2014 album Raging Living is pure old-school thrash, surging forward ever mercilessly and granting listeners not a second to pause and catch their breath. These veterans have been at it since 2005 and show no signs of letting up the assault. The band released a limited-edition live cassette from Osaka’s True Thrash Fest in 2015 and most recently performed alongside Greek thrashers Bio-Cancer at the third Thrash China Festival in Beijing.

Black Kirin [death/folk metal] – Changchun, Jilin province
Despite having formed just a few years ago in 2013, Black Kirin have risen rapidly to prominence thanks to their blend of death metal and black metal with traditional Chinese instrumentation and Beijing opera vocals. Their 2016 debut album National Trauma is a slickly produced nine-track affair that adequately encapsulates their brutally artful sound. The band followed up only a few months later with 箫韶Xiao Shao, which presents haunting acoustic renditions of the songs found on their previous release.

—Ivan Belcic

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