Eight Bands You Need to Know From Taiwan
Taiwan is touted as ‘the hidden gem of Asia’ due to its exotic landscape and congenial locals, which has drawn a large expat community and millions of tourists every year. It’s a warm, friendly island, and a beautiful one at that: a chain of mountains stretches down the center, bordered by scenic coastlines and jurassic forests. Dotting the countryside are overpopulated cities and towns, most notably Taipei and Taoyuan in the North, Kaohsiung and Tainan in the South, and Taichung in the middle.
While most foreigners are just passing through to enjoy Taiwan’s crowded night markets, those that do decide to stay will notice a tension in the air stemming from the nation’s ongoing political power struggle with China. To the international community, the issue concerning Taiwan’s independence seems like a skirmish; a minor dispute among nations that should resolve itself. However, the reality is much different: for the Taiwanese, independence from Chinese rule is a pipedream, and it doesn’t seem like there is any viable solution in sight.
Without delving too deep into Taiwan’s convoluted history with imperialism and China itself, the current political climate has become a unifying force for both the body politic and the creative community at large, thanks to influential advocates of Taiwanese independence like Freddy Lim, the famed metalhead politician and Chthonic frontman. Over the years, Lim has leveraged his status as a figurehead of the metal underground to revitalize Taiwan’s local music scene and to galvanize an opposition to Chinese government; his election into parliament last year substantiated his influence and legitimized the movement he and many others before him have spearheaded together.
“I think [Lim’s] been a lightning rod for the independence movement for a long time via the band, and even moreso now that he’s been elected to office,” says Joe Henley, a local journalist and frontman of the death metal band Revilement. “Through Chthonic, he and his bandmates have managed to put a voice to the collective feelings of Taiwanese young and old who simply long to be able to say that they have a country of their own. There may have been a time when it was difficult to say that you were an advocate for Taiwanese independence. But I think a lot of people have found unity in this cause through Chthonic’s music, and the band has given people the courage to voice their true opinion on the matter.”
In this sense, metal music is perceived as a positive force in Taiwan — if you are playing Chthonic. Unfortunately, as a genre, metal is just as misunderstood in Taiwan as it is in other countries, so it by no means enjoys a singular role here. On that note, it would be just as false to presume that all Taiwanese metal revolves around the country’s political unrest; again, just like anywhere else in the world, the same themes inspire metal musicians in Asia.
With this in mind, here is a list of current Taiwanese bands based out of Taipei who are killing it on a local level. Some of them have achieved varying degrees of stardom like Chthonic, but most of them operate solely in the underground.
Taipei’s Ashen are known for their precision, passion, and live presence. When they perform, it’s apparent that they possess raw technical ability, and that they apply it in such a way that it serves the song, and not the other way around. On their 2015 debut, This world is not ours, the band’s natural chemistry bolsters frontman and lead songwriter Bruce’s blistering grindcore soundscapes; as an ensemble, the trio emits an atmosphere that is both heady and refreshing — a mature concoction for such a young band. Since their inception in 2009, Ashen have released a string of EPs, including a split with local grinders Usepentosing. Although they have been inactive lately, they have plans to record new material some time this year.
In 2015, Taiwanese deathcore band Flesh Juicer won Best Rock Band with their debut album GIGO at the Golden Melody Awards, Taiwan’s version of the Grammy Awards. This put them on the map, so to speak, but they had already achieved a sense of mainstream status by the sheer magnitude and dynamism of their live performances, which involve lots of crowd interplay, impassioned showmanship, and frontman Gigo Pro donning his signature Saw-like pig mask. Since their debut, they’ve gone on to release Broken Jade, a 2015 collaboration with Chthonic, and 2016’s Flesh Temple: Build it on Brutal Taichung. Late last year, they played Tshing San Fest, a music festival arranged by congressman and Chthonic frontman Freddy Lim; Lim joined Flesh Juicer on stage, singing an array of anthemic Chthonic tunes like “TAKAO”, among others.
One band that’s somewhat withdrawn from the scene is Scattered Purgatory, a cryptic noise ensemble that deals in the currency of atmospheric vistas, instrumental feedback, and the occasional chord progression. While they are no Sunn O))), their sound has a peculiar heaviness underlying the soft textures that permeate most of their music. Their latest contribution is 2016’s God of Silver Grass, a record that is brooding, gradual, and eerie.
Bazöoka are one the few bands here that can stimulate a crowd (Taiwanese will mosh, but not often). Their brew of blackened and old school thrash aligns itself with the likes of Gehenna, Barbatos, and S.O.D. Since their formation in 2005 and the release of their debut LP Toxic Warriors in 2009, the crossover thrashers have become a formidable underground influence. Despite an ugly lineup change in 2010, the band still remains intact.
Founded in 2013, Taipei’s Maggot Colony plays brutal death metal in the vein of Disgorge and Abominable Putridity. Their 2015 EP Spewing the Violated Souls garnered positive reviews as well as their 2014 LP Perpetuating the Viral Infestation both releases that demonstrate the quartet’s knack for writing gripping compositions. Their latest activity involves a music video featuring Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder from their upcoming LP, Vile Reincarnation, which comes out March 24.
Definitely one of the more unpolished (and heavy) bands Taiwan has to offer, Taipei’s Brain Corrosion play a toxic blend of crust, grind and death metal. Their most definitive work comes from their 2009 split with Altar of Giallo and 2014’s EP Sleazy Supremacy. Their songs incorporate lots of d-beat drums, punk-driven guitar passages, and a dirty bass that cuts through the mix; however, the vocals make the biggest statement.
Masquerader is a thrash band at heart that employs sci-fi themes, intricate guitar work, and speedy tempos, hence their comparison to bands like Vektor and Voivod. Their sound carries echoes of early thrash, like Anacrusis, Aftermath and even Mental Vortex-era Coroner, though at some points they tend to veer off into softer, dramatic territory, which may throw some listeners off. Their 2016 debut “Vortex Day Zero” is a lengthy opus that has some real gems, like System Overload, Exit Wound, and Anonymous Existence. The riff writing is, at times, very groove oriented, which is a refreshing reprieve from the album’s overall technical leaning.
If you want a damn good show with killer symphonic black metal, Anthelion is the band to turn to. Founded in 2001, they have developed a reputation as one of Taipei’s premier metal acts, and when they play, they pack venues. Their 2007 debut, Bloodshed Rebefallen, was recorded in Sweden by Fredrik Nordström; it was a struggle to record as it nearly ended the band, but the quality is evident. In 2014, they released Obsidian Plume, a more sentimental contribution, perhaps even kitschy at times, but it is a solid representation of the band’s hard work and passion.