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K-Rot: 10 Killer Korean Metal Bands (Not K-Pop!)

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The Korean invasion is upon us! It’s no secret that South Korean media has recently taken the world by storm. Last year, Parasite won the Academy Award for best picture, and this year, K-Pop act BTS were named the best-selling artist of 2020.

As popular as K-Pop is, there are other forms of music that come from this small country, and metal is indeed one of them. While the country’s metal bands don’t yet have as significant an influence on the worldwide metal community as those from Japan or the new surge of artists coming out of China and Mongolia, South Korea may be on the verge of a metal renaissance.

Just like Train to Busan taught the world that K-Zombie movies can go neck-to-neck with Western ones, one of these bands might just well be the next example of Korean dark arts taking over the international scene.. 

Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy 다크 미러 오브 트레지디 (Black Metal)

Black metal likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of South Korea, but it shouldn’t be the last, either. The genre seems more suitable to the cold climate and repression in North Korea, but if you go looking for music there, you’ll be directed to stuff like the all-girl propaganda act Moranbong. In the south, though, there is a thriving crop of bands who have opted for corpsepaint rather than high-end makeup and plastic surgery. Meridies (= Methad), Taekaury (太高句麗), Sad Legend, The Crescents, AEK, and Kalpa are at the forefront, but Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy have been blowing the black sails gloriously and are a highlight of the genre. Their bombastic, symphonic elements and reliance on theatrical costuming are akin to if Dimmu Borgir hailed from Jeonju-si instead of Jessheim.  

Traitor 트레이터 (Death Metal/Deathcore)

The bludgeoning, youthful and fresh sound of deathcore has achieved popularity worldwide, hence the offshoots coming out of countless countries. While the sound often remains fairly unchanged, with no particular sonic trademarks between deathcore bands from America or anywhere else, Traitor add elements of what they grew up with. The band mixes nu metal into the fray and their vocal approach is suffocating and crass, like the demonic Regan in The Exorcist bellowing during a breakdown. 

Fecundation (Brutal Death Metal/Slam)

South Korea’s Fecundation have taken notes from slamming brutal death metal bands worldwide to make their own brand as vicious as possible. With a clear disdain for existence (their album entitled Decomposition of Existence features a song called “Abolishment of Existence”) and a fleshy, fetal spiral album cover, Fecundation have made Slam Worldwide aficionados hit those “like” and “share” buttons quicker than a cricket can croak.  

ClownUs (Symphonic/Operatic Death Metal)

Send in the clowns! No, this isn’t a juggalo band — South Korea doesn’t have any juggalo artists (and I have been looking!) — but ClownUs are a symphonic/operatic band who have made some waves with their cover of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.” Aside from that song, the band does get dark and brutal, with their live video acumen showcasing some lo-fi though bewitching performances in the Seoul area. 

Remnants of the Fallen (Blackened Metalcore)

You are probably wondering if South Korea actually brings something NEW to the genre, and Remnants of the Fallen may just be that new sound you’ve been looking for (depending on your tolerance for metalcore). The band adds a twist to the tried and true, good ol’ American-made clean chorus / shouted tough guy verse formula, and that is a tinge of black metal atmospherics and screeching vocals. Blackening something up has done wonders for shoegaze and death metal, but other genres adding the element may seem off-putting. Good thing Remnants of the Fallen didn’t give a fuck, and have created something well worth simply enjoying rather than worrying about how cvlt it is. 

Crash (Thrash Metal)

The genre of thrash is nearly as old as the genre of metal itself, which means bands in places other than the Americas and Europe were influenced by the style earlier than other subgenres. That means thrash bands found in say, Japan, will usually be older and more experienced than those from the slam, deathcore or nu metal genres. Crash are no exception; forming in 1991, they claim to be the first Korean band to encourage slam dancing and stage diving. As the years progressed, so has their sound, with Crash releasing albums closer to death or industrial metal later on, then going back to the thrash sound on newer material. 

Madmans Espirit (Visual Kei/Nu Metal)

Visual Kei is a popular sub-genre based out of Japan which relies heavily on the band members wearing glamorous makeup with teased, colored hair. The genre has been highly influential, and artists from China, Taiwan and of course South Korea have taken to it. Madmans Espirit, while looking dapper and often sexy, are no tame kitten, being more Manson than Marilyn. The music produced by the band can be compared to Dir En Grey, with an emphasis on the grim subjects of death and suicide. Their track “Suicidol” underscores the romanticized melancholy with lyrics like “It’s not that I adore death, it’s just that I despise life,” and a vocal approach which is fast and ravaging, not unlike an actual madman. 

Diablo 디아블로 (Metalcore/New Wave of American Heavy Metal)

At first listen, you’d swear Randy Blythe had relocated to Seoul to start a new project with a mob of South Korean bandmates. Another one of South Korea’s first brew of metal acts (starting in 1993), Diablo nail Pantera-esque groove to a tee, but their repertoire is too varied to easily classify them. “Your Name,” for example, is a ballad made for radio, if only the Busan stations could let the band squeeze in between the cushiony K-Pop superstars. 

Victim Mentality 피해의식 (Glam Metal)

Muscles, hairspray, high-pitched, soaring vocals and bright spandex. Which new band are you thinking of that fits this description? Well, it’s not Steel Panther… it’s Victim Mentality, who started in 2009 but look as if they’re from 1989. They have stated that people in Korea don’t understand the look, but it’s hard to ignore the music, its Halford-esque vocals and galloping beat the perfect soundtrack to a drunken night in Gangnam. Really, how could you go wrong with an ’80s anthem entitled “I Hate Hip Hop”? The band has also toured the states, famously playing at the SXSW festival. 

Seo Taiji (Nu Metal)

Whether you love it or hate it, K-Pop originated with Seo Taiji frontman and namesake with his early ’90s act Seo Taiji and Boys. He is known as the “President of Culture” in South Korea, and which genre of metal is the most culturally aware? That’s correct, nu metal. Since 1998, Taiji has been producing albums consisting of rapped vocals, chugging guitars and turntable scratches. His 2000 album Ultramania is one of the highest-selling albums ever in South Korea, and with the accompanying video consisting of the genre cliches we’ve grown to love like colored dreads and chunky riffs, even chunkier pants and images of domestic violence, it’s not hard to see why.  

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