Riffs of Fury: 12 of the Sickest Metal Bands from Hong Kong
The amount of culture from Hong Kong that has influenced the world at large in the past 100 years is difficult to add up. Unfortunately, despite films, martial arts methods and dim sum being instantly recognizable, the “fragrant harbor” is often an afterthought compared to the metal coming out of Mainland China, Taiwan or Japan, which have all birthed more internationally known artists.
Hong Kong is usually on the list of touring destinations when bands from Europe pass through Asia, however, with much easier visa paperwork than Mainland China. The Clockenflap music festival is often a place to see international metal artists as well as home-grown ones. But these twelve artists will be tearing up the smaller live venues throughout Kowloon and Hong Kong Island all year long.
Evocation 招魂 (Blackened Folk Metal)
Active since 2002, the music of Evocation is the high-water mark for metal in Hong Kong. Their blend of black and death metal under an eastern philosophy is second to none. Their three full-length albums contain folk passages which aid in the storytelling, not unlike Cradle of Filth or, for a recent Chinese comparison, Black Kirin. The Taoist atmosphere presented here is dark, as some passages will remind you of a funeral march. The band famously played Wacken in 2014 — a real flag-bearing moment for HK metal — the audience stunned by the sheer talent and conviction of the band. While listening to Evocation, I cannot help but to also compare them to Chthonic; both have black metal elements mixed in with traditional instrumentation and an at times similar vocal style (not a slight on either).
Charm Charm Chu 慘慘豬 (Thrash Metal)
Every year is the year of the pig with this thrash metal act, and what better time than now to try to learn Cantonese through Municipal Waste-like gang vocals? The band is the only one I’ve seen embrace Hong Kong’s exploitation film history, known for category III rated shockers such as The Ebola Syndrome or The Untold Story. The band uses clips from the film in their new video for the SPS cover of “Tom Lee Music.” These guys are also beer pigs: their album Majestic Brewing Order features a giant Tsingtao (which I have seen at the brewery in Qingdao) set up like a cannon. They once brewed their own beer, which they called “a miserable beer,” and while I cannot comment on the brew I assure you that you’ll feel anything but misery when falling for the charm of the chu.
Hyponic (Death Metal)
The sunny days of Hong Kong are never permanent. Often those black clouds come along and the streets of Kowloon start to flood despite great precaution taken to install storm drains around the city. Along with the storm are winds which threaten to blow people and their belongings away. The skyscrapers sway as the lightning flashes and the thunder roars. Hyponic is like that storm. Formed in 1996, the band is a suffocating, all-encompassing mammoth of darkness, showing that even in tropical cities, there are those who devote themselves to shades of gray and black. Explore Black Sun, The Noise of Time or their new album 前行者 (out on Japanese label Weird Truth Productions) for a cold, claustrophobic and oppressing experience.
Cadaver (Death Metal)
Those who are helpless in life must often go through great pain to achieve success. Cadaver try to bring that metaphor to fruition in their track “Breaking Pupa,” which illustrates the process of mercury torture in which the victim becomes separated from their own skin. This morbid fact is just a sample of the scholastic tidbits you’ll discover whilst listening to Cadaver, who have served as support on some major death metal shows in Hong Kong such as a visit from lord Vader. The band started in 2003, and see metal as a form of art where releasing aggression is the main objective. With recent events in Hong Kong throughout the past few years, bands such as Cadaver, who released The Doppler Effect back in 2013, should surely have a lot to say.
In 2154 the wealthy live on a luxurious space station, while the poor scrape by in Earth’s ruins. Oh sorry, that’s the plot for the 2013 science fiction film entitled Elysium. But could just as easily be a metaphor for Hong Kong. While some people live in billion-dollar apartment buildings, others are crammed into flats with hardly enough room to turn around. To get a taste of this lifestyle yourself, get the cheapest room available at the Chungking Mansions next time you visit the metropolis. As for the metal band Elysium, they are a grinding death metal act as nasty and ugly as a roach in your coffee tin. For their 2018 stop in Hong Kong, Chinese thrash titans Explosicum had the boys in Elysium warm up the crowd, and for the few metal festivals in the city, like the Hong Kong Extreme Metal Festival, Elysium have provided the citizens an extreme form of music to use as an outlet.
Cryogenic Defilement (Slamming Brutal Death Metal)
Sometimes, the entire world needs to suffer. Cryogenic Defilement’s Worldwide Extermination is the 2018 album by this slamming brutal death metal act and is certainly a call to arms, with its cover art depicting the fresh destruction of a metropolis by some giant kaiju. Perhaps the release was an omen to our ongoing pandemic, with the opening track entitled “Sickness Descends,” or maybe Godzilla vs Kong, which saw the monsters toppling Hong Kong. Coincidences aside, the album is, like a fireworks show at Victoria Bay, almost too much to take in. “Bludgeoned Vagina” is a track which reflects the feeling you might have after hearing it. The band looks to have the same brand of humor at their live shows as gore or pornogrind acts, playing in dresses and having an air of being irreverent, which could possibly make their music hit that much harder.
Human Betrayer (Deathcore)
Speaking of giant monsters destroying Hong Kong, Human Betrayer are another act who feature a monstrosity with atomic breath on the album cover. Their brand of deathcore is particularly vicious, culling the harshest moments, at least vocally, of Suicide Silence or Chelsea Grin. Musically, they get a bit more technical than the average core band as well, balancing inspired, sweeping guitar work and ravenous vocals like they were equal parts of a brutal ballet. Their 2019 EP, Underland Enthronement, shows great promise from this band, who may still be in their larval stage. Get ready for the moth.
Massacre Of Mothman (Deathcore)
If Massacre Of Mothman were an American band, they would have rode the 2007-2010 deathcore wave and become a household name alongside Whitechapel or Carnifex. That pure The Cleansing era sound — free of nu metal influences and full of piss and vinegar — is worn proudly by the band, which paid off for them as they even managed to open for Suicide Silence in Hong Kong in 2016. Formed in 2009, the prophecies told by these Mothmen are groove-oriented numbers which fluctuate in tempo; their wings flap hard when they’re angry. Don’t look for little winks or humor here. Like a phone call from Indrid Cold, the band aims to horrify.
The hoodied menaces in Protoss make their music video debut in the Slam Worldwide exclusive video for “Figments.” Nooses hang around the silhouetted band members as they play in typical brutal fashion, while lyrics the band wants you to notice like “People Asleep” flash on the screen and the background changes colors like a ’70s acid trip video. But what makes deathcore from Hong Kong any different from the artists from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and so on? Their sound is on point and varied, with roars, brees, squeals and even solos, and while this is not something you haven’t heard before, their video does get extra points for being visually tripped out.
Dismal (Black Metal)
The one-man black metal project known as Dismal has been described by listeners as being both beautiful and tragic. Simple drum patterns set the path for unfathomable pain emerging from the dingy alleyways of Hong Kong. The 2017 album Loss. Paleness (遺.白) is a melancholic and often painful trip into one man’s tortured psyche. It’s a testament to the variety of people and personalities found within Hong Kong, and that some areas, such as the “monster building,” could be considered hideous to some but contain a certain aesthetic beauty unique to the city. The same could be said for some of the dark music, like Dismal’s, that comes out of such places; after all, there are butterflies on this album cover along with the visage of a person in anguish.
Black Mass // Siren 獻血 (Black Metal/Noise/Ambient)
Shrouded cultists Black Mass//Siren are a mysterious trio who practice the dark arts of black metal, dark ambient and noise. From these sacred sounds, they conjure a musical portal which, when in the wrong hands, could be quite dangerous. Lucky for us, the band chooses to simply leave us spellbound with an all-encompassing cosmic darkness. Currently, the videos published on their YouTube channel offer slight glimpses into the band’s personal jam space as they work through atmospheric tracks with only the smallest sliver of light displaying the members or their instruments. It does look more like the setting of a black mass than a Black Sabbath show.
Chimeras (Doom Metal)
The Chimera has had its rounds in metal culture; it is used nearly as much as the Baphomet. The creature is a beast with a lion’s head, a sheep’s body, and a snake’s tail, but strangely doesn’t include a dead horse to beat. Jokes aside, Chimeras, formed in 2013, play doom metal and aren’t afraid to show a little beauty and tenderness along with the sorrow typical of the genre. As the vocals in Chimeras’ songs are female (sounding similar to Amy Lee at times) and sung rather sweetly, while also being piano heavy, the Chimeras experience is more ethereal than your typical doom project and is a breath of fresh air after some of the bands on this list. Give in to their siren song and let yourself sink into the depths of Victoria Bay.