Blackened Middle Kingdom: 10 Must-Hear Chinese Black Metal Albums
Of all metal sub-genres, black metal lends itself among the best to the addition of traditional Chinese characteristics.
Not every Chinese black metal band has chosen to combine traditional instruments with banshee shrieks, though, with many artists deeply influenced by the classic first and second wave black metal acts, and sub-sub-genres like post-black and blackgaze progressing through the country with bands like Dopamine and Bliss Illusion leading the charge. This all makes for a treasure trove of black-infused releases in China.
Record label Pest Productions, who are celebrating their 15th anniversary in 2021, are among the genre leaders. With over 200 releases, there are many more fantastic albums beyond what’s covered here. While we’ve only covered one album per band, Ritual Day, Zuriaake and Black Kirin have deep catalogues worthy of your ear.
Here are some of our favorite black metal albums to come out of the Chinese scene.
Ritual Day – Sky Lake (Mort Productions)
A milestone release, 2003’s Sky Lake was recorded in record stores around Beijing and, upon its release, introduced a new wave of blackened self-expression for those yearning to exorcise the dark demons dwelling within, subsequently inspiring the scene which would follow. The songs fall under the Emperor/Dissection style of bombastic and highly energetic black metal with a melodic touch and some acoustic passages (but without the keyboards). The album may be late in the game in terms of black metal on a global scale, but as far as black metal in China, it’s an early classic.
Be Persecuted – Demo (Pest Productions)
Along with Midwinter and EDIEH’s debut albums, Be Persecuted’s demo was one of Pest Productions’ first releases way back in 2006. This album in particular was the first one released by the label, and stands as a dark king which set the stage for the 15 years and 200-plus releases which would follow. A low-fi masterwork, the album blankets the listener in a fuzz, like wearing an itchy coat in a snow storm. Songs like “Suicide Forest” hit like a crumpled newspaper clipping of a mass hanging spree in Aokigahara. Harsh, static sounding guitar is the album’s backbone, but it isn’t all noise: soft strumming and spoken passages on “Some How” poke the album’s head out of the storm for some much-needed air.
Evilthorn – Restart to the Evil Walking (Mort Productions)
Lace up your boots, put on your helmet, load your gun and get in the fucking tank: it’s time to go to war. No other band immerses the listener in the smoky bullet ridden atmosphere of urban warfare quite like Evilthorn. Restart to the Evil Walking comes rather late in the band’s career, with Evilthorn launching in 2001 and releasing demos and EPs until this album finally arrived in 2016. It was worth the wait, as instead of a small conflict, the album is a sustained affair that blasts along as the body count rises on the battlefield.
Bliss Illusion – 森罗万象Shinrabansho (Infected Blood Records/Anesthetize)
Beijing’s Bliss Illusion have brandished their own form of Buddhist-inspired blackgaze on their debut album 森罗万象Shinrabansho. A phoenix depicted on the album art rides on the winds of folk-infused blackgaze, its purpose to implement a rebirth in the sometimes-stagnant extreme metal scene and fly into progressive musical skies. Often called China’s version of Agalloch, the album is an enlightening, hypnotizing and spiritual encounter you’ll have a hard time removing from your media player or subconscious. Hop on that phoenix and take flight into unexplored musical terrains.
Skeletal Augury – Bless of Destroyed, Raped and Dismembered Flesh (Pest Productions)
Skeletal Augury like it rawer than Ol’ Dirty Bastard. On their second full length LP, the devil is in the details of the title, which gives you, prospective listener, a hint of what you’ll hear on this nasty record. If their debut, Victory of the Holocaust, was the sound of cavemen assaulting instruments sent from the future around a barely lit fire in the middle of their cave, on this album, those cavemen have created a raging bonfire and have been influenced by a few years out in the field hunting, gathering, and smashing their enemies. Primordial, rugged, thrashy and black, listen to “Slut of Hell” and “Wings of Black Vomit Angel” for a hell of an obscene time.
Frozen Moon – Legend of East Dan 1 + 2 (Pest Productions)
When Frozen Moon emerged onto the scene in 2001, the style of the band was as you’d assume when reading their name; their demo even included a cover of Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon” while the rest of the tracks on it followed that same Norwegian black metal formula. The band took a period of time off, reforming in 2018 as a completely different beast. Pagan elements were now put into the music while vocalist Fan Bo dressed in eccentric costumes on stage which could rival Attila Csihar’s. The two-part East Dan is a magnum opus, containing catchy, folk tinged songs that still bring an air of darkness in the midst of the story of a fallen empire.
Zuriaake – 孤雁/Gu Yan (Pest Productions)
The mysterious and sublime Zuriaake make good on 2015’s Gu Yan, a suitable follow-up to their masterpiece of a debut album, 2007’s Afterimage of Autumn. Zuriaake have said of the long break and new album, “It was formed after a long period of precipitation, where we were trying to find a way to understand the world based on our own philosophy.” Every song from the album comes from the band’s experience and inner struggle, but they prefer to have the songs meanings left to interpretation, saying, “We also don’t want these stories to become something too specific, as this would limit your imagination.”
Black Kirin – 哀郢 National Trauma (Pest Productions)
Perhaps no other band can better put the listener in the middle of a black metal inspired Peking Opera than Black Kirin. The band has evolved greatly throughout the years, acutely challenging the artistic boundaries between extreme metal and Eastern folk. Later releases such as Nanking Massacre take the dramatic storytelling the band is known for to cinematic levels, but with their debut album, National Trauma, the blend of Chinese folk and operatic vocals with black metal is a grounded, intense and haunting masterpiece of the genre. The band’s live show is a grand spectacle, one of the best concert experiences available in the country.
Acherozu – Vendetta Ocean (Talheim Productions)
The blackened thrash performed on Acherozu’s second album is the driving force to a tale of war fought in red-tinted waters. The 1894 Naval Battle of the Yellow Sea saw the Chinese spar with the Japanese during the First Sino-Japanese war, with the Chinese naval forces being almost completely wiped out in the process. “Both sides made the battlefield become a living hell, the soldiers became like beasts wearing human flesh, barbaric and ferocious.” Now that the tale has been set, press play on Vendetta Ocean for a soundtrack to this nautical nightmare. The album, despite its violent subject matter, is as enjoyable to listen to as any of your favorite war-themed thrash albums, albeit this one is submerged in blackened waters.
Vengeful Spectre – Vengeful Spectre (Pest Productions)
Vengeful Spectre is a new spellbinding masterpiece from the wrathful spirit in human form, Fan Bo, the incomparable frontman of Frozen Moon. While the self-titled album is new on the scene (2020), it has already captivated the minds and possessed the playlists of anyone who has listened to it. The black/folk mix here is perfect for a rainy night in a deserted Chinese ghost town with the threat of spirits behind every dark corner. Tracks like the meticulous “Wailing Wrath” make it impossible not to get hypnotized by its mesmerizing and furious atmosphere. Ten years from now you’ll remember reading about this here as an instant classic of the genre, and you’ll firmly agree.