Black Metal in East Asia: Ghastly Funeral Theatre
All aboard the black-painted orient express, where the conductor’s face is shrouded in a veil and on his head is a dilapidated farmer’s hat.
We will take this smoke spurting steam engine around the countries of East Asia, stopping only to see the most grim and mystifying representatives of black metal culture, and then get back on and let the infidel arts witnessed in the day infest our dream state.
We are making stops in six places: China, Mongolia, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. How will the train cross the waters? We won’t need rails. Don’t forget your camera and passport, and be reminded that this is a one-way trip: you’re going to have to find your own way back once we reach our final destination.
China – Zuriaake
Let’s take a swim in the lake of corpses with Zuriaake, who have become as legendary as an old Chinese ghost fable. The band, shrouded in cloaks and bamboo hats, with lanterns and incense burning during their live ceremony, have become a must-see spectacle. The enigmatic members, with names like Bloodfire and Bloodsea, know the significance of keeping an air of mystery and mysticism alive with the band’s presentation, and meet this image with truly progressive and haunting songs. One of Chinese black metal label Pest Productions’ longstanding artists, they have released two full-length albums for the label and are prepping to release the third as part of their new deal with Season of Mist.
Mongolia – Karmantic
Beyond the endless kilometers of the frosty, desolate Gobi desert you will come across the townships and cities of Mongolia. Within its capital, Ulaanbataar (the coldest capital city in the world), one-man black metal band Karmantic has been cooped up inside as a snowstorm rages on outside. You would think that this would be the perfect atmosphere for black metal artists, but unfortunately the country has less bands playing this style than you can count on one hand. Nevertheless, Puriel Grushl dragged his DSBM project Karmantic into sunlight with the release of his Black Branches of the Heart EP in early 2021, which is 36 minutes of “Depressed Happiness.” He wasted no time in expanding upon his vision, as a few months later he unveiled his first full-length release, the hour-long foray into a melancholic snowstorm, Lethality.
Japan – Sigh
Sigh leader Mirai Kawashima, when responding to Euronymous’ suggestion to broaden the war against Christianity and to take the fires to Japan, famously touted that Japan didn’t really have many churches. This notion has proved that the genre of black metal doesn’t need to be completely anti-religious to be effective. Ever since their classic Scorn Defeat was released on Deathlike Silence Productions, Sigh have consistently rewritten the black metal rule book. They have often been described as avant-garde, with their sometimes-psychedelic approach and the utilization of instruments not usually heard in the genre. Even so, Sigh have stayed grounded in grim waters throughout their career, as elements such as Mirai’s trademark warlock voice always remain a constant no matter the accompanying evil horn sections or guest vocalists. Albums like Imaginary Sonicscape or their most recent, Heir to Despair, are essential listening for anyone who is in favor of smashing metal conventions.
Taiwan – Inferno Requiem
Taiwan has its patriotic flag bearers in the form of the black/folk band Chthonic, though the undercard of artists within the country is also full of top-tier representatives for the heart of Asia. Fronted by Fog, Inferno Requiem have been a vehicle for the creation of harsh black metal noise since 1998. The primitive outburst began with the In the Nightmare of... demo in 1999, which featured a classic Darkthrone-esque black and white photo of the sole band member screaming into cavernous nothings. Since then, the inferno spread rapidly, with full-lengths released on different labels such as Pest Productions, Hell Ambassador Records and Elderblood Productions. Thematically, Inferno Requiem keep it fairly interesting, incorporating horror, sci-fi and arcane components, with albums feeling like deformed evil spirits shrieking out secrets from the beyond.
Hong Kong – Evocation
A high-water mark for metal in Hong Kong, Evocation is an oriental black/death conjuration shrouded in a Taoist atmosphere. Their three full length albums contain folk passages which aid in the storytelling, with some passages resembling a funeral march. The band famously played Wacken in 2014 — a real flag-bearing moment for HK metal — and the audience was stunned by the sheer talent and conviction od the players. Comparisons can be made to Chthonic, as both have black metal elements mixed in with traditional instrumentation and both are their region’s biggest metal representatives. You’ll do your musical taste a favor by putting both bands on your playlist.
South Korea – Oathean
BTS? How about DSBM? South Korea isn’t a global hotspot for black metal, but you’d be surprised at just how many artists you might find on a fast train to Busan. Exchanging plastic surgery for corpse paint, bands like Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy, Meridies (= Methad), Taekaury (太高句麗), The Crescents, AEK, and Kalpa represent the scene well, though the backbone bands are Sad Legend and Oathean. Sad Legend, a melodic black metal act, were active from 1997 to 2014. Oathean began in 1993 and still play to this day. The latter began with death metal, but the band changed their name from Odin to Oathean and with it being incorporating traditional Korean folk instruments like the haegeum and daegeum to create a Korean blackened folk powerhouse.