Five Bands Bringing Back Speed Metal Mania in Asia
“The ’80s was a decade of explosions. Everything boomed. There were many attempts in different areas to improve upon human society. If we check the industrial design and scientific attempts from that decade, we may also see a lot of ridiculous, unrealistic, even insane ideas coming out from that period, because people were bold and not limited by experience. Some of them were maybe proven wrong later, but there were valuable ideas coming out in a situation like that than a place where everyone follows the rules.” – Fuwen Yang, Dressed to Kill
The visual aesthetic of cyberpunk has always had an Asian flair. It is impossible to ignore the geishas on massive screens in Blade Runner or the Eastern-centric markets Harrison Ford eats his noodles in before taking on his next assignment. This influence was expanded upon in the world of Ghost in the Shell — for all intents and purposes, Hong Kong — and recent films like Kate which try to replicate the neon-drenched nights that bring an uncanny sense of nostalgia, even for the people that live in these places.
In Asian countries such as Japan, China, South Korea or the city of Hong Kong, the congested streets and rainy nights have inspired a new gang of musicians who personify this nostalgic, Asian cyberpunk aesthetic. The sounds of the ’80s — synth-drenched John Carpenter soundtracks and the bright new sounds of thrash, glam and particularly speed metal — are a huge part of that.
China – Dressed to Kill
Dressed to Kill are the current leaders of the Chinese speed metal scene. Formed in 2013 by guitarist Fuwen Yang, the band put out the A Night in Trance EP in 2017, followed by their first full-length, Midnight Impulsion, in 2019. The cover by Anton Atanasov (Riot City) features a Kurt Russell-like grizzled stud looking as if he is escaping from a futuristic New York. The album opens with a synthwave intro by Syn-chiK (who previously played bass in Tumourboy and stoner metal band Never Before) while songs like “Rose of Kowloon” tell fictional neo-noir tales based in Hong Kong.
“In terms of creativeness, we are caged by the old times somehow and trying to escape. But that might just be the meaning of retro-wave – to create something new from the old instead of repeating it,” says Yang.
In China, Dressed to Kill are among the only ones calling themselves speed metal. But have there been others? “Yes… and no,” ponders Yang. “There is Iron Horse from Nanking who call themselves speed metal, but in fact, their brand of ‘speed metal’ comes from the dictionary of Lemmy Kilmister, more or less metal/punk stuff. Other bands are going in a similar direction. I should name Dogslayer from Hangzhou. They play heavy metal and sometimes they go epic, sometimes speedier. There was one band, Ironblade who might have been the first real speed metal band in China and they played quite good. However, they disbanded.”
Singapore – Witchseeker
Singapore hosts a myriad of different cultures conglomerating together to form a modern utopia. While grindcore is what Singapore is known for in the metal community, the country’s ’80s modern-retro vibe is the perfect metropolis for night cruising under neon lights with a cassette player and cheap headphones. Witchseeker encapsulate this feeling of retro new wave, emerging in the year 2012 AD (a pivotal year for the synthwave revival as well).
Sheikh Spitfire, bass player and singer of Witchseeker, says of the reputation Singapore has of being an island of grind, “That is right. I guess when people hear the words Singapore [and] metal, they will associate it with grindcore, brutal or any extreme metal bands. I guess it’s because bands like Wormrot have been carrying the Singapore flag high. Personally, growing up, what led me to the decision to form a speed metal, or simply heavy metal band came naturally because I’d been listening to this type of music during my younger years, and also, during the time when I was attending local shows, there weren’t many heavy metal bands here. The bands that were present were simply trying to compete with each other for who is more brutal or evil than the other that it got to a point where it’s just not for me, you know? That was the main driving factor for me to form my own band, playing the music I love and believe in. And personally, [I think that] speed metal is the most aggressive form of music out there, period.”
The name Witchseeker is based on Sodom’s Chris Witchhunter, but Singapore is in fact known for some witch activity, with one individual in the city offering spiritual and sex-positive services.
“I heard and read about this so called ‘witch’ in Singapore offering such services. Heard she’s making good money, too. It’s no surprise that people may patronize her services. I do believe in the occult, underworld or whatever you call it, but personally I wouldn’t go and pay a cent for such services [laughs].”
Soon after riding up on the scene, Witchseeker released Night Rituals, a rather witchy themed EP to match their moniker. The cauldron brewed some more for their full-length, When the Clock Strikes, and their newest album, Scene of the Wild ,continues this green-toned throwback with songs like “Nights in Tokyo” and “Hellions of the Night.”
The band tore it up when the legendary Exciter hit the island, opening the show in 2018. Spitfire adds, “I would consider myself one of the luckiest few to have been the last to see and play with the original line up of Exciter live. Because shortly after that show, John Ricci left the band.”
Japan – Hell Freezes Over
As metal has a longer history in Japan with many ’80s acts adopting speed metal into their output as the genre progressed from traditional heavy metal to faster incarnations, the number of bands tied with the genre here are substantially higher to this day. In the ’80s alone, bands like Aion, Sex Machineguns and Tokyo Yankees were associated with speed. In the ’90s, Blasdead and Metalucifer took cues from speed metal, with Metalucifer (formed by Gezolucifer of Sabbat) referencing heavy metal itself more than even Judas Priest, with album titles like Heavy Metal Drill and Heavy Metal Chainsaw. The emergence of visual kei can’t be ignored, as acts like X Japan took the sound of speed metal and gave it, as well as themselves, a makeover.
Currently, there are a few new and proud bands waving the speed metal revivalist flag in Japan. Hellhound are one of the new breed, having formed in 2002, but they’re more hewn towards traditional heavy metal and thrash. Hell Freezes Over, however, could be called a true speed metal throwback. Formed in 2013, these hellions name checked the genre on their 2018 EP, Speed Metal Assault, and in 2020, their debut album Hellraiser was summoned out of a strange puzzle box in Tokyo. Along with soaring vocals and Priest-style licks recorded to analog tape, the album cover, similarly to Dressed to Kill’s, features a leather clad warrior wielding a chain with the Tokyo tower in the background.
Taiwan – Minstrel
For an ’80s Asian cyberpunk aesthetic, look no further than Taiwan’s night markets, where some Harrison Ford looking expat will be enjoying his noodles as the rain hits the tarps and trickles down just behind him. Here, the band Minstrel have been jamming out songs that certainly match the aesthetic, albeit with a symphonic/power metal twist. Formed in 2011 in the capital, Taipei, the “traveling poets” released their debut album Departure for Daydream Orbit in 2013, followed by the EP, Dreaming Butterfly in 2015. The band’s visual style, album art and song subjects couldn’t simply be categorized as a throwback to the ’80s; this is a band that hits all the right notes, but they “generate sparks and music that is solely ours.”
South Korea – Audio Blossom
South Korea is a country experiencing a pop culture surge; I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the television shows or the musical force known as K-pop. When it comes to metal in the country, though, genres like black metal reign supreme. Let’s go back to the ’80s and first look at Blackhole, who emerged way back in 1986, proving that the metal artists in the country have had the same cultural influence as, say, Japan, but interpreted them in their own way. Blackhole released their first album Miracle in 1989 and are still going to this day.
For new blood on the scene, look to Audio Blossom, formed in 2002. The soaring, raspy voiced band led by charismatic, sunglasses wearing vocalist Son Hye-Jin was formerly known as Mr. Queen and have released three albums since their arrival.
Indonesia – Devarock
Indonesia, as I’ve written previously, is a country of a thousand islands and so many bands there would be more than one per island. Every genre of metal can be found in Indonesia, and while the people pride themselves on their brutal death, slam and grindcore in particular, classic heavy metal also has a few islands of its own.
Classic bands in the genre who brought the speed to the streets of Jakarta include Armada, Kayakas, Rollader, Blitz, Sas and Rajawali. The new blood taking you back to analog times includes the satanic darkness of Goatmaster, the folk/speed band Lentera and the Motörhead-influenced Hell on Fire.
The band representing speed metal in its purest form these days is Sidoarjo, East Java’s Devarock, who play homage to speed metal, hyper speed metal and progressive speed metal in their songs. The six-piece band is influenced by the likes of Helloween and Hammerfall, and they’ve been picking up the pace since 2006, releasing their most recent full-length, Human Extinction, in 2019.