Like most Asian countries with a developed music culture, China exists with a wide range of heavy metal. If Japan is any indication, an array of thrash, death, power, and doom all populate with scattered recognition. Chinese black metal exists with just as much variation. From the standard Scandinavian reverence like Northern Blaze to mid fi disciples like Cursed Rampant, black metal exists in varied forms. Pest Productions released their first demo from Be Persecuted, a depressive black metal act from the Jiangxi Province, in 2006. Since that time, Pest Productions has released a sizable catalog from not only Chinese black metal but other atmospheric and depressive acts in Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Peru, and the greater European area.
For some of the reasons explored further, Pest Productions succeeds because of their refined scope. Rather than a handful of heavy metal bands from varying styles, a collection of similar sounding black metal bands is not only impressive but speaks to a larger collective consciousness of animosity and transcendental darkness. The similarity between album covers and production casts each band as a smaller part in a larger machine, where individual roles contribute to a greater narrative. That or it is a label full of harrowing misty black metal. Either one. Or both. You pick.
This was the first band to catch my interest. This may be the reason for this article. To be honest, it was the album cover combined with the music. From the character band name to the stark album cover depicting Chinese landscape paintings, Zuriaake is arresting in its imagery. This three member project from the Shandong Province is pretty clear in their thematic approach. Though nature has never been far from black metal, to see it through a Chinese perspective is outstanding. Take this and combine it with a voice that screeches and whoops like barn owls and one has a unique and fantastic record. Afterimage of Autumn is also followed by the short but still decent 2012 EP Winter Mirage which embraces an even more depressive style with the heavy use of keyboards. Anyone interested in atmospheric black metal or depressive black metal or any black metal with two or more descriptive suffixes step to the front of the line. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to start.
What in the goddamn fuck is going on in that picture down there? We are in Russia now because I wanted to check out this post punk band that seems to have black metal sympathies. I also have a tendency to get lost. I must have wandered off. Культура Курения’s whole reason for existing? Depression. Also rot and ruin. Depressive black works when a band puts everything into the music. Культура Курения puts all of their emotion, turmoil, and whatever virulent history that I know nothing about into their debut EP Рвота. While it is raw, grating, and at times dreadful, the music is performed with fantastic execution. Perhaps it is the twinkling post rock in the back or the industrial horror which haunts the record. Whatever it is, it works and reminds me of Abske Fides, a Brazilian band that also circumvents black metal’s aesthetic traditions. There is something refreshing about bands using harrowing music as a last resort. Nothing else says it like rust and concrete.
Just kidding. There is no morning light. It’s all an illusion. You’ll be stuck in this twilight gloom forever. Raw Chinese black metal that is reverent to previous raw black metal albums and acts. Check. Black and white album cover depicting a forest moon. Check. Bedroom production. Check. A voice that sounds like a cross between laryngitis and a death breath. Double Check. Everything seems to be in order and it is pretty damn entertaining to boot. The distinction between raw, depressive, and atmospheric may be minimal and even non existent at times but Illusion of Dawn is wholly different in their direction of black metal. Rather than take the transcendental or emotional path, Illusion of Dawn skips down to the trail of ugliness. And lord almighty is it ugly. But beautiful at the same time. Well, not really, just ugly. But that is what makes it so wonderful. As competent as Burzum and as paint peeling as Peste Noire, The Illusion of Dawn is a memorable release for the reasons it cannot be erased from memory. Fuck, I didn’t even know about this record and it’s release last year.
Holy god, after the previous three entries, Tomb’s 2011 record Witches Sabbath sounds like a soft pillow. It is not that this debut LP is by any means melodic, though the embrace of melody and consonance without the aesthetic of steel wool is near hypotonic. Let us see what they have for 2012. Oh, a 23 minute depressive black metal track with an aesthetic of steel wool? Wonderful. Remember that Paysage D’Hiver album with windscapes? Well how about nearly the same thing but with rain and chanting? I know, I am already signed up for more entries. Tomb has already succeeded with a decent debut. The follow-up EP is a spectacular display of emotion and atmosphere, which is by far one of the strongest black metal releases in recent years. I’m sort of fucking pissed that I missed it being released. Goddamn it.
To continue the arc of melody we have Dopamine. While I have never been the biggest fan of black metal combined with shoegaze, I understand why it works. At times I do not even think its innovators like Alcest make it work all the time. Dopamine does work. Dopamine works because this soft/harsh act knows how to balance darkness with delicacy. The group are the proud owners of a very brief catalog of a split, an EP, and a compilation of the two. It takes the right song to get a clear sense of what is happening. The group’s 2009 split with Germany’s Heretoir and Russia’s Dernier Martyr is a good indication of where the group’s strengths lie. A soft under-produced intro gives way to a fierce and ferocious bout of black metal. Sure, color me impressed and possibly supportive of the style.
The possibility of language discrepancies is always a possibility with any type of music. I do not know what a sapless leave is but I assume that in its native tongue it has a more pleasing image. Dark Fount is a depressive act with a guitar tone that could sing a thousand songs or kill a thousand birds. Same thing. A Sapless Leave Withering in the Night Fog is a fantastic album which is just as strong as some of the greater depressive black metal acts. It is times like this when Dark Fount is just as enjoyable as Judas Iscariot or early Burzum that I realize great work is being done in China. This is music which goes beyond “metal from a distant land” and stands up to some of the greats in the genre.I may not know what a sapless leave is but I can feel its implications rips apart at my insides.
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Southeast Asian metal is something I have been interested in since uncovering a previously unknown history of Singaporean black/death from the early 90’s. Indonesia is next. Vallendusk fits within the realm of Pest Productions, though their sometimes delicate approach to atmospheric black metal is different that the virulent hatred heard in other bands from the label. Vallendusk is sensitive, however their snarling vocals never make them a target for frail weakness. The emotional post rock angle in Black Clouds Gathering contrasts the political spectrum of Indonesian metal previously uncovered in documentaries like Global Metal. Plus, the opener “Fragments of Light” has one of the most catchy hooks I have heard in black metal in quite some time. Rain on me forever.
I maybe getting ahead of myself but if I am correct, this is the first band I have seen with a Chinese character black metal logo. I do not know why it interests me but language through the scope of black metal text all share the same qualities. It is amazing. Back to atmospheric black metal. Much like Zuriaake, Deep Mountains align themselves with the transcendental qualities of nature. I would like to leave with this record to compliment the first album in the article. There is something understandably linked between Chinese landscapes and black metal. I have always enjoyed the style being used as a tool for whatever one needs it to be. People forget sometimes that the sound is not regulated to one time and place but rather across the continuum of them.
All I really know about Deng is that he owns Pest Productions and and contributes song writing for the band Dopamine. I think that is really all that anyone else knows. I wanted to ask Deng about Pest Productions, China, and any upcoming releases in the future. I sort of got really into this label and was rather excited when Deng agreed to an interview. for the purposes of everyone reading, just assume we met in some abandoned factory now overgrown by outside vegetation.
Tape Wyrm: How long have you been aware of the metal scene in China? Has it been a recent phenomenon or has it been around for awhile?
Deng: Chinese metal appeared in the late 80s, after almost 30 years of developing, the number of the bands has increased a lot, and there are many different genres.
TW: One of the first things I noticed about Pest Productions was the album art for the bands. There seems to be a lot of landscapes in the album art. Is a connection to nature important for your label?
D: Just like you said, the landscape covers measure about half of the label’s releases, but it was not designed on purpose. Much of the music that we release is similarly naturalistic which is characteristic of the label.
TW: You have a lot of Chinese black metal on your label but also some artists from Peru, Russian, Indonesia. Do you have any specific regional focus or is it more international?
D: 2 years after opening the label and we finally have some international connections. I do not want to hold any specification on region or country just as long as the music is good enough for me. On the other hand, I’m also very pleased that many friends from metal-developed cultures could hear something new that from other side of the world, like China and Indonesia.
TW: Do you think Chinese black metal differs from other black metal? Are there any notable differences or similarities with European black metal?
D: No difference really. However, some Chinese bands like Deep Mountains and Zuriaake do have some Chinese traditional influences in their music includng some based on Chinese culture and ideology.
TW: Have you run into any problems regarding censorship? Is this type of music underground enough to avoid attention?
D: Doesn’t really matter. Just as long as it is not political, the authorities won’t bother you.
TW: Are there any recent releases you are excited about from your label?
D: All of them, honestly, the new releases will come out during April to May, very exciting.
Apocynthion (ES)”Sidereus Nuncius”
Súl Ad Astral (NZ) “S/T”
Vallendusk (ID) “Black Clouds Gathering ”
Tormental (IT)”Il Perpetuo Sconcerto Per La Realtà In Cui Mi Sveglio Ogni Giorno”
The Phantom Carriage (FR)”Falls”
They are all creative in many different way, I appreciate any work that has fresh ideas.