Since the emergence of Tang Dynasty, China’s output of heavy metal music has encompassed nearly every genre out there. No genre is as ingrained in the culture and several thousand-year history of the Middle Kingdom as folk metal. Actually, the same could be said with any other country and the genre of folk metal as a musical representation of cultural tradition and history.
The visual presentation of these bands includes colorful stage costumes including robes and hats making the concert feel at times like a Beijing Opera turned up to 11.
The addition of traditional instruments to modern, distorted guitar riffs is something novel and particular to the region the band is based out of. For example, the pipa has been utilized in recent recordings from the black metal band Ritual Day, while the horsehead fiddle, a traditional Mongolian instrument, is used by Nine Treasures.
Singing techniques range from soaring vocals, to black metal screeching, to grunting, to Mongolian style throat singing, which are mostly in Mandarin but the odd band may use dialect from their region or even English lyrics. Every band has something to offer in terms of visual style, musicality and storytelling, so let’s look at five who are active today.
九宝 Nine Treasures
Nine Treasures are indeed one of China’s national treasures. An Inner Mongolian folk metal group founded in 2010, they create a fusion in their songs by introducing traditional instruments such as the morin khuur, while the lyrics, utilizing throat singing, evoke nature, history and mythology. The band has also seen success abroad, performing the 2017 version of Woodstock in Poland, demonstrating that through music, language barriers can be destroyed with the party they instigated with the massive audience. Check out their song “Wisdom Eyes” from the album of the same name for a nomadic experience akin to traveling Inner Mongolia on horseback.
铁王座 Iron Throne
The folk metal produced in China, while being unmistakable in sound, is still prone to development. Every band that emerges which combines traditional instrumental with modern, aggressive riffing and grunting is developing this form of music in their own way. Iron Throne is no exception, and this group of youngsters who have been busting their ass in the Tianjin area are brandishing their own form of folk metal with the addition of pulverizing slam elements. Since the pandemic started, they have gone through member changes, ditching the traditional robes for black t-shirts and a live drummer for distorted, nasty, computerized beats.
梦灵乐队 Dream Spirit
Formed in 2005, Dream Spirit are known for being the premier Chinese folk metal band. With afervent love of ancient Chinese culture, their songs include traditional heavy metal guitar riffing,which volley back and forth within Chinese folk-inspired melodies. Live, they arrive on stage in full costume ready to spellbind the audience. Since the last time I saw them there seems to have been a few lineup changes, but the classic sound of high quality folk metal is as clear as ever, which has the crowd celebrating like it’s Chinese New Year.
雪沉乐队 Snowfall (Snowsedim)
One of the most quintessential Chinese folk metal bands active today, 雪沉乐队 have been delighting crowds since their debut album, Anthology of Ebony, was shot off into the stratosphere like a New Year’s firework. Traditional culture and philosophy is their aim, and rousing tracks as “乌木” perfectly capture the feel of dynasties past blended with the modern power of metal. This is perfect music to psych yourself up for a battle, or to headbang to while locking arms with several other leather-clad warriors.
萨满 The Samans
Combining traditional instruments, growled and cleanly sung lyrics and nu metal crunch, The Samans are no doubt the most commercially viable band on the list. Formed in 2007 in Changchun, the name of the band is actually “Shaman" because they insist it doesn't spell like that in their national language, so instead we get The Samans. In addition to English lyrics in their songs, a few of the melodies can be traced to a Linkin Park influence, as seen in their track “萨满” (Whalesong).
虚极 Bliss Illusion
In the dark, smoggy, musical skies of China flies a hybrid beast – a mythological phoenix with black feathers instead of the classic red and orange. The band, a group of six musicians who are brandishing their own form of Buddhist inspired, folk metal in almost ritualistic performances around the country. The phoenix, as seen on the cover of Bliss Illusion's debut album 森罗万象Shinrabansho rides on the winds of folk-infused blackgaze and its purpose is to implement a rebirth in the sometimes-stagnant extreme metal scene. Raise the red lantern along with your devil horns and ride the phoenix into new musical terrains.
This was a guest post submitted by Ryan Dyer.