Thailand – a place of white-sanded beaches, aqua blue waters, and inviting islands. The country is visited yearly by thousands of tourists who wish to get a taste of the rich culture found within this land of a million elephants. Temples, floating markets, Thai boxing, ladyboy shows, massages, beaches, all-night parties on Khao San Road, or strolls down the red-light districts looking for ping pong shows – to a tourist, there is a lot that Thailand has to offer.
The country has traditionally been welcoming to outsiders, but the number of visitors doesn't dilute the aura of tradition in Thailand. When it comes to metal, Thailand has been aware of an open to the different sub-genres, and has, like other countries, integrated the musical styles with Thai values. And not all of it is about eating mangos by the beach – here you will find a vast amount of thrash, death, and black metal bands – each with something arcane and relevant to say. After all, behind the postcard imagery, there is a world steeped in black magic, ghosts, secret rites, and museums and temples dedicated to death and the macabre such as the lurid Hell Gardens. Hop aboard the tuk-tuk and ride into the world of Thai metal with me…
Grind And Noise
"Thailand is a small country in the scheme of things, but the local metal scene there is anything but small," says Vasant Narayn Semapirak, vocalist of the Thai-grind ensemble Failure Trace. "There are many underground communities lurking beneath the temples and palm trees which put on underground shows, in addition to so-called middle-ground bands and communities which attract the more mainstream audiences."
Failure Trace started as a band in 2002. The members are of Mexican and Thai-Indian descent, making them, like Thailand itself, multinational. The style of grind produced by Failure Trace, is, in Vasant's words – ADHD Nihilistic Grindcore. Recently, they have been pushing the genre forward, releasing a 12-minute track entitled "Post Grindcore."
The nihilistic factor comes up in their original moniker, Failure Trace Of Human Race. The band has been waving the flag for Thai grind on an international level not experienced by many of the local bands, having taken part in the Obscene Extreme festivals (Czech Republic and Indonesia), while also being on the Noise for Nepal and Grindcore Worldwide compilations. Currently, Semapirak has a new project underway, เฎ๊ม, which has members of Failure Trace, along with a transgendered guitarist named Phat. "We are not just a multi-national grindcore/powerviolence band, but we are also anti-discrimination to all kind of matters: sex gender, age, species, and also the rich and poor."
The Thailand Grind Fest has been a staple for both local grind artists to showcase their chops. Like the Obscene Extreme Festival based in the Czech Republic, it also hosts bands from abroad and books artists who are on the experimental spectrum of music such as harsh noise. Thai noise artists such as Chamber of Tapeworms, Unsignified Death, and GAMNAD737 offer experimental sounds of liberation from the inner confinement other forms of conventional or traditional music brings.
Polwach Beokhaimook is a musician in the region who has a multitude of goregrind/gorenoise and harsh noise wall bands such as Cystgurgle, Vomitoma, and Chamber of Tapeworms. He started the micro-label Perpetual Abjection in 2017 which strictly focuses on limited-run harsh noise wall releases with handmade packaging. "I started PA out of my fascination of harsh noise wall and handmade packaging, especially when it came to audio medium formats like CDs and cassettes."
This type of custom packaging is also seen with GAMNAD737, a noise project fronted by Arkat Vinyapiroath who also runs The Real Young Generation of Thai Shit Artists. He released a Bloodied CD & Worn Panties set, which was sold for $666 and was described as follows: "Smell the blood stench from the CD and Fussy aroma from our artwork girl's panties along with the blood of Vinyapiroath, the man from hell behind the Siamese Noise scene."
Beokhaimook came into the underground scene along with his first grindcore band called Smallpox Aroma, which found its way into the Siamese Brutalism community. "Smallpox Aroma went in the 'right direction' when we met and decided to get along with Siamese Brutalism. The community has led us to the way a grindcore and underground metal band is supposed to behave."
Siamese Brutalism is handled by Sunyaluxx Saengtham, who began it to make a community of musicians who stick together to both help each other and spread the world about the Thai underground metal. "The group was established not only to spread the words about the music the bands in our group create, but we also organize concerts for bands to show their ability in live performance," says Saengtham. "I started this SBxDM horde in 2003 with the guys from Nameless Author, A Good Day for Killing, and Deathguy. It came from my idea that I'd like to gather the great brutal death/death metal/grindcore bands from Thailand and spread and present them to the worldwide scene."
Some of the major festivals put on by Siamese Brutalism include the Bang-Cock Deathfest (since 2005, with the most recent fest taking place in 2019 featuring bands like Vomitory from Sweden, Gerogot from Indonesia and Thailand's Masochist) and the Sick Chainsaws Fest (also the Sick Chainsaws Production Label).
Saengtham's own MASOxGRINDCORE band Masochist also have ties to the worldwide metal community, playing Obscene Extreme in 2014. "It was our honor to be part on this amazing festival," says Saentham, "And yes, we, Masochist, were the first band from Thailand to join and play Obscene Extreme in Europe. It was pretty fun and impressive. If we have any chance, we will definitely back to play there 696%."
There are currently 19 bands on the Siamese Brutalism roster including Biomorphic Engulfment, Heretic Angels, Savage Deity, and Tortured Animals. What type of bands is Saengtham looking for? "The first thing: just having the right attitude/direction/goal and sincerity, that's all. We help listen to the each other's music and share the direction to the right position. Having great musical skills is not the most important thing – each band can learn and improve themselves in their own way. But the most important thing is sincerity."
For which bands represent Thailand's brutal death scene best, Saengtham lists Intricated, Ecchymosis, Biomorphic Engulfment and for death metal – Oldskull and Savage Deity. One of its biggest representatives, Pathological Sadism's brutal death could be the soundtrack to such a scene – imagine hapless men climbing a thorny "adultery tree" as dogs bite at their open wounds while the band's brutal death metal eggs them on to get to the top.
When COVID is clear, Saengtham's plans for the Bang-Cock Deathfest and Sick Chainsaws Fest to reemerge. "We care about people and won't have a big event unless there's no chance the virus will spread. Maybe next year is the best time to make it happen again. But no one knows."
We now take the tuk-tuk into the Chang beer-wielding, denim vest-wearing thrash scene, which makes up a large number of metal fans in the country. From 2009-2019, the community was brought together through a platform entitled Bangkok Thrash, which promoted and put out compilations of the Thai thrash artists. Additionally, a festival entitled Bangkok Thrash was also put on by this collective, which was a platform for the bands in the country to come together with selected international bands from neighboring countries for a night or two of blood upon the stage.
The 2017 show saw Tumour Boy from China, Terror Squad from Japan, while the last show (called Bangkok Thrash is Dead) took place in 2019 at The Exile, featuring Atomicdeath and Hereafter from Malaysia in addition to the Thai thrash battalion – Killing Fields, Psychotrain, Dr. Martin Luthor King Kong, Jr. III, and Bottle Strike.
Thailand is no stranger to black metal acts of varying styles, such as the occult-themed Plaguebringer, the black-folk of Leftmuenang, the blackened thrash of Nuclear Warfare, and the depressive black metal of Eternally Riverless. The Thai legends of the genre, however, are the "Siamese Christ Beheading" Surrender of Divinity, which formed back in 1996. The band waved the blackened flag for Thailand for years, releasing a genre classic in Oriental Hell Rhythmics and playing with such bands who came into the country as Archgoat, before in true black metal fashion, a gruesome incident became a part of their history, as their original bassist/vocalist Samon "Avaejee" Traisattha was stabbed to death by a fan in his home in 2014.
Shortly after Surrender to Divinity started lighting the fires of black metal in Thailand, the label InCoffin Productions (with the slogan "Religions are man-made, but Satan is not!") began, which has, in addition to releasing items from Surrender of Divinity, put out cassette tapes from international artists like Invictus (Japan), Rotting Christ (Greece) and Archgoat (Finland). The label was also responsible for such shows in the country as Watain's night of black metal magic in 2019.
Another band that are making big waves in the black metal scene is the blasphemous giants Zygoatsis. The heavily spike-armed band formed in 2003 and wasted no time releasing splits and EPs until their debut album, S.K.U.D. (Satanic Kultus – Unholy Desecration) was released in 2011 on Necromancer Records.
You are bound to see Thai metal fans wearing Immortal t-shirts on social media or at gigs, if you're in the country. This could very well be a shirt promoting the classic black metal band, but it's more than likely an Immortal Bar shirt – an important metal hub in Bangkok that has been an integral spot for much of the scene building in the country. The bar has had a long, 20 plus year history, opening in 2000 and hosting some of the more important shows seen in Thailand, while even hosting its own Immortal Fest.
“You can enjoy a huge variety of sub-genres with no clutches in commercial music. Apart from live music, the bar offers musicians the chance to come and host their own events at reasonable price,” cites the message on their official Facebook.
Owner Lakfah Sarsakul is a musician himself, playing in Plahn and now the brutal death metal band Carnivola, who often play the bigger events at the bar.
Harsh times in the COVID-era have affected bars such as Immortal. As of now, the bar has shut its doors but will open again in 2022, according to Sarsakul, "I will do the Immortal Fest again, 100%."
The Exile, "the home of Rock 'n Roll" hosted events such as the Bangkok Thrash is Dead festival, the last of the 10-year run the organization had promoting major thrash events in Thailand. Unfortunately, the show was an omen for The Exile too, as the bar closed its doors for good earlier this year. Owner Matthias Metalmäthy said of the closing, "The venues are nothing without the fans, the bands are nothing without a place to play and the scene is nothing without the bands, the only way to survive these hard times is to pull the strings together."
Noise concerts have made their way around Bangkok, being held in different places such as De Commune, 12X12, which hosted Arkat Vinyapiroath's The Real Young Generation of Thai Shit Artists showcase and the Bangkok CityCity Gallery – which saw the GUTS PAIN SCREAM event put on by GAMNAD737. Maison Close BKK, which was open from November 2017 to December 2018, was a multi-faceted venue catering to the underground arts in Bangkok, being an art gallery, bar, and tattoo shop that hosted exhibitions, underground film festivals, and the odd noise concert. Extreme Noise From Asia, featuring GAMNAD737, Chamber of Tapeworms, and F– from Thailand as well as guests Remon Red from Indonesia and Mampos from Malaysia was held there.
Brownstone, a music rehearsal studio, art space, live music venue, and independent film screening venue, held the Thailand Grind Fest in 2018. The edition saw 23 bands performing, including Demisor from Singapore and Spacegrinder from Japan in addition to the Thai bands.
Finally, if you are in need of physical copies of the albums or t-shirts from the bands listed above, Triple Six Shop has you covered. It has been serving the scene since 2005, organizing concerts and doing album production while also being a shop – if you can't make it to Bangkok, though, they do have an online store. Additionally, the Heaven & Hell shop at the Chatuchak Market (the largest market in Thailand) is another place where metal fans can find an array of vinyl releases for sale. It is open from Thursday-Sunday as it is located at a weekend-only market.
End Of The Journey
We’ve reached the end of our tuk-tuk tour of the underground music scenes in Thailand, but our journey doesn’t stop here – we have a whole night ahead of us. First, a Thai boxing match, then a ladyboy show, and finally, a trip to Nana Plaza. Let’s go, boss!
This was a guest post submitted by Ryan Dyer. For Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau bands, there are additional articles about the artists in these areas for your reading pleasure. Also check out his pieces on Chinese folk metal and Chinese black metal, best metal bands in China, Japanese sludge, best Japanese black metal bands, and women in the Japanese grind scene.