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Our friends at Scholomance released a “40 Must Have Chinese Metal Albums” list last year in French, and were kind enough to translate the whole thing into English for us. Huge thanks to William and his friend Lucas for spending so much time translating this into English. (Here is the original article.)
Check out the full list and enjoy some awesome music and a history lesson on Chinese metal…
After a year and a half working in China with the Chinese Metal scene, and almost ten years of being fascinated by all of this, it is now time to take stock of the albums that left their mark on me. I’m sure you understand that these 40 albums have been picked totally subjectively. They have touched me for one reason or another, musically and/or emotionally speaking. I have decided to limit an album per artist – by doing this, for example, I can avoid mentioning almost the entire Tengger Cavalry’s discography. You’ll find a lot of Black Metal, not just because it’s a style that I am particularly fond of but also, because this is one of the most prominent Metal sub-genres in China, along with Metalcore. Bands with Chinese elements have also gained prominence which the world’s metal media seems to latch on to. But those aren’t the only bands that exist. Bands that could be called “less exotic” also are worth talking about.
I have decided to put Hong Kong and Taiwan’s metal scenes aside on purpose. Although Hong Kong can be considered part of China since 1997, its culture and life remain starkly different from the rest of Southern China. Taiwan, despite not being officially recognized by China as a country, has developed its own scene and culture since 1950.
I hope this list will feed and enrich your listening habits. We encourage every single one of you to pick up what you liked in this article, in order to get you to know these Chinese scenes whose inspirations speaks to you the most.
Lastly, this is not in order of best to worst – each album has been sorted in chronological order.
Okay…let’s not wait anymore…
唐朝 (Tang Dynasty)
梦回唐朝 (A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty) •`1992
A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty is considered the first Chinese Metal album; therefore it’s hard not to include it. Numerous Chinese metalheads discovered Metal even before the style’s pioneers [Editor’s Note: Tang Dynasty and this video was the FIRST video we ever saw of Chinese metal as well when we were growing up in Hong Kong!], thanks to this album from Tang Dynasty. The band plays Heavy Metal along the lines of the NWOBH, tinged with Hard Rock, but includes numerous Chinese folkloric elements. A pillar of Heavy Metal in China. The band slowly moved on from this sound with later albums becoming more mainstream and pop.
Ritual Day (施教日)
天湖 (Sky Lake) • 2003
Let’s go back more 10 years ago to Ritual Day’s debut album, Sky Lake. Ritual Day is the pioneers of Chinese Black Metal along with Ululate (we’ll talk about their second album later), the band delivers a sophisticated Melodic Black Metal style with poetic and fantastic influences. History with a capital H – this is highly revered, given legendary status, and holds tales that make us travel through a China being dreamed and fantasized.
巫怨 • 2005
Who doesn’t know about Enmity (or Enemite, but this first translation was a mistake from the label when it came out), probably the project which has crossed the most borders. The music is ritualistic, with Taoist, Buddhist and Chinese sounds, relieved from their peace to receive occult and macabre tone. The music comes without any occidental instrument but with a tortured DSBM singing. Li Chao, founder of this project, kept this ritualistic aspect in his current project Zaliva-D, all wrapped with electronic and noise sounds.
Darkness Over Depth (王三溥)
梦 (The Dream) • 2006
One of the most unusual projects I’ve ever heard. It’s a mix between Depressive Black Metal, Ambient and gothic music, all with symphonic touches. And surprisingly it works: a perfect balance, from more contemplative parts to the more depressive ones. Darkness Over Depth draws a sublime soundscape that often reminds me of movie soundtracks – an aspect which the band will eventually develop, creating OSTs for imaginary movies…
Dark Fount (阴暗之泉)
A Sapless Leave Withering In The Night Fog • 2007
Dark Fount is a legend. More like Dark Fount is shrouded in legends. No one knows who the creator is, but a story can be heard in the Chinese Metal scene, explaining why it is such a violent and tortured DSBM project. The creator is said to be a poor miner, with only a computer in 2007, who started to write and compose to escape his everyday life which wasn’t only physical pain, but also psychological pain. He then birthed this album, a pure piece of pain.
Afterimage Of Autumn (奕秋) • 2007
Zuriaake, aka the most famous Chinese Black Metal band. Going from one international festival to another, I have seen the band become headliners of an ever-expanding Chinese Black Metal scene. Their first album, less atmospheric and more epic than the second one, already had this spiritual dimension at the hand of Zuriaake. Each title combines Black Metal, Chinese philosophy, poetry, and religions perfectly – religion and philosophy being always closely linked to each other in China. Moving from Confucianism to Taoism and Buddhism, Zuriaake seeks to reconnect with the ancient times that built their country, all being a form of Atmospheric Black Metal both epic and sophisticated.
Spectral Summoning • 2008
Some time ago I had released a column about this album. This specific Claustrophobia’s album is one of the darkest and most macabre I’ve heard. The basic material is indeed Black Metal but Noise and Ambient influences are omnipresent. The album is dissonant, tortured. Spectral Summoning completely fills the mind with dark thoughts providing an experience more than just listening pleasure.
Voodoo Kungfu (零壹)
S/T • 2008
Voodoo Kungfu has been for some time the band where the musicians made earned their stripes before starting their own projects. Li Nan, founder of this project, has seen members of Frosty Eve, Tengger Cavalry, Ego Fall, and so on. The cult status of this band comes especially from the fact that it was the first band to use folk sounds and elements from various ethnic minorities that make up China. Thus Mongolian and Tibetan parts can be found in this eponymous album, along with extreme Metal and Hardcore. It was also the first openly politicized and anti-governmental Chinese band.
颠覆M (Ego Fall)
蒙古精神 (Spirit Of Mongolia) • 2008
Ego Fall, pioneers of Mongol Folk Metal, the band who summoned the spirits which people the steppe. They bring back to life the spirit of the warriors against a backdrop of Death / Melodic Deathcore and overtone singing. This album is the first stone that will open the way for many other bands from Inner Mongolia.
Conflict • 2008
2008 will see in China the beginning of numerous bands which have become famous 10 years later. Explosicum is one of them, and are the first to deliver an Old-school Thrash Metal just like the old Slayer, Testament, and so on…
End Leaving • 2009
Second album from the Chinese Depressive Black Metal pioneers along with Dark Found, Be Persecuted releases ‘End Leaving’, an album on which they worked harder and that was less impulsive than ‘I.I’ (2007). A nihilistic and hateful depression, far away from tearful DSBM bands.
在寂静的路上 • 2009
The one and only album of the formation, first Chinese band I’ve written a column about. FuXi takes its name from the legendary character of Chinese mythology. The latter is said to be the origin of medicine, of Chinese characters, and was the first god of the three Sovereigns, leader of the Huaxia people. FuXi is the only Doom Metal band in China that doesn’t go Stoner. The Folk sounds bring us back when myths were the everyday life of this world. Doom parts are punctuated by more violent sections, like the wars that have broken out and created China.
Frosty Eve (霜冻前夜)
极夜 (Polar Night) • 2009
Probably one of the most productive bands of the Chinese scene, Frosty Eve did one album after another, the last being released in 2019. Clearly inspired from the Finish Melodic Death Metal scene, the band managed to quickly find its own identity while playing with the codes of the style. Technical riffs stand alongside sophisticated melodies, all for a quite unique result.
在黑暗中创造光明 (Flame In Darkness) • 2009
If Frosty Eve combined sophistication and melody, Norcelement mixes melody and brutality. The singing is raucous, brutal, riffs are incisive, but everything is punctuated by strong melodic guitars. There’s nothing else to say. The album is extremely well-build; the two facets of the band bring each other out.
末裔 (The Last Successor)
S/T • 2010
Here is another unique album… to my dismay. This is an album with a wooden box, with a Heavy Metal and progressive music, all with Chinese folk touches. Ballads and melodic flights gather to create a musical saga that is just as good as movies. Emotions succeed, each track is impossible to feel indifferent about. And I tirelessly await the announcement of a second chapter.
Deep Mountains (深山)
S/T • 2010
Before they changed for a more Post-Black Metal / Blackgaze sound, Deep Mountains was a band along the same lines as Zuriaake. This first album (or EP it depends) sounds more Black Metal and Folk than the album Afterimage of Autumn released three years before by Zuriaake. The atmosphere that is created here is not a pale imitation of Zuriaake’s album; it’s truly another way, a way that the band has not seen through yet.
血祭萨满 (Blood Sacrifice Shaman) • 2010
Here we are. Tengger Cavalry finally comes on, and this year Nature didn’t do things by half. Forget about the current melodic Tengger Cavalry, this opus is Black Metal. A Black Metal both primitive and Mongolian. Along with Mongolian horseriders’ battering, the guttural and overtone singings alternate, strengthening the warrior side of the music. This first album is far from the adventurous spirit of plains, from the poetry that inspires us vast stretches of meadows. Mongolians are at the gates of Beijing.
S/T • 2010
This project is especially known for being the one of Pest Productions’ founder, but not only. It’s also one of the firsts to explore Blackgaze music. Dopamine doesn’t only settle for Depressive Post-Black Metal: with only two tracks, the demo has become this style’s reference. The quality of the music offers refinement to feelings, everything is evocation.
Terminal Lost (天幕落)
卷贰 凤凰山 (Chapter II – Phoenix Mountains) • 2012
This second chapter opens with a folk and epic synth, Terminal Lost melodic Black Metal band’s second album. We have here a spectacular opus regarding its orchestrations. Captivating, it brings us through timeless stories, a fantasy saga just like a new Bal-Sagoth.
Screaming Savior (惊叫基督)
Infinity (宙海) • 2012
We keep going on melodic and symphonic music with this album from Screaming Savior, but in the direction of space. From symphonic parts stars open; space exploration and fascination for the universe. What’s better than symphonic style to embody this impressive feeling of size that space provides? Little bonus for the Metal Hell Records edition released the year after which contains an 8 bits version of ‘Across the Boundary of Cosmos’!
S/T • 2013
The second album from Nine Treasure founds a perfect balance between Metal and Folk music. After a first very-Metal-like album, and just before their more-Folk third one, this eponymous opus is the perfect harmony between these two universes. Mongolian tales come to life through the instruments and this singing coming from the plains.
英吉沙 (Yn Gizarm)
狼王 (For The Motherwolf) • 2013
Side-project of Bloodfire from Zuriaake, Yn Gizarm is what we could sum up as the Chinese Bathory. But it’s not simply a Chinese version of this band. Yn Gizarm accomplished the remarkable feat of sounding Chinese without using any folk instrument. It sounds Chinese because the very essence of this project, myths and legends, feed every riff of what comes out of this album.
Still Lifes • 2014
A few years after Dopamine, Blackgaze comes back with this first album from Asthenia. Nothing’s really innovative for the style, but there’s a quality in the composition, just like an offering to the night. It delivers a poetic Post-Black Metal / Blackgaze genre that will please the fans of this style.
摩天骑士 (City Rider) • 2015
Mongolia never ceases to inspire its children. The nomad city of Suld strikes hard with this first opus, along the same lines as Nine Treasure on a musical level, but Suld manages to be different from it by creating a ‘galloping’ effect through its music, and makes us experience every feeling of a Mongolian horserider.
Black Kirin (黑麒)
哀郢 (National Trauma) • 2015
Black Kirin… There is so much to say about this project, as every new album is a reference to a tragic event of Chinese History, massacre, traumatism of war. All in a melodic and symphonic Black Metal style matched with the delicacy of Beijing Opera. It is about two universes that shouldn’t have met but eventually create a unique style, warlike and refine.
Back to Cannibal World • 2015
We could have talked about Ululate much sooner, pioneer of Chinese Black Metal along with Ritual Day, which work on black arts since 2001. But it’s in 2015 with this album that, for me, the One-man band managed to follow a new dimension. It comes from a quite forgettable Raw Black Metal to a Blackned Death style with absolutely horrific Old-School sounds. Jiangshis come to life thanks to a dark and obscene Taoist magic, while the music becomes a morbid hymn. Truly a Chinese Death Metal masterpiece.
飛狐 • 2016
The alliance of Zuriaake, HolyArrow and Destruction of Redemption’s members, what else do you need? This EP was created in honor of the Extreme Metal editor, the first Chinese magazine about extreme Metal. It’s about the adaptation of a martial tale called ‘Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain’, written by Jin Yong. The opus is a contemplation of snowy landscapes from the North of China…
楚歌 (Song Of Chu)
炎凰 (Yanhuang) • 2016
The name of the band comes from a poetic anthology whose one part of the poems comes from the Chu kingdom and date back to the Warring Sates period. A source of inspiration like the band that mixes Folk Metal with the energy of Groove Metal. A perfect warlike soundtrack to come with your campaigns on Dynasty Warrior!
凤凰血 (Blood Of Phoenix) • 2016
After two albums on the average, ObscureDream releases Blood of Phoenix, an EP which radically changes from what has been done before. Of course their Black Metal is still melodic, but it is more warlike and features Chinese folk influences which offer a heroic dimension, close from epic.
The Seven Gates In Hell • 2016
History, legends, tales, it’s all well and good, but what about Satan? Metal remains the devil’s music and Hellfire keep on devoting its Black Thrash to him. Members are directly inspired from Japanese masters in the style of Sabbat. There’s nothing more. It’s Sabbat, but a Chinese one, and they do it well and it rocks.
Rise From The Mass Graves • 2017
Ancient Chinese history doesn’t stop from inspiring bands, but recent history is still history. Rupture goes through the 1911 Wuchang Uprising again, historical event behind the fall of Qing dynasty. It’s a Death Thrash tinged with Black Metal to talk about death, uprising and revolution.
Dream Spirit (夢靈)
General Triumphant (將·軍) • 2017
It’s the band’s second album, more accomplished, more folk, more epic, more Heavy! Forget about traditional Chinese folk, Dream Spirit makes us go through Chinese martial arts movies, where characters fight on bamboos and where knifes fly. Folk parts are directly inspired by these soundtracks whose folklore’s version is fantasist. Here is some stuff to dream about being a warrior in a China where magic is mankind’s everyday life.
烏木集 (Anthology Of Ebony) • 2017
If folk albums are usually from Inner Mongolia, Snowsedim is one of the rare bands of this style to play this genre without hybridizing it too much, and thus delivers a purely Chinese Folk Metal, all inspired by Han traditional culture and philosophy.
浊世 (The Mortal World)
三千大千世界 • 2017
While in France we have Deathspell Omega among Blut Aus Nord and other, what about China? Although the avant-garde scene is one of the less developed, there is The Mortal World. Just like this astral plane separated from Buddha’s world, this duo is an exception. It’s an album where the Black Ambient, Dark Ambient and Industrial sounds become a mystical creation.
Ruò Tán (若潭)
石 (Stone) • 2017
Ruò Tán, Enmity’s successor. The influence of this latter is clearly deliberated, but the artist explores new sides of the ‘ritual’, taking its inspirations from shamanic rites from North China. Each element serves the shaman who draws its magic with Black Metal, Drone, Noise and tribal music.
Celestial Descension • 2018
You like melodic and mystical Black Metal? Then you’ll like Black Reaper. The album is excellent, perfectly mastered, and manage to find its place among the giant of the style.
靖難 (Fight Back For The Fatherland) • 2018
HolyArrow is the ancient side of Rupture. It’s the epic Black Metal project of Schtarch. It’s also the opportunity to discover another culture, Hokkien culture. This people’s region has been the result of many confrontations. Cultural crossroads, it has been the stage of numerous battles which we are being told through a warlike Black Metal but that can also be more atmospheric.
森罗万象 (Shinrabansho) • 2018
This is one of the albums that made an impact on me the most in 2018, but also these past few years. When Post-Black Metal meets Buddhism spirituality. It’s an album where each track is a new chapter, a new world. A melancholic contemplation of the universe, Bliss-Illusion is in its center the crossroads of Depressive Rock, Post-Black Metal, Shoegaze and Buddhist music.
Minas Morgul • 2018
Tolkien doesn’t inspire the Occident only, the evidence being Krith Nazgul which in 2018 signed its first album. But far from Summoning, the band finds its inspiration directly from Hellhammer and Bathory’s Old-School Black Thrash Metal. No place for atmospheric landscapes, Mordor must conquer!
Hate Ka (怨灵)
S/T • 2019
After 14 years of waiting, Hate Ka, Tan Chong’s (Be Persecuted / Explosicum) side-project, finally released its first album and damn it was worth the shot! It has Black Metal swinging between melodic and raw and violent Thrash, all with a powerful Black Metal singing that alternate with more depressive parts; a perfect balance. What else could we ask for? The depressive part is not tearful; it’s a pure pack of hate. It sounds melodic but not unctuous, with this small touch of Thrash that makes it even more venomous.