MUSIC & ARTS Edited by Matthew Lamers (email@example.com)
The scene today Much of the current scene is divided between three demographics: the older fans, forced out of the scene due to societal restraints but still indulging in the odd show; the revolving door of younger kids who get in to practice their chops before getting sucked out to the familial pasture; and those who perpetually manage to walk the line between the two worlds. These gray-area metal fans are often easy to spot at concerts. For example, the sight of businessmen rushing into a Cannibal Corpse show straight from the office, ripping off their ties as they force their way down to the front of the pit. Alexander Nachtmahr, a German national who translates for visiting bands, shares the sentiment: “Whenever I go to a rock bar, I am bound to see a drunk 40-year-old company employee in a suit rocking out to Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller.’” The club Sapiens 7 is, for all intents and purposes, ground zero of the metal scene in the Republic of Korea. The owner, Dosu Kim — the aforementioned main creative force behind the black metal band Oathean — is also the owner of the metal label Jusin Productions and a major promoter for international metal bands playing in the ROK. There are smaller, regional scenes in places such as Busan, with clubs such as OZ and Realize holding genre-specific shows, and a smattering of places in Daegu and Daejeon. When it comes to metal shows in Korea, there is a great divide in the scale of the concerts. On one hand, you have the mega-festivals, usually held at the same time at the beginning of August with a couple of big metal acts lumped in with a hodge-podge of other genres. These are often promotional events hosted by credit card companies, meaning the corporate branding opportunity far outweighs the sponsor’s concern for actual ticket sales. On the other hand, you have a handful of smaller venues around Seoul such as Rolling Hall, Sangsangmadang, V-Hall, Club Prism and AX Hall. These clubs draw from a dozen bands, mostly domestic, plus the occasional headliner, and create events like the annual Asia Metalfest, which has become a yearly ritual for many. Alternatively, they’ll sometimes pull a big name from overseas and showcase them on their own at prices that can get prohibitively expensive, often nearing 100,000 won a head. Some of the better-known acts currently playing are Oathean, along with Dark Mirror ov Tragedy, who similarly play an atmospheric black metal style. The thrash and death portion of the metal spectrum is represented by Mahatma, Sacrifice, Method, Imperial Domination, Downhell and Seed. Operatic and power metal are quite popular here, such as notable acts Silent Eye and Ishtar. Of course, any scene burgeoning with teenagers these days is going to have its share of metal-core bands: Remnants of the Fallen, Noeasy and Vasseline being some of the most popular. What is striking about the different styles represented at a gathering of Korean metal bands is that they tend to all be sub-genres dedicated to speed and technical complexity. For fans of doom, psychedelic and sludge, the absence of the groove and slow riffs that these forms of metal music provide will be apparent. In addition, while scene divisions between punks and metal-heads in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the West have been mostly left behind, there seems to be very little overlap here in Seoul.
76 www.groovekorea.com / January 2014
The bassist of Dark Mirror ov Tragedy, Confyverse, thinks
it boils down to the issues that plague the scene as a whole. “Put simply, this, too, results from the lack of diversity and the absence of infrastructure,” he says. “Also, the bands playing death or thrash have been doing it a long time, so it seems easier for bands of a similar nature to start playing too.” B5NG agrees that it’s simply a numbers issue. “It’s not that those genres don’t exist here, but rather that there are just fewer bands to work with,” he says. Concerning the relative independence of the punk and metal communities from each other, Confyverse explains: “They were introduced separately. Had they mutually developed with each other, there would be more intermingling.” Choe says that in smaller cities like Daejeon, the scenes have no choice but to coexist out of necessity. Things in the capital seem to be changing slightly, particularly with bands like Skald, the lo-fi black metal purists who frequently play shows with crust punk acts such as Doekkabi Assault. “Some Korean bands like Christfuck or especially Heuhyeomsaw (Black Goat), they’re pure black metal,” says Nikolai Protopopov, a Ukrainian metal-head playing in the Seoul punk band Assassination Squad. “I invited a friend to our last show, promising him it was punk and not metal. Afterwards he asked me, ‘If that wasn’t metal, then what the hell was it?’ Also, there are bars like 3 Thumbs which are having mix-ticket shows now.” Indeed, last December a bar named Thunderhorse (named after a Dethklok song) opened in the international district of Itaewon. The owner, Kirk Kwon, has made a point of booking shows from a mixed bag of styles. “I have a lot of friends from the different camps,” he says. “I see the scene as a whole getting stronger and more unified. I really hope that it does because there is really a lot of talent here.” Korea boasts an underground full of a variety of styles and awesome creativity, though much of the world received their first taste of Korean musical output via the international notoriety of “Gangnam Style,” and through it the realm of K-pop as a whole. Confyverse thinks that metal doesn’t get the support from Korea’s institutions that K-pop enjoys because it isn’t as easy to digest. Nachtmahr describes K-pop in a much less flattering light. According to him, it’s an “industrial product with no artistic value or content.” Dosu Kim was far more succinct: “Simply put, fuck you.”
Groove is Korea's English magazine for Insight, Travel, Culture, Dining and Shopping