They say you should write with your audience in mind. I’ve never fully understood that. If anything, the audience should be treated with a healthy dose of contempt. All things should. Government. Vapid celebrities. Anti-vaxxers. The entire grim morass deserving of little more than naked antipathy and unveiled skepticism.
Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri wasn’t thinking of the critics wet lips puckered against his backside when he was singeing petroleum byproducts and melting PVC in the name of eccentric abstraction. Nor should metal bands be dreaming of being critical darlings when they seek to achieve the equivalent with their music.
Grindcore has always been the aural equivalent of Burri. Something that was never meant to be understood, but nevertheless can lead those who are willing to go through its wonderful cacophonous suffering to a higher level of understanding of this confounding world.
Photo courtesy of chang lang, brutal wei and rex ho
For nigh on a decade Taipei four piece grind act Ashen has been blasting away at the conventions of modern metal by adhering to the original grindcore aesthetics birthed by the likes of early Swans and Repulsion. A sound so grating, antisocial and full of contempt it almost sought rejection in the way the predecessor punk rock did during the brief window prior to its inevitable commercialization.
It hasn’t been easy for Ashen, flying the grind flag all but solo since 2007 (save for compatriots in filth Brain Corrosion) in a scene that trends far to the commercial end of the spectrum. Politically conscious from the outset, the band melded hardcore punk’s uncompromising lyrical aggression with a focused and blasting intensity into a sound always a dropped beat away from running off the tracks.
Through numerous lineup changes and subsequent prolonged absences guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter Bruce Chen (陳威豪) managed to keep bringing Ashen back just when people thought they might have gone away. And every time they came back, the razor’s edge was always a few microns sharper, the sound just that much more intense, the lyrics noticeably more pissed off.
A split with Usepentosing (用筆來唱歌), an EP (H1N1) and a single comprised the band’s catalog up to 2012, the elusive full-length left out of reach by lineup instabilities wrought by the usual pitfalls suffered by bands in Taiwan (military service, familial pressure/filial piety guilt trips about taking an iron bowl job and joining the suit and tie army).
Finally, in May of last year, the long-awaited full-length debut saw the light of day. The World Is Not Ours, 19 tracks of blistering grind inferno stoked by righteous sociopolitical rage and the frustrations of a decade spent clawing against that crippling societal expectations of what makes a person worthy in the eyes of the moral gatekeepers. Those who keep the bulk of the population (here and everywhere) safely ensconced in the warm cocoon of the milquetoast middle.
Now with a stable drummer in place for the first time in years, Ashen is poised to lead a new generation of abstract expressionists (grindcore/death metal/ black metal bands) away from the commercial tendencies of the predominant (and largely redundant) sects of deathcore and metalcore.
Tomorrow night four such acts will come together on a single bill, leaders and new jacks in a sub-sect of the scene running as far and fast as they can from the popularity contest the Taiwan underground seems perpetually in danger of becoming.
Necroabbot (previously Bitch Finder) plays a brand of blackened D-beat metal punk so filthy it could have crawled up out of the cooling towers of the Lungmen nuclear power plant. Band leader, guitarist Spike Yang (楊凱勝), is without doubt one of the most potent and volatile riff lords of the scene, and has been through a multitude of projects running the entire extreme gauntlet for well over a decade.
There was a time when black metal had a strong foothold in Taiwan (relatively speaking). Bands like South of Heaven, Inferno Requiem, Hades, and Blair Witch (the former two Yang also played with) did what Ashen has done for grind in the country, carrying a small movement of a dedicated few.
All of those bands gradually fell by the wayside, with only Inferno Requiem left standing, but now Armed Judas has picked up the raw black metal torch and held it high early on in their career. The band is coming off an impressive opening slot for Polish blackened death titans Behemoth, and seems to be on the verge of leading the charge for a new brand of Taiwanese extremity wholly unconcerned with broad appeal or critical plaudits.
Rounding out the bill is newcomer death-thrash band Iron Fist (鐵拳). With just a handful of live shows under their bullet belts since making their debut last September, the band is already playing with a level of confidence and poise beyond their years.
The common denominator — none of these bands plays, writes or composes with the audience in mind. They do so with the lifeblood of Burri and Justin Broadrick flowing through their veins. They seek the dirge. The inexplicable. The deliberately misunderstood. They are Taiwan’s new abstract expressionists — the one true threat.
■ Ashen, Necroabbot, Armed Judas and Iron Fist play tomorrow at Revolver, 1-2 Roosevelt Road, Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市中正區羅斯福路一段1-2號). Tickets are NT$300 at the door and include a drink. Doors open at 7:30pm and bands take the stage at 8pm.
Taimali Township (太麻里) is about 15km south of Jhihben Township (知本) in Taitung County, a glorious ride along the electric blue Pacific coastline. Having spent several days scouting out the upper reaches of the Jhihben River gorge for possible camera trap locations for Formosan clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa), a friend and I decided to explore the next river drainage to the south. The Taimali River gorge is yet another remote and relatively unknown wilderness area of Taitung County that has likely never been properly surveyed for wildlife, and this is certainly the second place that I plan to search for
Taiwan is a crowded country. The average home is small. Farmers tend fields which, by North American standards, are tiny. At the same time, the pace of life is fast. Rushing from A to B, it’s easy to miss some of Taiwan’s smaller attractions. None of the three manmade curiosities described in this article justifies going hours out of your way, but if you’re passing nearby, you won’t regret stopping to take a look at any of them. SHALU’S NOSTALGIC PAINTINGS Shalu’s Nostalgic Paintings (沙鹿懷舊彩繪), also known as Meiren Borough Painted Village (美仁里彩繪村), is a set of colorful artworks depicting Taiwan
In the introduction to his new manual on how to live a meaningful life, Jordan Peterson sets the tone by recounting the hellish sequence of health crises that afflicted his family during 2019 and last year. They included his wife’s diagnosis with a rare and usually lethal form of kidney cancer, and his own downward spiral from severe anxiety and dangerously low blood pressure into benzodiazepine dependency and an acute withdrawal response, near total insomnia, pneumonia in both lungs, and “overwhelming thoughts of self-destruction,” culminating in his waking from a medically induced coma in a Russian intensive care unit with
March 8 to March 14 Forty-five years after her husband was executed in front of the Chiayi Railway Station, 93-year-old Chang Chieh (張捷) was still terrified to discuss what happened. She wasn’t the only one; for decades few dared to speak of the 228 Incident of 1947, an anti-government uprising that was violently suppressed. As wife of the famous painter Chen Cheng-po (陳澄波), Chang is one of the better known widows of the 228 Incident, and not just because of her husband’s name. She calmly retrieved Chen’s body, had someone snap a photo of the corpse and secretly