Shangren – Warriors of Devastation [EP] – 2/5
I always thought it a great shame that so much folk metal seemed to concentrate on the realm of Celtic or Nordic folk, though since this is where metal is most predominant is not all that surprising. It's why when I first heard of a band combining traditional Chinese Folk with Metal that my ears pricked up; Chinese Folk is one of those styles I've always wished I knew more about but information and artists always seem scarce. China's feudal years and turbulent history of discovery, invention, and in recent years their communist ideology ostracising them from much of the world (a situation not helped by the Chinese government's strict regulation on the media) has always seemed a perfect playground for Metal music; their folk often dealing with stories of battles or the strife within the many warlords ranks; of sorrow or great bravery displayed by legends. It has aggression, emotion, passion and historical stories all ready to be used by the first person with the initiative; it's a progressive metal musicians wet dream, which is why the fact that they play Death Metal was the first hint that I should be concerned.
But not one to be deterred I ploughed on head first well aware that they may well come up with something unique, being the first band – to my knowledge – to fuse two such styles of music, but a little unsure what to really make of the output I strike upon my second point of worry; the fact that they are Australian. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he had little knowledge of Chinese Folk music at all; the two most prominent instruments employed being the Dizu, often used to great effect designed to mimic the range of a human voice and display a powerful sense of emotion here is instead played like a standard keyboard (which is less surprising when you realise that it actually is just a keyboard mimicking its sound), and the pipa, a sort of Chinese banjo which doesn't exactly fare much better. At it's best it lends a gimmicky slant to the tone of the track at hand, at it's worst it comes across as racist, like some short passage “South Park” would use, and is offensive to the style of Folk it tries to employ.
I might have been able to forgive such haphazard and thoughtless consideration for the musical style they're trying to incorporate if the rest of their compositional abilities were able to compensate, but even in getting the basics right they seem to fall short. The drums sound flat and sterile, which would only be more frustrating if it ever sounded like they were doing anything interesting but as it is they're relegated to the back of the mix for what I can only assume was for a good reason. The rest of music consists of plodding, chord sequences atop mediocre growls, often lacking in a sense of aggression or power so sound far too breathy, at their best when sporting their deepest tones yet at their worst when he forgets that he's not meant to singing cleanly (that was just plain awful). Worse than all of this is the lack of consistency; it's like a bad and uninspired death metal band that occasionally remembered mid-song that that they had a keyboard that could mimic a couple of Chinese instruments. That the tracks shift between suddenly containing “folk” melodies and not is the final nail in this bands coffin. I still think mixing Chinese Folk with Metal could create some fascinating material, but not like this.
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 26 March 2012