Interview: Ripped to Shreds on Making Angry, Chinese Death Metal

The next great band to come from Bay Area, Ripped To Shreds, have delivered a mighty first statement for new label Relapse Records. Their album, 劇變 (Jubian), out now via Relapse Records, draws upon the famed West Coast styles (punk, thrash, Autopsy, grindcore) to deliver the year’s god damn best death metal album. Keep in mind, we’re talking about a band named Ripped to Shreds. We’re not talking about gently pulling apart. This is very violent, vicious stuff, and it will be a gleeful experience for fans of the sound who are steeped in the history and humor.

“I think death metal is inherently a little bit ridiculous,” guitarist and vocalist Andrew Lee acknowledges. “You’re going on stage windmilling long hair around in circles while screaming about murdering people. That in itself is already pretty ridiculous. And I think it’s impossible to not find some kind of humor in that. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of bands that take themselves a little too seriously, especially when it comes to, like, occult or mysticism, all that black metal bullshit. You know, I’m drawn a little more towards bands like Sabbath or even Immortal because they can find the humor in what they’re doing. Because it’s a little bit ridiculous.”

Lee finds the obvious levity in the style of music they play but that doesn’t quite translate to a humorous record, save for maybe the funniest chorus not in a Metalocalypse record, “Split Apart by Five Chariots.” 

“Approaching the subject matter on this record, I don’t know if I would call it frustration,” Lee explains. “I would say that from the start, I always had an idea for what sort of themes the band should address and for presenting an Asian-American point of view in a genre that’s (generally) super white, that’s always been part of what I want to do with the band. I think that 劇變 (Jubian) is just kind of is a natural continuation of what I was doing from day one.”

劇變 (Jubian) very much is and sounds like a coming out party for Lee, where the band are ripping to shreds the frustration he sees in the world around him. It doesn’t hurt that Lee has a love of gory horror movies, so his combination of Chinese battles, historical events, and mythology is splattered with more than enough viscera to please any death metal fan. 

“I mean, obviously, the way we present ourselves and the things that we write about are, it’s pretty obvious we’re not white,” Lee elaborates. “And it’s a little bit frustrating how often—It is funny, it’s like a meme—We’ve been mistaken for a Japanese band so many times I can’t even count. I definitely think with this new record, we kind of want to (get out in front of it). I told Relapse on the hype sticker for the vinyl record, I want it to say ‘Chinese death metal’ because if they see that, then they can’t really mess it up, I hope.”

The band teamed up yet again with Chinese artist Guang Yang to create another gorgeous and evocative statement of intent. The statue on the cover is the Taiwanese sea goddess Mazu, a motif I noticed in the recently horrifying (yet awesome) Taiwanese film The Sadness, which pairs masterfully with the politically savvy lyrics Lee pens through their magnum opus. Lee does note that his mere existence is political, but he has a humorous reason to have the energy to fight the good fight. We talked about how many Chinese Americans feel they need to be silent to fit in.

“That’s definitely true. That’s absolutely true,” he concurs. “And that’s part of what I talk about. Because, like, ’Race Traitor’ is specifically about how, especially when it comes to mainland China, it’s difficult for, I think, Chinese people in the U.S. to really criticize China in any way. Because when we do, it’s kind of like—Then other Americans are like, ‘Oh I have a Chinese friend who hates China. It’s totally normal for us to say all sorts of horrible things about Chinese people in the country.’”

“So, even though we might have these kinds of thoughts in our heads, we can’t really talk about them because, whether we like it or not, we are representative of our entire race in this country, and I think at least my impression of talking about other minorities in America is that they also have a similar kind of feeling.”

“I think it’s just an unfortunate truth,” he continues, “that for minorities in any country, that their existence is automatically kind of political. And I do see a lot of minorities who are like, ‘No, I’m not political. I don’t want to talk about that.’ And, you know, I get it because just existing is frustrating enough. They don’t want to have to discuss this stuff all the time. But I’m kind of like a cave goblin; I don’t go outside. So I have the energy to talk about it (laughs).”

The album title is translated to “upheaval,” and the breaking visible on the album cover is literally and figuratively represented through this powerful death metal record. Whether it’s chariots, saws, bombs, or throngs of people, violence is as violence does. 

Is there any positive transformation?

“Unfortunately, I think it’s a lot more pessimistic,” he answers. “I think Jubian for me is ultimately a pretty pessimistic outlook. We’ve seen the world kind of go to shit even more than it normally is, you know? Personally, I don’t feel that much hope, so I can’t really call it a hopeful record. You know, it’s dirty; it’s hateful and disgusting. Those are kind of the words I would use to describe it.”

Follow the band here.

Photo courtesy of Greg Goudey 

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