Rising Korean Extreme Metal with a British Flavour - Ross Baker
Hailing from Busan, South Korea and featuring a Canadian on drums and a British-born vocalist of Polish and Jamaican descent, Fatalfear’s slamming melodic death metal has a truly international flavour. It’s one thing to come up as an underground act who were fortunate enough to land that big gig supporting a metal sensation but it is quite another to have achieved such a milestone in a country where the metal scene is virtually unknown other than to the artists which operate within it.
“Music T.V. doesn’t feature much metal”, vocalist Ed explains, “usually just on special programmes. Most metalheads in Korea download the music they want to hear!” Having supported luminaries such as Arch Enemy in Korea, they have a growing fanbase and are hungry to make their mark on the international music scene. Singer Ed Campbell comments on the fertile underground scene in South Korea.
“There are so many amazingly heavy and awesome bands here. Some are becoming quite popular. So many genres; everything from brutal death, thrash and grindcore to traditional heavy metal, doom and Gothic. There is a great scene here with bands like Mahatma, Crash, Mara, as well as Method, Derrick, To My Last Breath, Oathean, Lazarus Vendetta and Axcutor to name a few.”
Being a Brit in a foreign land can be tough especially if you’re a member of a band of different nationalities. Is there a language barrier?
“Not really. Our drummer is Canadian and our guitarists speak very good English so if our bass player doesn’t understand something they can communicate with each other. Metal surpasses all boundaries. In a country divided by politics and the threat of war from the north, it’s full of great people who love their metal.”
Active since 2004, things really came together last year when singer Ed rejoined the fold as vocalist following the departure of frontman Wan-U (who now fronts hardcore band Gwamegi). With Campbell the band recorded an E.P. “Apocalyptic Crusade” and played their biggest gig to date supporting the mighty Arch Enemy in front of one and a half screaming metal fans in the South Korean capital Seoul. Ed relates.
“Originally I heard Arch Enemy was coming over and I immediately contacted Angela Gossow and was directed to the tour manager. I was actually trying to get another band on the bill. It was an amazing experience. Watching the Amott Brothers’ sound check with Daniel Erlandsson and Sharlee D'Angelo...well, it was pretty awesome.”
I wondered what that could do for the career and confidence of an act.
“It definitely got our band better known across Korea. We had already been hard at work touring but it opened the doors for us to do bigger shows.”
2010 has seen the addition of Canadian-born drummer Kirk Martin to the fold as well as the band gaining a slot on the UK-based compilation “Microblast 2”, which was their first release on these shores.
“It happened over MySpace and was organized by our Korean band members. It was great to start to dip the toe back in the waters of home and we hope to have something else out again very soon.”
South Korea has produced fewer bands than the Japanese and Chinese metal scenes have spawned. I wanted to know if Ed felt that this was changing.
“I would say the scenes may be comparable to those in the know! Still, East Asia is coated in a plastic pop veneer for the most part, so it’s very hard to break through. There are many hard working bands here that deserve more attention but don’t have access to the media in the way artists do in the west.”
It’s been an eventful year since Fatalfear released “Apocalyptic Crusade”. I want to know what’s next for the band's recorded output and what has influenced the new material.
“Our lead songwriter, JinSu, has taken a step back to allow for our other guitarist MinYong to exercise his own brand of melody. We are trying to combine traditional Korean melodies with heavy guitars. We are influenced by acts like Machine Head, Fear Factory, The Haunted and Pantera but we want to combine that with a more eastern sound. We usually get the basic tracks recorded with some synthesized drums then work on it in the jam room until we’re happy. After that we record as a full band. Meanwhile, I work on lyrics and record them once the music is complete.”
“Apocalyptic Crusade” was a soundtrack to a zombie apocalypse. Is that a theme Fatalfear will be running with or will they choose to explore other themes next time?
“That E.P. was a lot of fun. I have been writing lyrics for the new album, which may, or may not feature re-recorded tracks. But, I have been toying with a few ideas. I am interested in incorporating philosophy, sociology, linguistics, art and history (Korean and worldwide)...while keeping it interesting. So, it's gonna be hard work!”
When can we expect to see the release of a full length album from FatalFear?
“Well we have a bunch of tracks ready as our guitarists are some hard working guys. So, we are currently half way through the 'slightly delayed' writing process and soon-to-be initiated recording process. We hope for it to be done and out by the end of the year! The delay was down to line-up changes and being busy with other things like day jobs, our label, the nightclub we run and marriages!”
Ah yes the label. Realize Records, an imprint founded by Jin-Su to release the works of local artists from the Busan area which is now branching out to sign artists from locations such as Indonesia, Sweden and Germany.
“The goals of Realize Records Korea are to help promote and produce independent music. As our tag-line says, ‘real music, for real people, by real musicians’. I think it speaks for itself, but without becoming too negative about the mainstream, it's just intended to be a chance for artists to make music regardless of where they are from and we hope they either stay with us, so the company may grow, or that we help them in being noticed by their dream label. We offer a special non-binding contract to assure that the artist comes first, which is not how it usually goes.”
What with running their own label and a night club “Club Realize”, which doubles as a venue for local acts to display their musical wares, this busy group of D.I.Y. Metallers have a lot on their plates. I ask Ed how the club came about.
“Club Realize was started simply as we were getting noise complaints in our old two practice room, one recording room studio (under a school). So we moved to the new 5th floor location and decided to make a venue with a small recording room in the back and allow bands to continue practising, if they want to, using the stage on weekends before opening. This dedicated venue is one of a handful in Korea and the only one in Busan for rock, punk and metal. As with the label, we wanted to help bands we liked get more shows in Busan.”
As to what metal can do for young Koreans Campbell muses; “metal allows Koreans to break out of the mould of plastic pop music and the rigid conventions of society.”
This is a country which, despite its pleasant lifestyle for many, is still shadowed by the threat of nuclear attack from their neighbours. If metal can serves as a beacon of hope to the rest of us it then Korea is no different. Serve your senses and confront your Fatalfear.
Fatalfear - Ross Baker