Korean post-rockers Jambinai are putting the Seoul back into prog

Jambinai, from left: Eun Youg Sim, Ilwoo Lee and Bomi Kim.

“There aren’t many progressive bands in Korea,” says Jambinai’s guitarist and chief writer Ilwoo Lee. “There are fewer venues nowadays, and less people go to shows than before.”

It’s a shame their homeland’s missing out, because the rest of the world is picking up on the band’s striking sound. So far they’ve played a run of festivals including SXSW, Glastonbury, Roskilde and France’s Hellfest, their biggest show to date. As we speak, they’re touring Europe.

With influences ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Mogwai to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Jambinai fuse experimental post-rock with traditional Korean folk instruments. Lee met fellow founder members Bomi Kim and Eun Youg Sim while they were studying traditional music at Korea’s National University Of Arts in Seoul. They wanted to communicate with a wider audience than their arcane field would allow, so amped up the rock element.

Their uncompromising 2012 debut album Différance won them the Best Crossover Album trophy at the Korean Music Awards, and the new follow-up, Hermitage, might be the most angry, unsettling and inspired work you’ll hear this year. “Many people expect a typical Eastern sound from us,” says Lee, “but we’d rather people just listen and enjoy without any stereotypes.”

Along with the atmospheric, heavy guitars and huge bass and drums, Lee plays the piri, a Korean bamboo flute that can emit notes of shrieking, cat-in-a-bag urgency. Kim plays the haegum, a bowed, fiddle-like instrument that acts like a vocalist in parts, and Sim sits at the geomungo, a zither whose history twangs right back to the fourth century.

Their subject matter only adds to the material’s doomy power. They Keep Silence was inspired by the 2014 MV Sewol Ferry disaster and – as the band perceive it – the government’s collusive silence in its aftermath. Deus Benedicat Tibi draws on a traditional piece of music written for the king. “We have the world’s highest suicide rate,” says Lee. “The song expresses a person who overcomes all hardship and suffering.

I dedicate it to the people who live in pain, to say, ‘You are the king in your own life.’”

Hermitage is out on Bella Union. See earthbeat.nl.

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Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.