China has amassed a rich catalogue of black metal artists since the emergence of early bands such as Ritual Day and Zuriaake. The artists within the country by no means stick to convention, with those two examples pushing folklore and traditional instruments into their musical output. It’s unsurprising, then, that the relatively new paradigm shift in black metal – either going post – or adding shoegaze dynamics, has also been adopted by the country's artists.
Like the many atmospheric or depressive one-man bands across the world, the Chinese acts are just studio projects. Songyang Liu of Shaanxi Province’s Rusty Lake says, "Although we wanted to bring the songs to the stage, suitable musicians are not so easy to find, so we only write songs and record them."
Though the creation process is an isolated one, there is support for these bands in the form of labels like Pest Productions, who promote and release albums by established artists in the scene as well as material from artists making their debut to the world.
Lyrically, the bleak nature of the lyrical content seen in post-black mental lends itself well to these artists, as Liu says, "The Chinese tend to appreciate the beauty of the implicit."
As for what drove these artists to push beyond the limits of conventional black metal for something vaguer, foggier and moodier, the influences don't just come from the expected names of Alcest and Deafheaven. Some are influenced by their neighbours in Japan such as post-black/hardcore bands Asunojokei and Heaven In Her Arms.
This handful of albums are produced by the new wave of Chinese black metal artists who are taking the style post-your expectations of the genre.
Asthenia (虚症) – Nucleation (Pest Productions)
Asthenia (虚症) formed in Beijing in 2014. The particular sound they produce is a sparkling, dreamy brand of post-black/blackgaze full of colourful guitar work, which, when mixed with roared black metal vocals, feels more naturalistic and less contrived than many of the bands who attempt the hybrid style. Nucleation is their second album, released in 2017. The lone musician Asthen composed the tracks, with the female vocal parts which come up out of the churning mist were done by Yiti. The vocal style certainly screams post-black, though prog metal and even djent elements shine on this album as well, with some of the dual male/female vocal parts recalling Devin Townsend’s late 2000s records. However, comparisons to other albums simply won’t do Nucleation justice. Their earlier work, Still Lifes, is another gem of the genre, while their latest release, Aisa, is slightly less black metal but still spellbinding.
Bliss-Illusion – 森罗万象 Shinrabansho (Infected Blood Records/Anesthetize Productions)
Led by the multifaceted Dryad, Beijing’s Bliss-Illusion have been mystifying fans of post-black and blackgaze since 2016. They have combined sacred and esoteric elements to form Buddhist-inspired blackgaze on their debut album 森罗万象 Shinrabansho. The skies of progressive metal haven’t been navigated quite like Bliss-Illusion do whilst riding the phoenix into unexplored realms on this album. Comparisons could of course be made, with Agalloch being a main one, though the Buddhist atmosphere seen in Bliss Illusion’s work is a trait that allows the band to stand out. While they haven’t released a follow-up full-length yet, vocalist Dryad’s Tassi album as well as Bliss Illusion’s new single, the 13-minute ”否世” (Mukti) are new waves of blackened incense permeating the musical airwaves.
Dopamine – Dying Away in the Deep Fall (Pest Productions)
Melancholy has never felt so sweet as with Dopamine’s one and only full-length album, Dying Away In The Deep Fall. After the release of their Dopamine EP in 2010, the band split – but came together once again in 2019 to record this proper full length – with re-recorded versions of the moody, inquisitive instrumental tracks seen on the debut along with three more songs. The band know when the sound of a shriek is appropriate – and they take their sweet time before the first one is heard at 16 minutes in. Whether you call it shoegaze, blackgaze, or post-black metal, the quality of Dopamine’s effort here speaks for itself. These are finely constructed songs that provoke a kaleidoscope of emotions within the listener.
Deep Mountains – Lake of Solace (Pest Productions)
From Shandong Province, the four-piece atmospheric/post black metal/blackgaze band Deep Mountains have had a prolific career since their emergence in 2010, influencing much of the post-black scene today. With Lake of Solace, the band conjures scenes of the Chinese countryside and the tranquil beauty of a still lake. Lake of Solace shows that the band is all about the power of dynamics – the album is extremely harmonious, but doesn’t back down on the distortion and shrieks one would associate with black metal. “Lake of Solace Pt. 1” brings to mind the acoustic tracks of Opeth, and “Sin” creates a sense of anticipation with building quiet parts before exploding into darkly tranquil post-black passages and then coming back down again. This is one trek into the Deep Mountains worth telling future generations about.
Reverie Noire – Winter Requiem (Pest Productions)
Reverie Noire is a solo post/atmospheric black metal project from Beijing that is currently based in London. The eponymous member emerged in 2017 and after some prep time, Winter Requiem was released two years later. The album was written and produced while Reverie Noire was studying in Australia, with the winter landscape of Tasmania particularly influencing the “world’s end” feel of the album. The sound is cold, open, and otherworldly, often feeling as if trapped in a musical reverie. The songs go in many unexpected and exciting directions, often featuring spoken passages by guest vocalist Alice Defania. Reverie Noire claims that this will be the starting point for him to narrate his epic dream tales, and is a starting point for further plunges into more of his subconscious requiems.
Rustylake – 肖 Shaw (Pest Productions)
This band’s name was inspired by the David Lynchian Cube Escape game series, which was produced by the company Rusty Lake. This post/atmospheric black metal band was formed in 2018, with this first release emerging from the depths in early 2021. As for the band’s aesthetic and atmosphere, Rustylake have been compared to Alcest, though add their own touch on 肖 Shaw with melodies mingling with banshee cries and monologues. It’s a concept album revolving around the ending of relationship between two characters – Shaw and Luo. It doesn't end well. In a fit of grief and helplessness, Shaw ends up giving his sweet Luo a murky ending.
景湖白 / Scenery Of Pale Lake – 清醒的人格分裂景湖白 / Lucid Schizophrenia (Pest Productions)
景湖白 is a Guangdong-based one-man atmospheric black metal project founded in 2013. 清醒的人格分裂 / Lucid Schizophrenia is his debut album, which took seven years to see a proper finish. Depicting a claw emerging from the depths of a lake and a lone tent perched by the shore, the album cover brings to mind a monster slasher film. Frightening and confusing at times, the album is filled with obscure atmospheres, vocals that sound like a mouth full of leeches, and lurching melodies that could have come from an Italian giallo film.
Tassi (水树) – Northland I • II (北之国 I • II ) (Anesthetize Productions)
From the esoteric mind of Bliss Illusion’s frontman Dryad, comes an epic double album that travels through time and space in a semi-romantic but completely mystical journey with Northland I • II (北之国 I • II ). The storyline of the album revolves around Tassi searching for his lover, named Uni, who is his faith personified. The mysterious dimensions travelled, and the language spoken throughout the album are both unique to Tassi. The music itself, while lighter than Bliss Illusion, is just as exploratory, sounding like Sigur Rós at times. Dryad has said of the album, “Uni has surpassed the embodiment of mankind in Tassi’s heart. She is his indestructible belief. They will meet on a farther and better journey. Dedicated to my most precious illusions.”