When metal label Relapse Records expressed an interest in signing Ripped to Shreds, Andrew Lee felt the pressure.
More specifically, he remembers feeling: “Oh shit, I actually have to write a whole record now.”
And so came one of 2022’s best metal albums, 劇變 (Jubian). Released last month, 劇變 (Jubian) is both a strong encapsulation of death metal music and a notable departure from the genre’s rigid tropes.
The two previous Ripped to Shreds albums were solo affairs, with Lee handling all songwriting and instrumentation. This time, Ripped to Shreds was bolstered with new members attuned to the cause in Ryan (bass, from Oakland’s Doomsday) and Brian (drums, from San Jose’s Spinebreaker), making up the band’s powerful rhythm section.
Recorded in late 2021, 劇變 (Jubian) was self-produced and mixed by Lee.
“We recorded everything in my home studio. It’s the Weeb Dungeon, got a bunch of anime [paraphernalia] down here—maybe 17×20 with 12 foot high ceilings, acoustic panels,” Lee says, describing the space’s humble vibe.
“We’re basically a standard death metal band,” he declares, citing Bolt Thrower, Asphyx and Hail of Bullets as main influences. However, Ripped to Shreds’ output is also an obvious break from the norm—there are Chinese characters in the song titles, culturally inspired album art (courtesy of Chinese artist Guang Yang) and song themes.
“I grew up speaking Mandarin, I’m exposed to all sorts of Chinese cultural practices,” Lee says, “as for Chinese history… I have to go back and do research in order to write about it authentically.”
As with previous albums, the band’s newest deals with China’s past, war atrocities, martial arts novels and other things related to Chinese (and American) history. The spirit of the genre remains intact, arguably more vibrant than ever, only with different roots and a willful deviation from Western points of view.
劇變 (Jubian) also features some of the most visceral, cathartic and fully realized death metal songwriting of recent memory. There is much dramatic tension in Lee’s thoughtfully composed guitar parts, his fretwork astounding with virtuosic chops and harmonized lead lines. Equally impressive is his vocal range, as his shrieks and bellows reverberate and rise above the frenetic mix. Brian and Ryan, coming from hardcore backgrounds, provide an indestructible spine, vacillating between intense blasting, punk beats, and doomed-out crawls.
“If you write death metal it has to be about something painful and negative and aggressive,” Lee says, citing the genre’s main tenet.
There is a wealth of material that Ripped to Shreds mines in this regard.
Second track “Split Apart (by Five Chariots)” embodies Lee’s musical ambitions. “Aggressive riffs with a ton of punk D-beats…that song represents my headspace of the last couple years,” he says.
Track five, “Race Traitor,” has more specific, current concerns. Sonically, the track is more melodic, with a melancholic refrain and an emphasis on harmonized leads. Thematically, it tackles the double consciousness that Asian Americans—or any minority in the US—face, and the difficulty of speaking out about your own community when it could further harm its reputation. “When we talk about problems in our own community it’s so easy for white Americans to turn that against us,” Lee says.
Together, the album presents a bleak, cathartic vision. “劇變 (Jubian)” means downfall. It is, Lee clarifies, “an expression of negativity… we’ve got global warming, rampant capitalism destroying the Earth, the rise of right-wing nationalism all over… it’s a pessimistic statement about the world.”
In today’s cultural landscape, there is indeed much to despair over, what with daily atrocities repeated endlessly right alongside disingenuous corporate language in our feeds. Ripped to Shreds recognize this and plow through regardless.
“We can’t wait for them to just hand us stuff, we have to be able to do it ourselves from the ground up.”
Ripped to Shreds