Want some death metal? Because I have some damn death metal for you. If the name didn’t give it away, this is pure, uncut, genre-perfect stuff made in 2018, but seemingly time capsuled in from 1990. The kicker? It’s all made by one guy. Andrew Lee performs on all instruments which, considering the effort that went into each element, is quite astonishing. Under the name Ripped to Shreds, Lee gives us Mai-Zang, an unadulterated and gruesome nightmare romp through the heyday of death metal that’s a must-listen for fans of that genre.
The word ‘Entombedcore’ can be found in the tags on the album’s Bandcamp page and while that’s a quick and cheeky way to describe the sound, you’d be ignorant to write Mai-Zang off on that alone. Sure, this is grimy old-school death metal at its core, but Lee’s prowess goes past his one-man mastery of that sound. He knows exactly what his potential audience wants to hear in order to attract us as listeners, down to the menacingly macabre artwork by Skaðvaldur. Bottom line is, yes, if you like Entombed, you’ll like Ripped to Shreds, but there’s more than meets the eye.
This album is all coated in a layer of grime and fuzz, which makes sense because the density of tones for this death metal aesthetic have some parallels with the sludgiest of metal. Guitars choke and croak through the mix, drums house an echoing pummel, and Lee’s voice is particularly raspy and ghoulish. Album opener “Craven Blood” is about as Left Hand Path as it gets with harmonizing, lurching bass and guitar that converts to a full metal fury with sonic speed tremolo picking. You remember Bloodbath‘s first album Resurrection Through Carnage, back when Mikael Åkerfeldt still growled? Remember that feeling of force and fright behind each track even if the lyrics were pretty damn cheesy? This is that, though with much appreciated spins on the formula. There’s no mistaking it – this is death metal.
What grabbed me most here was the thematic focus of the album. Mai-Zang is draped in Chinese mythology and history, with Lee drawing from his own heritage for lyrics and even song titles. One of my favorite songs is called “Talisman to Seal the Hopping Corpse Before it Steals Your Qi”; this is a reference to jiangshi, which are vampire-like reanimated dead from Chinese folklore that hop around, arms outstretched much like our American horror zombies. The image is vivid and it’s prodded along hurriedly by a fiercely unrelenting instrumental pace. The rollercoaster of guitar riffs create a sense of panic as if being intensely pursued by jiangshi. “Yellow River Incident, 1938” is a direct reference to the eponymous river and its flooding in 1938 by China’s nationalist government as an act of environmental warfare against advancing Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Accompanying this harrowing history lesson is unbridled and wild death-thrash with perfectly consistent and heady double-bass drums and sharp guitars. It’s one of the shortest songs on the album, but leaves a lasting impression.
Did I mention groove yet? It’s a staple of early death metal and it’s ever-present here on Mai-Zang. “God Worshipping Society” starts with a neat little bassline that flashes into a slow guitar melody borrowed from its gloomy doom metal neighbors. The rhythms are quick and thrashy, with each snare strike sounding like a cracking bone. Lee’s menacing vocals are as piercing and foreboding as ever here. His primal screams curdle forth as if bellowing from the dank caves of an unseen killer. Album closer “Yingsuhua (Black Seeds)” is a blistering end to Mai-Zang, seemingly engineered and surgically assembled to groove for days. The repeating guitar hook sits nicely atop rapid-fire drums and rumbling bass, evoking visions of lightning flashing through the windows of cursed and forgotten stone towers as you try to escape with your life. A fitting end to a grueling and unsettling, but fulfilling, journey.
There’s no overindulgence here; everything is serviceable to the grimy old school death metal sound. For a lot of people, this is where the music both lives and dies the hardest. The fact of the matter is there’s a lot to like here, from the catchiness of the melodies to the screaming guitar solos. Mai-Zang isn’t interested in any preconceived notions of modern extreme metal and, while your mileage may vary, this achieves what it sets out to do extremely well. I can’t even knock it for being too long because it’s not! In true 90s fashion, the album just scrapes past the 35-minute mark, ensuring that every second is action-packed and nary a moment is wasted.
Lee is just simply impressive as the monstrous maestro of Ripped to Shreds. If you’re not indebted to the aesthetic this album embodies, this might do little to assuage you, but the breadth of musicianship (I must say again, by one man) is stellar and worthy of praise on its own. Mai-Zang weaves ancestral and historical tales of China into a death metal book of lore and riffs which sets it apart from the pack and earns a spot among the recent top bands like Horrendous. Brutal and satisfying, this is metal worth dying for.
Notable Tracks: “Craven Blood”; “Talisman to Seal the Hopping Corpse Before it Steals Your Qi”; “God Worshipping Society”
FFO: Entombed, Death, Ataxary, Horrendous