Death crushers Ripped to Shreds expose brutal light on cultural strife, history with ‘“劇變 (Jubian)’

Photo by Greg Goudey

I don’t think it’s a stretch or even very controversial to suggest the bulk of the heavy metal world is vastly white, and while that has changed some over the past decade, we still have a long way to go before the genre can be seen as truly diverse. Different voices, experiences, and backgrounds should be encouraged and would give metal a broader appeal and be more indicative of the world.

Asian-American death metal band Ripped to Shreds is having a hand in expressing more of their life experiences and has done so over their catalog, the latest of which is the blistering and earth-shaking “劇變 (Jubian),” the project’s third full-length effort. Long helmed by Andrew Lee (vocals and guitars, though he previously recorded all of the band’s material himself), he has made sure to focus the lyrical content on the cultural context of his life as a Taiwanese American and to help amplify and celebrate artists and people like him. He and the rest of the band (bumping this to a full group)—guitarist Michael Chavez, bassist Ryan, drummer Brian Do—concentrate on historical events, the experience of being a minority in America, religious commentary, and being, as Lee says, blatantly Chinese. It’s a refreshing and much-needed perspective for heavy music, and the record is an absolute beast.  

“Violent Compulsion for Conquest” furiously opens the record as the track recounts the 1931 Mudken Incident where the Japanese army staged an explosion to justify invading Manchuria. The track splatters and hammers, the speed becomes a dangerous and present factor, and some hypnotic riffs work their way into your psyche and disarm you with force. “Split Apart by Five Chariots” has mauling drums and animalistic growls as the track sprawls its tentacles, reaching for your throat and trying to choke the life out of you. Howls echo and rip down your spine as the playing punches and gallops, and the guitars bring quaking madness that shakes you to your core. “獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt 3)” is the third installment of a saga that started on the 2019 EP “魔經 – Demon Scriptures” and runs a healthy 10:33, ripping and bringing unforgiving speed. The pace destroys as the playing sizzles and burns, the guitars flood the senses, and everything boils in heaviness as the vocals land steady blows. Growls swell as the intensity continues, the band thrashes heavily, picking you apart, and then warm leads suddenly rush, ending everything on a somber note. “Harmonious Impiety” is a firebreather, delivering a savage attack and a tirade against people subservient to religion, the disgust palpable. Guitar launch as the pace throbs and crushes, blasting and rushing out forcefully.

“漢奸 (Race Traitor)” delivers glimmering leads and unquestionable power as Lee recounts his experiences living as an Asian American in a land that’s legendary for its xenophobia. Moody guitars lean into a thickening fog, the power shreds faces, and the leads rage into the sky, bringing a classy traditional metal blast that gives off infectious energy. “Reek of Burning Freedom” is an anti-war track that also reminds of the scars that remain of the U.S. bombing campaign of North Korea during the Korean War. Devastating shrieks pay off the very understandable rage, and the trudging pace delivers bodily punishment that you’ll feel for days on end. Brutality increases, the howls feed off splintering power, and the crazed energy burns to the abrupt end. “Peregrination to the Unborn Eternal Mother” brings testy riffs and vicious growls, the intensity blackening eyes. The story of the Maitreya bashes and upends psyches, savage playing floods dangerously, and fluid leads increase the passion and emotion, letting doom bells ring out as the song rests in the clouds. Closer “Scripture Containing the Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render the Practitioner Invincible Throughout the Martial Realm” takes nearly as long to say as it does to hear as the 50-second brawler is a total and complete assault, a furious attack that drives through your chest and leaves you gasping on the floor.

Ripped to Shreds very much deserve this larger platform since they have aligned with Relapse, and “劇變 (Jubian)” not only is a generous, thunderous serving of death metal, it’s an important exposure of their Taiwanese roots that could use better understanding in their American homeland. There’s a lot to learn from the songs and their lyrical content, and the playing is supreme death played with precision, power, and energy, making it impossibly infectious. These are 35 of some of the best minutes death metal has produced this year and that this band has unleashed in their history. It also could go down as one of the subgenre’s most important creations of 2022.   

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