Unlike the more popular acts coming out of Taiwan such as ChthoniC and Anthelion, both playing symphonic-styled black metal, Inferno Requiem presents the other face of the country, with its cold, bleak and raw black metal. Despite only having 1 release when it disbanded, the album has certainly showed what Inferno Requiem is capable of. We talk to Fog, mastermind behind the band.
HMT: Greetings Fog! Thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you. Inferno Requiem has been active since 1999 until recently when you decided to pull the plug. Before we start off the interview proper, would it be possible to give a history of the band? What was it that inspired you to form Inferno Requiem back in 1999?
I cannot recall the first day I started listening to metal, but most of the time I just admired the bands I like. I was just a regular metal fan like the others. I never thought about forming a band myself until I happened to overheard Immortal in my friend’s place. From that day my life changed. I would not say worship, but for me they are the inspiration to me to get everything starts rolling. I started the band trying to show my respect to them, whatever they can hear it or not. Because of that, I assured and dedicated the music style I would ever play is black metal. The band was first named Soulgrinder then quickly changed to Black Messiah. The name was switched again later to Inferno Requiem due to not to be confused with the other German metal band.
While the Taiwanese metal scene is mainly known for bands like ChthoniC and Anthelion, both of which play a more melodic form of black metal, Inferno Requiem plays a raw and bleak style of black metal. What was it that inspired you to write such music instead?
People play what they like to play, and I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I respect other genre as much as I respect black metal. The point is, research as more bands as you can and spending time with it, then you have a better chance to write true great music. You can have unique style yourselves, but at the same time you don’t lose your main focus. Besides, I’m not an enthusiastic, devoted person to political or races so I just concentrate on my music.
The general scene in Taiwanese underground metal is like that even bands themselves don’t have clues what they are playing. They all get similar, limited sources to get metal-related materials; they all learn instruments under same/certain teachers and their successors. So their ‘information’ is basically the same and so one-dimensional. I think the worst flaw here in Taiwan is they don’t listen much, and they don’t want to spend time finding new stuff. They only accept music they know well in a narrow gap of a little part of the whole thing. How surprisingly, they’re very proud of this attitude, just like how they act in politics, which to me is a joke. If you chat music and bands that they don’t familiar with, they will either claim it sucks without even listening, or they just walk away. Most people here, they hate pop music for no reason but just feel like that kind of show some support to so called ‘underground metal bands,’ and I really have a hard time understanding that ego. These facts sometimes make me thinking myself is from other planet because for me I would love to know what I don’t know’ and I feel good to know it.
My main inspiration for the very first time, as you already knew, was Immortal. However, for the minor part, I’m sorry but I really cannot count them. It can be a part of melody from Japanese Enka; it can also be a scene from an Asian horror movie; and of course, from various metal albums. I would say I consider myself a fan more than a musician. When you think that way it really opens up a lot opportunity and a better motivation for me to be a learner and thinker. For most situations it’s effective and becomes the most center part of my music writing process.
Are there any other black metal bands from Taiwan, playing black metal in the veins of Inferno Requiem that you would recommend our readers to check out?
Nope. I’m sorry but I can’t really think of one.
What was it that eventually made you decide to bring an end to Inferno Requiem?
It’s complicated. I guess we humans have ‘moods.’ We all have certain periods telling ourselves “I need to do something.” Inferno Requiem was disbanded for couple reasons, minor reasons are known for such as we don’t have steady members to bring to the rehearsal studio on regular basis; Feel disappointed to the scene here…etc. However, the major reason is very personal, I did not feel like keep doing it at that time. In fact I was talking with a Chinese label about re-issuing Gloomy Night Stories but I just could not come up with the best new songs I can to put in as bonus tracks. I also thought about starting a new project, which could be a little bit Industrial-oriented depressive black metal, but again, I just could not put everything on the same page. Simply, everything just did not work out at the same time.
Let’s now talk about the full length album, Gloomy Night Stories. Despite being formed in 1999, the band’s only full length album was only released in 2007. What was the reason behind the large gap between the band’s formation and the release of the album?
I guess the main reason is luck. Seriously, fortune is not with me most of the time of my whole life and it’s not something I can control. The band was formed in 1999 but you’ve got to go through everything like other bands do: Guys including myself have to serve their military duties. Guys leave with or without reasons. Then you want to talk about the economy issues; If I can, I am willing to stay in the studio making music all day and still can feed myself instead of working 9~10 hours a day and barely keep life functions normally. In fact before Gloomy Night Stories came out I’ve had recorded 2 unreleased EPs. The first EP was called “In the Nightmare of…” which contains 6 early tracks that was supposed to be released on tapes at the beginning. The second EP was supposed to be a split with the other underground black/death metal band from Taiwan. That one went down, too because of the issue regarding distribution. There were other labels informed me to release it few years later, but I decided not to due to the fact that I did not think it satisfy me enough. Then the third, and only official release, Gloomy Night Stories was planned in during 2005 and 2006 but once again I was critical on distribution and quality of production, and for some other minor reasons too, it came out late in 2007.
The first thing that one notices (especially those who aren’t familiar with Chinese imagery) is the unique cover artwork of the album. How did the album artwork come about, and what is the underlying theme of the artwork?
The main theme behind this album is built on personal ghost stories. At first a lot of idea came out to be discussed and eventually it came out jus like what you saw. I did not like that image very much at the beginning and it’s a long story. My preferred one was portrayed as a ghastly female ghost wearing a blood-like red rope with her long hair covered almost all her front face. That is actually a lot scarier by seeing it personally than just saying here. I prefer that imagery because it is the exact scene I’ve experienced and in fact that was how the first title song – “The Crimson Grudge” coming from. I met an artist in L.A. and I talked to her about this project I was doing. She seemed really interested in this project at first, however, after she made couple good sketches she tried to play a little trick by raising the bid higher. That was a hard communication between us because what she asked was too much more than I could afford. I had no choices but to use the back-up plan from my friend by using that ancient Chinese hell imagery. In fact it eventually turned out quite well especially for catching those who’re not familiar with Chinese culture, like you mentioned. On the other hand, I guess maybe people may just feel bored to see ordinary images like forest, woods, and black n’ white corpse paint on the cover.
The lyrical themes of Gloomy Night Stories also revolve around horror and evilness, with particular focus on Chinese mythologies. How was inspiration drawn when writing the lyrics to the album?
All ten songs were written based on personal experiences, mostly could not be explained, with adding some twist of negative, pessimistic feelings to it. In fact not to be confused with the Chinese mythologies, though they’re somehow related. Because when people start talking about ghost and spirits they quickly associate them with the theories of heaven, hell, sins, and stuffs. They are related in some ways but the main point of this album is set to tell stories of myself from a third-person angle. I’m not trying to tell the long stories about each of the 18 levels of Chinese hell. Instead of some large, majestic pattern like you might think is going on here, what I want to provide is a unique view from my perspective telling people what I’ve experienced.
It was also mentioned that some of the lyrics were taken from your personal spiritual encounters. Pardon us if it is personal, but would it be possible to let interested readers and fans of Inferno Requiem to know what some of these encounters were?
Yeah. I know there’s always a debate about the existence of ghosts. To tell the truth, I titled every single song I made according to my true super-nature experiences. Fortunately, in most situations I didn’t hurt. I’ve still got several of unreleased tracks in my file, so one could notice that I’ve been into those spiritual situation many times. As I mentioned before, the song “Crimson Grudge” was written based on the experience I met with the ghastly female ghost in red. I can refer the other story to you on track 4 “Dangling Piggsy.” It was based on a terrifying scene/situation I’ve experienced back in my 20s. In short, I was riding a bike in the position to throughout a tunnel and a mini-van truck made a dangerous illegal turn from the opposite direction rushing toward just in front of me. I was shocked as well as pissed but when I looked at the back of the truck, I was stunned. That was a truck carrying full-pork slices hanging all over the back of it. In fact it is pretty common here for local meat dealers, however, I suddenly found that something is not right; one of the pork bodies looks quite different than the others. Guess what, it was a human body! A naked male body with giant big spike impaled through his cheeks as well as some other parts of his body. I guess he’s dead though I’m not sure. I was freezing like a sculpture. This frightening “trick” actually drove pretty fast and disappeared in about 4~5 seconds in the tunnel. Let me tell you, that tunnel is almost 2km long and there’s no way a small truck like that can finish it in that short period. It was just one of my experience how those songs were named and written, I guess you get the idea.
The blend of Chinese elements into old school Norwegian-style black metal certainly is a nice touch, especially at the introduction of the album, where it almost feels as if one were at a Chinese funeral procession. What was the songwriting process like for Gloomy Night Stories?
I don’t want to spoil you but the introduction in fact is the sound of Chinese hell I imagined: a modern factory-like underground facility with evil flame comes out everywhere. You can actually hear those metal punching sounds come from various torturing devices as well as some hellish beast growls in the thick fog. My song writing process is really simple. There’re always tons of short, evil, depressive melodies surrounding in my head. I sometimes write them down when I get back home if I can still remember them. As time goes by, I have some thick pages of note and I just start to compose them into full-songs by playing guitar. At the same time there should be a rough sketch of drumbeats hammering inside my brain. I will use some composing tools making basic beats and I kind of try to put them together and make adjustments. Then I start adding other instruments, that’s how it is.
Among the influences of Inferno Requiem, industrial, Japanese enka and electro were spotted. What are some of the more unconventional influences that have been important in the songwriting of Inferno Requiem?
Inspiration comes everywhere. I don’t want to exaggerate it but you probably get it what I’m saying. I listen to a lot of music despite spending most of my time investigating black metal. To me Japanese Enka has the impact and quality to be unique especially on its form of melody and the details of emotion presenting. Obviously I don’t think I can ever be an Enka expert but you always learn something from things with historical backgrounds as well as cultural impacts. When I was in L.A. I went to see a concert by a Japanese duo’s who called Yoshida Brothers and I learned very much from them. They’re not playing any heavy metal, obviously, and their songs hardly can be called Enka either. They play a 3-stringed traditional instrument called Samisen and were fantastic on the stage. Excluding the sound itself, good music sends unique messages as well as energy while you listen to it. For myself that’s pretty much the standard I judge music. Despite the stages acting things like leather & spikes and corpse paint, black metal is more than that. It is always more important how the music ‘sounds like’ than it ‘looks like.’
How have fans of black metal received the unique music presented on Gloomy Night Stories so far?
Well, it’s typical true black metal, obviously. I think they can anticipate that this is not going be some happy chanting that everyone can enjoy just like some other black metal albums are. This is also not something you will want your friends and pals come to party with. And I’m sure it is not considered as a welcomed gift even for some so-called ‘metal-heads.’ It is an album that digging deep in your brain and somehow strengthens you feeling of depressive, uncomfortable and cold, not like any bands you may see in Taiwan. It is somehow close to early raw and cold Norwegian black metal mixed up with some depressive elements but represent in eastern old fashion. Listen to the album more times and you will get the feeling I’m talking about. I especially like how the last note from one of the review Metalunderground.com put it: “Bottom line: Recommended for black metal fiends only.” He is right, this is not a common black metal album to swallow.
You have mentioned on the band’s MySpace page that there might be a possibility of you writing music again in the future. As of now, can fans of Inferno Requiem look forward to any new material from you?
I don’t like to make promises that I probably cannot fulfill; but there is always a possibility. To clarify that, I won’t stop trying to write new materials at least for now, however, I don’t know if I can have something that is capable of being released. First, those rough samples I write should at least satisfy myself at certain level, or it will become so called ‘unreleased tracks,’ or trash instead. Second, I need to have the property to make them official releases. Hope the luck will finally come to me. Nevertheless, there’s always a chance, better than no chances, right?
Alright, we have come to the final section of the interview, the last words are yours!
I don’t think there will ever be a band like Inferno Requiem in Taiwan. I’m not talking about this technically, but mentally. This island is a lonely island, and it will forever be. I might be sounded negative but there’s not even a sign showing me a slight possibility to make it actually happened. I’m not even hoping people here will ever like Inferno Requiem music-wise. I’ll be pleased if people here just start open their minds and ears, and confess that they really know only very little about music despite following local fake-metal posers like idiots. Sadly this will unlikely happen.