Winter Dynasty Interview

In the current metal landscape there is nothing quite like the newly fledged band Winter Dynasty, a one-man atmospheric black metal act from Chongqing in south-western China. Few metal outfits, if any, have so eloquently merged black metal with traditional Chinese elements and this is just one reason to find this band exciting and innovative. “冬颂 An Ode to Winter” is Winter Dynasty’s debut album and a breathtaking and heartfelt homage to China, it’s folklore and natural environments. For a metalhead like me who has a deep and sincere fondness for Chinese culture and a love of atmospheric black metal, Winter Dynasty’s unique style and themes, fill a long-standing musical void. “冬颂 An Ode to Winter” feels like a rare delicacy of mouth-watering atmospheric black metal coated in rich culture and presented on a fine porcelain plate.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to dig into the mind behind the Winter Dynasty project and find out more about this exciting new artist and the country that is the source of all inspiration for the debut album.

– Thank you for talking to Blessed Altar Zine today. Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut album “冬颂 An Ode to Winter”. How are you feeling about this milestone? Have you received much feedback since its release in January?
– First of all thanks a lot for your interest in my project and in this particular album. For me this is a huge accomplishment, mostly because it’s my first album to be released in CD format  (which unfortunately I haven’t found a way to ship outside China). I feel, more than ever, so grateful towards this amazing country for the opportunity that’s been brought to me to release this album. I’ve had some amazing feedback from both people outside and inside China. Of course it’s always pleasant to hear people talk about your album with good comments, but for me, I can’t describe how it makes me feel when I hear a Chinese person say good things about my album, mostly, because this whole project was made as a tribute to China.

– So, I believe that you are an expat living and working in China. How long have you been in the country?
– This August, will be 6 years since I first came to China. I haven’t thought about that until now. Time flies!

– For anyone who hasn’t heard the album can you explain your sound?
– I guess I would describe it as a Chinese-inspired black metal project. In terms of riffs this is nothing new, since I always use simple riffs (mostly because I am not a skilled guitar player). But in deeper terms, I do think this could be a one-of-a-kind project because it’s totally based in Chinese nature and mythology. You see other folk Chinese metal bands with amazing atmospheres mixing China with metal, but their lyrics are about history or other topics. Winter Dynasty could be like a Chinese natural History and mythology lesson kind of project. In the lyrics not only do I use actual facts, but also my personal experience.

– How did the Winter Dynasty project come about?
– I’ve been living in China for several years now and since I was a child I had the dream of coming to this amazing land. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to find a way for me to repay all that I’ve been given by Chinese people. I love music and I love metal, so, I thought the best way to do this was through music. So, one day, basically, I thought to myself: “I should make a black metal project inspired by China, but more specifically, about nature and mythology ”. So, I turned on my computer, grabbed my drum sticks and started creating some tracks. The name of the project was unclear though. I have to admit the most difficult part of this project was giving it a name. I had to think the best idea to portrait both nature and China in one name. That’s when I came up with Winter Dynasty.

– Do you work solo in the project?
– Yes, in terms of the music I work solo. I recently released a single on Bandcamp which contains a female voice and that’s my wife who helped me. She also assists in terms of research. She is Chinese so she is of great help for me, in both music and my life in China.

– What is your inspiration for the project? Please explain some of the wider themes of the album and perhaps give our readers a deeper insight into a few of your favourite tracks and the stories within them.
– My inspiration is simple: China. But I wanted to focus on something many people don’t seem to pay attention to lately, which is nature and mythology. As we know, China has thousands of years of history, and with it, endless legends about mythical creatures, gods and nature. On this first full-length album (“An Ode to Winter”) I focused mostly in nature and gods of nature.

Those tracks inspired by nature are “The Mountain City”, which refers to Chongqing, where I live. This is a municipality in the South of China and, the main part of the city, is surrounded by mountains, therefore the name of the track. As you walk around the city, you will find yourself walking up and down at some point.

Through the Forest of GenHe” is inspired by the forest in the city of the same name, which is located in Inner Mongolia and it’s considered the coldest place in China during the winter. As a nature lover, I set a life goal to visit this place.

A Lament to 地球 (Earth)” is, like the name says, a track inspired by all the horrors we humans commit against nature, without realizing the damage we are causing. It won’t be too long before we have to take desperate measures in order to save our world.

There are two tracks inspired by gods, the first one being, “盘古 (PanGu) The Creator”. This is my favorite track of this album, definitely. This legend is just incredible. PanGu was a giant which was the first living being, and he is also the creator of all. The legend says, before nature existed, in the universe there was nothing but chaos. This chaos became a cosmic egg and for many years remained like this. Then, PanGu was born from it. The cosmic egg was perfectly balanced into Yin and Yang, which PanGu then, by a swing of his ax, separated forming the Earth (Yin) and the Sky (Yang). Now, the most interesting part for me is, after many years, when PanGu died, his body became nature as we know it: his breath became the wind, mist and clouds. His voice became thunder. His left eye became the sun, and his right eye the moon. His head became mountains. His blood turned into rivers. His muscles turned into fertile lands. His facial hair became the stars and the Milky Way. His fur became forests. His bones became minerals and more. So, this part for me is amazing. That’s why this is my favorite track.

The second track inspired by a nature God is “GouMang God of Spring. GouMang, as the title says, was the god or spirit of the Spring and also the protector of the East.

The track “Oh Mighty China, which was included in a compilation made by Cult of Osiris, is like an hymn to this amazing land and it has a bit of history not related to nature. It’s like a basic Chinese history lesson.

– How do you research the various Chinese themes that you touch on?
– For research I go from looking at some websites to reading books. A lot of information comes from the internet, since many books from the topics I look for, are only available in Chinese.

– Can you speak or read Mandarin, does anyone assist with translations?
– I can speak basic Mandarin and I can understand a few characters, but I won’t even dare to say I can read it. For this matter I have my wife helping me. She is of great help when I want to research something that’s only available in Chinese. Also, the last single: “The Spring City”, was released in Chinese, and she helped me with the translation of the lyrics.

– What’s it like being a musician in China?
– Being a musician in China has been a very effective tool to socialize with, even when there’s the language barrier. I live in a small area, that lacks music festivals or even people who are interested in music. But I did meet a small group of guys who are as passionate about music as I am. Since the first time I met the drummer, we clicked, as friends. He even likes bands like Metallica, Disturbed or Korn, which is very rare in such a small place like this. But the truth is that, thanks to music, I’ve made good friends in China. And since I’ve released Winter Dynasty, I’ve made good friends from the Chinese metal scene, which is, and I’m glad to say this, growing more and more every year.

– Having lived and worked in China myself, I’m interested in your experience with any current music scenes. In my experience Chinese culture seems quite conservative, how does a metalhead find their place in this environment? Also, I struggled to find anything of a metal scene during my time in the country, what has your experience been?
– The metal scene in China has been kept to a minimum for a long time already. But I am glad to see it’s slowly growing more and more every year. I can see more metal bands from outside are coming to China for the first time. Unfortunately, there are just a few cities that are more open about Metal. Like I mentioned before, I live in a small area and here, people have no idea what metal is at all. Hell, even rock! On more than one occasion some of my students asked me what kind of music I like, to which I often reply: rock, because I like it and because they don’t know metal. And in all of those occasions my students replied to me with something like: “oh you like Taylor Swift. Oh you like Maroon 5”. So, you can see how (am I allowed to curse?) fucked up I am in terms of music here. Every time they say something like that my soul dies a little bit more.

The nearest place I can go to is Chongqing (they call it the urban area, which is the main part of the city. I live in one of its districts), which is 45 minutes by high speed train from where I live. There, sometimes they have some metal concerts but not as often as I would hope for. I think in 2015 Carach Angren came to Chongqing, if I am not mistaken, but due to my work I couldn’t go to see them.

The other cities that have a wider metal scene are Beijing, Shanghai, GuangZhou and others. Which are too far from where I live. But I guess now metal is becoming more known to Chinese people. At least, in those places I just mentioned. Hopefully after a few years there will be more venues in other cities for metal gigs.

– Do you play live or do you plan to play live gigs in China?
– Some of my Chinese metalhead friends asked me the same question and honestly I don’t think I will be doing live gigs any time soon. Not that I don’t want to, but it’s difficult. Long story short, in order for me to live in China I need a job… [and] if I wanted to do live gigs, I would have to go to one of those big cities… my biggest problem is time. I don’t have the time to plan a gig because I would have to do it in another city. Also, it would involve hiring musicians, a venue, advertising and more stuff like this. A pain in the ass. Sorry, the butt.

– How is your music received by the Chinese audience? What do your Chinese friends think about your music?

– I have received some good comments about my music from my Chinese friends. Most of them are very surprised that I am not a Chinese and yet I have so much love for this country. Unfortunately, my metalhead friends live far from where I live, so I can only contact them through social networks. My local friends don’t know anything about black metal so, I can’t talk to them about this. Once I played one of my tracks to one of my local Chinese friends and he said it’s too noisy and he couldn’t understand what I was singing. So, fuck me, right? (Sorry again).

– Do you currently have any other projects or collaborations happening?
– I’m currently involved in three projects. Starving for Death which is a DSBM project but this one has been on hold for more than a year, mostly because I am focusing in the other two projects. There are three  Starving For Death albums, released in digital format only and available on Bandcamp.

Winter Dynasty is the second project I created, which is at the moment on hold but I will start working on the next album soon.

The most recent project is a cosmic black metal project called Star Devourer. This one was created just a few weeks ago and it’s the reason why Winter Dynasty is on hold. Star Devourer’s first release will be an EP probably in May or June, if everything goes well.

Finally, there’s also a collaboration track I am working on with two gentlemen I met on Twitter, great musicians and great people. This track doesn’t have a release date but it is happening (follow @SFD_DSBM on Twitter for updates)

– Are there any particular artists that have influenced you over the years and perhaps helped to form your sound?
I’ve been inspired by many bands throughout my life, and I guess I take a little bit of all of them when it comes about making my own music. But mostly I’m inspired by the thought that, if they can do it, I can do it too.

Some of the bands I have been listening to since I was a child are Cradle of Filth, Stratovarius, Ancient Rites, Cryptopsy, and Bathory. Some “new bands” like Equilibrium, DeadTrees, Moonville, and Carach Angren. So, as you can see there are different metal genres here. With Winter Dynasty I wanted to create something unique, but using these bands as inspiration. Especially those who have been in the metal scene for a long time, because I want to do what they are doing, which is leaving a mark on the metal world. I want people to talk about Winter Dynasty not because I want to be famous or whatever, but because I want people to know more about China. I want people to understand how I feel living in China and what an amazing country this is. If someone talks about China they would probably talk about Jackie Chan. But there’s much more to this country than Kung Fu, and what is the best way to share this? Through metal!

– I’ve noticed that you are quite active on social media, is this an important tool for you as an artist? Also, is it important for you to be a part of the online metal community?
– I think the main reason why I am on social media (actually just YouTube and Twitter) is mostly to know people from around the world with same interest in metal. In the last couple of years I have discovered solo projects that I never heard of before and I am very impressed by how people, by themselves, can achieve great things regarding music. It’s not so much that I want to be a part of the online metal community, but it’s the fact that I want to discover new music and meet more people with same interests as me. I have made great friends just in Twitter and I am glad to have them in my life, even if I have never met them in person.

– In my opinion you are bringing something fresh and new to the metal community and that is an insight into Chinese culture and music. I’ve noticed that you’ve even made some short videos recommending Chinese metal bands. How have these offerings been received so far?
– Yeah I have been making some, what I call “Chinese metal band recommendation videos”, sharing what I think are great Chinese metal bands. I’m not good at reviews so I just post a bit of my opinion and information about the bands and some previews of their tracks and that’s it. I have received some good comments about these videos too. People from outside China are saying that they like these videos because they can discover good Chinese metal bands through them. I’ve also received good comments from Chinese people on social media about these videos, some of these people being the actual bands, and they are grateful that I am doing this to promote more about the Chinese metal scene. Believe me, there’s so much more the world doesn’t know about Chinese metal. Most of the videos that I’ve made are about bands whose CDs I actually own, but there’s one video I made about a friend’s project: Blood Triangle, which is from the USA. My main idea is to share Chinese metal bands but also share new projects that aren’t yet well-recognized in the metal scene around the world.

– Would you mind sharing a few of your favourite Chinese bands for our readers?
– Where to start? I am going to mention a few I’ve been listening to recently and I think deserve more attention: DeadTrees (atmospheric black metal); Zuriaake (depressive black metal); Crusado Orchestra (symphonic black metal); Bliss Illusion (depressive rock/shoegaze/post-metal); Obsoletenova (sci-fi technical brutal death metal); Acherozu (black/death metal).

– Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today and congratulations once again on your debut album. All the best with your upcoming projects and we at Blessed Altar Zine are looking forward to your future releases!
– Thank you so much again, this was so much fun and I wish you guys the best. It’s been a pleasure doing this for you.

Interview by Proua Metallist 

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