Vocals and Guitars – 楊海濤 (Yang Haitao)
Bass – Willy Krieg Tai
Drums – Li Wanling
Time For Metal /René W.: Hello Yang Haitao, I’m pleased to engage you in a small interview to coincide with the current release Xinteng 心疼.
Laang / Yang Haitao: Of course, thank you for speaking with me!
Time For Metal /René W.: Through a near-death experience, you had experienced heavy fateful months and founded your current formation Laang. What exactly happened? Can you explain your near-death experience a little bit, and how did it come to the foundation of your formation afterwards?
Laang / Yang Haitao: I was shot and was medically dead for over a minute. I didn’t like to relive the story in great detail because of the anxiety it causes me. In short, I was returning to my car in a car park one night, and there were two people next to it. Because of my injury and the stress, I don’t remember many details, but I remember one of the people started walking towards me, and then I was on the ground and couldn’t move. And I was cold. It was a feeling of absolute numbness. I woke up in the hospital and was told the bullet had hit my skull on the upper right side shattering it and causing some internal damage. It was just by an unbelievable amount of luck that I am still alive. During this time when I wasn’t conscious my heart stopped beating for a period, and I was medically dead. While in the coma I had an experience that is difficult to describe but is best described as an overwhelming feeling of fear, emptiness, and isolation. It was this feeling like I was in some infinitely large and open ocean, floating entirely isolated. But despite that feeling of isolation, there was this kind of creeping dread, like I was being watched, or stalked by something with malicious intent. It was terrifying.
I created Laang as a method of coping with this trauma and recovery, as a form of externalizing and rationalizing my emotions. When I first started Laang I wanted to really centre the band around this experience, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t as comfortable talking about my experience in detail as I thought I would be. It quickly became some form of exposition that people would either keep asking difficult or insensitive questions about or just invalidating my experience entirely. This was really emotionally difficult for me as I made Laang as a method of coping with this trauma. Because of this in recent years I’ve been intentionally vaguer about the details of my experience because I felt that the emotional vulnerability I shared wasn’t entirely respected by everyone.
Time For Metal /René W.: Taiwan is no longer necessarily a gray spot on the map for metalheads in Germany, but what does the scene look like next to Chthonic? Are there concerts, and how big is the scene outside of metal with traditional influences?
Laang / Yang Haitao: Chthonic is of course huge in Taiwan, playing massive festivals and even performing with the Prime Minister’s speech in Kaohsiung! Aside from Chthonic, there are several metal bands and some record labels. The metal scene definitely isn’t as large as it is in many European countries, but bands like Bloody Tyrant, Burning Island, and Efflore can attract very large audiences. There are many performances and a comfortably-sized community that seems to attend every metal performance in town. I think the main difficulty bands in Taiwan and other Asian regions encounter is the difficulty of being heard or even taken seriously outside of their region, so a lot of the Taiwanese scene is quite unknown internationally.
Time For Metal /René W.: Xinteng 心疼 is the second album from your hands, replacing the debut Haiyang 荒. How have you continued to shape your art? What did you carry over from the first record, and what experiences did you bring from the first output to make the new album even stronger?
Laang / Yang Haitao: I think the approach to the music has remained similar in some ways, where I try to keep a level of contrast between dissonance and melody. I usually try to write a melancholic melody with a highly dissonant and atonal rhythm progression, or the opposite to maintain a balance between aggression and catchiness. I want to present the emotions I feel accurately, but of course, I do also want people to actually like listening to the music too! The main shift between our first album Haiyang and our new album Xinteng is the subject material being explored. Our first album was exclusively about the recounting of my experience of death, which was explored quite literally in many ways. Xinteng however deals more with the recovery, and the progression of re-learning to live and cope with trauma after an experience of death. Coming to grips with my mortality and dealing with the depression that comes with that was a major driver of this album. Because of that, Xinteng is more melancholic and a bit less abrasive than Haiyang. A lot of the feedback we received about Haiyang focused on the vocal style and the “big” and “dark” sound effectively communicating the emotions even across language barriers, so I spent time trying to further develop this sound to make an immersive experience for our fans.
Time For Metal /René W.:
Please describe the process from the first thought of Xinteng 心疼, the creative time in the rehearsal room, and the final polish in the studio. In addition, I would like to know more about the artwork, what should tell us the darkly designed cover and from which artist does it come?
Laang / Yang Haitao: I have maybe a bit of a strange writing process. I come up with the songs in my head, I just imagine a sound that I want to make, and transcribe those melodies onto a piano and quickly notate those notes in MIDI to work with later. I like this method because it allows me to envision the finished project and develop songs that may have been much more difficult to create just by fiddling around on a guitar where I am limited by my playing ability. Because of this, the piano and orchestral backing sections are normally written and recorded first, and I then the live instruments are recorded on top of that existing structure. I always record vocals last and reasonably quickly because it is the most emotionally labourious part for me. I normally record 3 or 4 songs in one day, and finish all vocal tracking within 3 days, just to give my voice a break because the screaming method I use can be a bit exhausting to do for long periods. I made the album art myself! I heavily use the metaphor of floating and sinking into an ocean as a reference for balancing on the edge of life and death to explore that feeling of understanding and struggling with my mortality. I thought that jellyfish were an appropriate way of representing that seemingly lifeless floating on the edge of death.
Time For Metal /René W.:
Technically you act in a wide spectrum of Atmospheric Black Metal and Extreme Metal. Would you like to give your German fans and our readers an understanding of the individual themes and thoughts of the songs of Xinteng 心疼 in a little track-by-track?
Laang / Yang Haitao: The overall theme of the album is a retrospective exploration of my trauma and recovery, spanning from death to awakening. The album begins with Candan (“Dismal”) which focuses on the final moments of what I can remember feeling during my coma. The album from there plays through the stages of depression, anger, frustration, and fear that I encountered across recovery, culminating with Yongheng De Yu (“Raining Forever”), which is the bittersweet awakening back into being able to live my life again, yet still changed and traumatized, and knowing I’ll always be haunted by this experience. I’ll give a track-by-track description of the topic of each song, and an English translation of a lyrical line from the song that I think summarizes the feeling well:
This song is specifically about this feeling of emptiness while in the coma, and the fear, and this lingering thought of whether what I experienced was just my trauma or if this was in fact a form of afterlife. And there is this enduring worry that if this was a form of afterlife, or what I will experience when I die, does it only become worse?
“If you knew what awaited you after death, could you live your life without fear?”
This song is about becoming disillusioned with life entirely. The first thing I experienced across my recovery was this massive, almost suicidal depression. It was a pure apathy with being alive. I felt completely numbed and cold to the world around me. I couldn’t feel anything. I just wanted to sink. Dongshang explicitly illustrates this loss of love for life.
“My fears have left me, I can no longer feel pain. A cold numbness engulfs my heart and soul. A life without joy is one I don’t want to live. And when my corpse sinks into the cold abyss, please know this is what I want.”
Wo De Piaofu Shiti (My Floating Corpse):
This song is about the process of recognizing and understanding my own mortality. I viewed myself as neither alive nor dead for such a long time after this experience, having been dead and still never entirely feeling like all of me came back either. The metaphor about floating on an ocean at the edge of life and death is most illustrated in this song.
“Seawater floods my lungs, my eyes are blinded, disoriented by the violent waves, I release my spirit to the sea. Upon these waves my corpse rests, as the tide carries me home, floating upon this sea of misery lies my floating corpse.”
Zai Heian Zhong (In The Darkness):
This song discusses when the memories of the event first began returning to me. Initially, I remembered so little, but as time went on and I received subtle reminders, or re-experienced events through nightmares or therapy, so many details came back to me. And this hit me harder than I anticipated. I felt sick. This is when I truly began to feel that even if the physical wounds healed, the internal scars may never leave.
“My cold and still corpse is left for dead, with a grave wound that will never heal, shattered bones and torn flesh, these scars will not leave me.”
Høst (Autumn): Høst is written in Norwegian, the other half of my heritage because it was written while living back in Norway and just felt appropriate. “Autumn” here refers to my perceived twilight of my life. The last song before the close, the last glimpse of light. It is interestingly a mixture of a goodbye song as well as a song of hope. Through this depression the thought of death almost became comforting. Knowing that if things became so painful that I’d have to kill myself was almost a glimmer of hope because I just thought “well I’ve been through it before, how hard could it be?” This may sound a bit dark, but it was actually comforting to me. This is perhaps surprisingly the most morbid song on the album.
“There can be no end to this autumn, this autumn that I have created. It holds me safe, it holds me close, the only end to my autumn is my death. Staggering through the twisted branches, the corpses of trees that block my way, the red gives way to black, and I finally exhale.”
This song is about a specific memory of the event. This is maybe a bit graphic, but I remember while on the ground I was completely numb, I couldn’t see anything, and I couldn’t move. But I could feel blood running over my mouth and my tongue. It was this awful feeling, just having this sensation of blood running over me, and this awful taste of iron in my mouth. The lyrics to this song are often actually almost a bittersweet spit in the face of death, saying „Carry me away, sweet tide, drown me in iron. Pull me beneath your waves, sweet tide, drown me“, almost like a way of standing strong saying “yes, I did survive”, but also rationalizing the memory of this terrible sensation.
“A lake of iron churns below, at the base of these great obsidian cliffs Waves cresting, and crashing down on the shore, the iron breeze chokes me.”
As with any experience with death one does always wonder “why me?”. Why did I live when so many others have suffered and died? There is a sense of guilt that comes with this, feeling like I am undeserving of being able to live when so many others have lost people they care so much about. This song is about this feeling of these enduring feelings like I should be dead and others should be alive, and this need to switch places. I illustrate this in this song lyrically by discussing hearing the voices of the dead from the other side, and my urge to follow their voices and join them.
“Voices beneath the waves sing, a haunting lament, the voices are twisted and hollow, like the silent screams of ghosts.”
Yongheng De Yu (Raining Forever):
The final song is comparatively much lighter than the others. This song symbolizes the emergence from my coma, as well as an emergence from depression into a life with some semblance of normalcy. The long middle section culminating in the clean vocal swells is meant to symbolize such awakening. The song is in some ways a celebration of life and this rebirth, but also the substitution of these feelings of fear for feelings of sorrow, and this knowledge that the mental scars of this event will always be with me, and I can never be the same ever again. It is a bittersweet victory marking my ongoing struggle that I know I will always carry with me.
“Tears fall like rain, as I rise from my despair, drowning my fear in sorrow, this rain is my salvation. A river that runs from the void to my heart, a poisoned rain that bleeds, dreams tainted by memories of the abyss, I can feel nothing but sorrow.”
Time For Metal /René W.:
In addition to the explosive moments, the songs also feature quieter passages or even devotional elements. Is it a mirror of your emotional world that drives you in songwriting?
Laang / Yang Haitao: These sections allow moments for the songs to breathe a bit, as I know my songwriting with Laang has been described before as “claustrophobic” and “unrelenting” at times. While this can be good in some ways, I do want to allow quieter sections to illustrate the sorrow in addition to more aggressive emotions, and to provide contrast that will allow the more aggressive sections to feel just that much stronger. It is very much that balance between emotions that I feel that I think are mirrored in the music this way, this give and take between a pained frustration and a melancholic depression. I try to instill this more in some subtle clean backing vocals that are present in most of the songs, though maybe only clearly audible in a couple, to show this duality between the two sides of depression.
Time For Metal /René W.:
What I’m also incredibly interested in: How did you get in touch with Talheim Records and which factors were decisive to start a business relationship with the Austrian label?
Laang / Yang Haitao: When I’d finished recording the first album Haiyang I decided to send out a few demo submissions to some labels I liked to see who would be the best fit. I contacted Talheim Records because I grew up listening to bands on their roster like Psychonaut 4, Thy Light, and was connected with some Chinese bands on the roster like Acherozu and The Mortal World. Mat at Talheim Records surprisingly wrote me back within a couple of hours and we had a quick Skype call to go over release plans and so he could show me the kinds of materials they normally produce. There ended up being a couple of labels sending offers to Laang and there was maybe even some bidding with one label saying “whatever they’re offering we’ll offer even more”, which was all very overwhelming as a new band releasing the first album. I ended up going with Talheim Records because it seemed to be a very fast-growing label that was very central in the network of European labels, and I really liked the quality of their digipak releases.
Time For Metal /René W.:
People often ask what a band plans to do after a successful release, and that’s the question I’d like to ask you now. Are you already working on new material, or do you dare to do a bigger tour, which will also take you to Europe despite the ongoing pandemic?
Laang / Yang Haitao: I am developing some ideas for new songs in the background currently! I haven’t quite reached the full album writing period yet, but when I do I tend to work very quickly. We have a US tour in May that will last about 3 weeks, and we are super excited about this! We did also discuss the possibility of doing a European tour this summer, but Willy’s other band Bloody Tyrant will be touring Europe during this time so it wasn’t possible. My hope is that next summer we can make our European debut! There is already some discussion behind the scenes about making this happen.
Time For Metal /René W.:
So far, I haven’t found a music video from you that captures your performance. Does Laang work more as a faceless unit, or do you plan to shoot a wild session in the future?
Laang / Yang Haitao: Currently, I have preferred keeping Laang as a faceless unit. I’d rather the music speak for itself than to be some kind of figurehead. I’m also quite shy if I’m honest. I do have some ideas for music videos that I would like to make, but the visuals of the band performing would be minimal. I’d rather have more immersive visuals, but the logistics of making these ideas are not always so realistic. For example, one video idea I have includes a few shots of the band performing, but all of those shots are underwater. I haven’t found a good way to bring our instruments underwater without losing a lot of money, and not many directors I’ve spoken to really know how to work with underwater shots. But my hope is that Laang will have an official music video that is worth watching in the next year!
Time For Metal /René W.:
Due to your geographical separation, it is much more difficult to become established in the European market. Do you actively approach potential customers, and can fans from Germany contact you via social media channels?
Laang / Yang Haitao: I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the response we have had from Europe and North America, we actually have more sales in these areas than our home country! I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who is always saying “check out my band” out of worry of becoming annoying, but I do try to at least have the information and music available for anyone who is curious. I guess I’d describe it as a “passive” marketing idea. Of course, any fans from anywhere are more than welcome to contact us on social media! It always makes my day when people do, it’s so amazing to hear from people who enjoy our music and to connect with people in ways that a year ago I would have thought were impossible.
Time For Metal /René W.:
I wish you all the best and good health in the future. Finally, the floor is yours and you can choose freely. Maybe we will see each other soon in Germany. Until then, have fun with Xinteng 心疼.
Laang / Yang Haitao: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! I really appreciate it. I hope everyone will enjoy our new album Xinteng, it is available anywhere that you listen to and purchase music! If any readers are in the eastern United States then hopefully we can meet you on tour this May. Fans in Germany, we are planning on coming to see you as soon as we can, we promise!