A death metal project under the name Ripped to Shreds took the online metal community by storm a few months ago when Andrew Lee released 埋葬. The album succeeded on many levels, with its exceptional old-school sound, innovative cultural themes, and mysterious nature. The opportunity arose to pick the death metal mastermind’s brain, so Andrew and I discussed the album’s themes, music formats, and the pertinence of his other side projects.
An introduction to Andrew Lee’s persona requires a knowledge of his solo work, aptly titled Ripped to Shreds, as the project is truly synonymous with his name. The death metal endeavour emerged from the conglomerate Californian metal scene, surprisingly achieving relatively renowned success within the underground. In comparison to fully-membered bands who spend time touring, participating within the local scene, and maintaining in-your-face social media accounts, Ripped to Shreds’ success is truly an emblem of quality over quantity.
The most redeeming factor behind 埋葬, the project’s only release thus far, lies behind its deeply-rooted themes in pertinence to Andrew’s life, as well as the creative depth of the album itself. The full-length ties back to his ancestors, as he described when asked about the album’s themes:
“First we need to unpack what “pro-Chinese” means. I’m not pro-China, I identify as Taiwanese-American rather than Chinese-American, yet I’m ethnically Han and obviously the history of Taiwan and China is complicated and entangled. One of my grandfathers fought for the KMT in WW2 and the Chinese Civil War, the other came from farmers that have lived in Taiwan since the 1700s. My goal was to create a work that was undeniably Taiwanese-American and antithetical to the model minority stereotype. The actual lyrical topics are simply in service to this goal and to the trappings of genre aesthetics”.
Understanding the meanings behind the album requires historical knowledge of China’s evolution from the 16th century and on. While 埋葬 is rooted within the Chinese Civil War and the subsequent separation of China, Andrew actually stretches the album to his family’s immigration to America, and the resulting questions he faces as a second generation immigrant, settled into a new location.
“I think older immigrants like my parents tend to be much less politically interested than the second generation. They’re focused on establishing themselves financially and don’t see themselves as “American,” so they have a “keep your head down and work hard” mentality. Second generation kids grow up in their new homelands and have to figure out how to balance their two identities and cultures”.
The album cover is fairly untraditional within metal and music culture. The image sports no album or band title, and comes off as vague to anyone unfamiliar with specific Han culture. However, unfamiliarity always leads to knowledge for those willing to ask.
“The art shows a traditional Han Chinese grave. The first day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is the Qingming Festival, or ‘Tomb Sweeping Day,’ where families visit their ancestors graves to sweep them. The dirty and unkept grave implies dishonor and disrepect of those interred there. It’s a metaphor for the horrors of war and destruction, and how easily we forget those horrors”.
I then asked what his parents thought about his creative contributions to his name’s historical story and significance, to which he said:
“My parents see it as kind of a cynical exoticism designed to appeal to Westerners”.
Listen to “Craven Blood”, the project’s opening track:
When asked about the project’s future and whether or not it would always remain an Asian-themed endeavour, Andrew said:
“Yes, the centerpiece of the upcoming minialbum is a kind of epic based on Jin Yong’s novel The Smiling Proud Wanderer. Unlike 埋葬 which was mostly in English except for 撿骨, this one is entirely sung in Mandarin. Musically I don’t think I’ll ever stray too far from the Entombed/Bolt Thrower/Terrorizer formula, but you’ll hear some interesting new riffs and structures that I haven’t tried before on this minialbum”.
Since Andrew plays all of the instruments on 埋葬, taking his beloved tracks into a live setting is undeniably a daunting task. I asked whether or not Ripped to Shreds would remain in the studio:
“Depends on whether or not I can find a vocalist who speaks Mandarin or if I finally take the time to learn to growl and play guitar at the same time, because that’s by far the biggest hurdle. I do want to take these songs live cause I feel like some of them will translate really well. Also I’ve been considering moving back to Taiwan, where I think I actually probably have better connections to the local extreme music scene than I do in the Bay Area. Finding a vocalist wouldn’t be a problem then, but getting everyone out to America to tour might be.”
“I’m pretty much a recluse, I don’t go to a ton of shows, so I barely know anyone in the Bay Area scene”.
He does however have a fairly impressionable online presence, especially within the Reddit community dedicated to metal music. When someone posts a link to one of his songs, the upvote (or “like”) counters frequently reach the triple digits, which often fairs better than other material posted that is equally obscure. You can find Andrew’s personal account throughout the various posts and discussion threads, recommending music to people and engaging in general talk with fellow users.
“I think the name recognition helped influence people on there to check me out, and I’m an active member of the community they also feel more inclined to whore me out to their friends, to help a buddy out. The visibility I got overall was invaluable.”
Andrew recently announced an upcoming vinyl release for 埋葬 which will be due towards the end of October. The equivocal decision to press such an underground release is one which depends on your fans, their format preference, and your popularity. The announcement is also backed by the man behind the music as well, as his Instagram page is littered with various vinyl posts. He commented on the great format debate.
“Vinyl is the sexiest of all formats so finding a label to press vinyl was a top priority. The art is huge, it feels good to hold the record in your hands, and the audio (due to limitations of the medium in reproducing the full range of frequencies) is distinct from CD or digital. To me CD feels like a glorified digital file with tiny art and worse convenience; I’d rather use my phone while driving for music and my computer at home. Tape is nice as a novelty but audio quality wise it’s the worst and it’s kinda fragile. I have some bad childhood memories of tapes that got chewed up pretty bad. However, I do like the possibility for unique art in the j-card format”.
On top of fronting Ripped to Shreds, Andrew also plays in Azath, another local death metal band. He is joined by Brandon of Draghkar, another Californian death metal band, and Derek, who’s native to Alberta but is active in the local scene over there. While Ripped to Shreds plays towards a more chunky and straightforward style, Azath’s sound is more claustrophobic and chaotic.
“Every band scratches a different itch. I try to be open to crossgenre sounds or other flavors of death metal in all my bands, but I have a concrete vision for what I’m trying to accomplish with each band. Constant fast blasting on top of Suffocation or Morbid Angel riffs works for Azath, but it would sound totally out of place in the d-beat and skank beat groove driven sound of Ripped to Shreds. So playing in different bands lets me explore all the different styles of metal I enjoy instead of just piling up unused riffs”.
On top of being a death metal deity, Andrew incorporates many different genres into his life.
“One of my biggest inspirations for lead guitar is Allan Holdsworth. I listen to a fair amount of jazz and jazz fusion; Alex Machacek and Julian Lage are two of my favorite modern players. I used to want to play jazz but I wasn’t dedicated enough and my guitar knowledge wasn’t good enough either. I do throw in some jazz influenced licks into my solos though. I don’t listen to a ton of pop, but I was super disappointed by how much Tswizzle’s “Reputation” sucked, especially since I liked “Red” and “1989” a lot. Same goes for Utada Hikaru’s Fantome and Hatsukoi. I listen to some classical music but I’m not very adventurous there, mostly limited to stuff like Bach or Tchaikovsky. Wyschnegradsky’s quartertone stuff is cool but probably the only composer off the beaten path I listen to.”
Below can be found links to his various projects, which I highly recommend following. Despite the nature of the solo project and remaining within the underground, I personally believe that 埋葬 is the best full-length metal release of the year so far, and with only a handful of months left, will most likely remain titled as such. Furthermore, from the various community polls on Reddit, many frequent users fall within the same mindset.
埋葬 is now available on digital, CD, and cassette formats, and is expected to be available on vinyl by the end of October.