Laang – Riluo


Laang’s vocalist and guitarist, Haitao Yang, has an incredible story to tell. He survived a bullet to the head during a carjacking and remembers a hallucinatory nightmare world beyond death from his time in a coma. The Taiwanese musician created a black metal project in 2018 as a means of rationalising this experience and processing his trauma. Fast-forward to 2023, and Laang is now a complete band on their third album with awards to their name from Taiwan’s cultural institutions and a North American tour under their belts. Following on from 2021’s Xinteng (Misery), Riluo continues to explore the process of recovery and the mourning of an ego from his former self that can never be recovered.

Behind the inspiring story of Haitao Yang’s survival is a black metal canvass that aches in misalignment like a body out of sync with its mind. Guitars vibrate like salty eye sockets in the cold chill of a Finland winter. You’d think the energy levels would experience the ups and downs of a traumatic shock to the system, but the high tempo is a constant. Opener, ‘Baoyu’, wastes no time launching into the blast beats and expressive tremolo patterns, yet the band’s approach draws more from the drop-tuned muscle of metalcore. It’s a pleasure to hear palm-muted guitars groove under the fearsome eruption of noise while a second layer adds splashes of dissonance like cooking oil to a hot pan. The energy and determination in ‘Honghai’ are infectious. Likewise, the abundant adrenaline and soaring rage of ‘Liuxue de Taiyang’ can equal anything from the last Harakiri for the Sky record.

Unfortunately, the surge of adrenaline plateaus as early as the fourth song. The levels do not abate for one moment, but your mind will soon adapt to the frantic pace of the music as if unimpressed by the same magic trick disguised in a different subterfuge. Laang’s name translates as “Cold” in the Latin alphabet. This may also explain why the melodies sparkle like a tired Euro-Goth blaze more attuned with German stadiums than the existential musings of a trauma survivor. Close your eyes and ignore the atonal guitars, and ‘Zhemo’ could be from any American metalcore band of the mid-2000s. Can you think of a more irksome combination of styles across the heavy metal canon? ‘Gui Xiang’ is what Periphery might sound like if you asked them to write a Naglfar song. You can’t fault the passion or the excitement, but you can fault the musical execution.

Yet the greatest triumph of ‘Riluo’ is its virtuous persistence. The middle section may be one-dimensional and overly concerned with creating a blockbuster sense of drama, but the last third is much more interesting. ‘Yequ’ reminds you that Laang can reach levels of sonic extremity traversed by the likes of Anaal Nathrakh. Listen how the gothic orchestral hits and staccato guitars spill over into a barrage of vicious blast beats and neck-jolting rhythms. The impact is severe enough to leave your shoulder blades squirming under the force. ‘Juren’ is a magnificent way to follow this with a malevolent symphony orchestra sampled for keyboard and executed in the manner of Underoath.

Laang’s enthusiasm is never in doubt, but their musical language is one of heroic resistance and bravery, while their lyrical themes are at odds with this positive energy. It leaves you confused and unwilling to resolve this paradox with a deeper spiritual commitment to the cause.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/11/2023

Record Label: Talheim Records

Standout tracks: Baoyu, Gui Xiang, Yequ

Suggested Further Listening: Æolian – The Negationist (2020), The Ember, the Ash – Fixation (2021), Beneath the Embers – Condemned (2022)