Taiwanese titans Laang sprinkle Eastern magic across Black Metal landscapes . Founder and frontman Haitao Yang’s musical path has undoubtedly been shaped by a brush with death in a shooting trauma. Here he talks of his high hopes for the band’s extraordinary new album Riluo in a frank and entertaining exchange with Paul Castles.
ZT: Hi Haitao, thanks for chatting with Zero Tolerance – congratulations on a great new album in Riluo. How did it all come together?
Thanks so much! At the time I was working as a guitar teacher at a local music school. Any time a student didn’t show up for a lesson I’d dedicate that hour just to writing for Laang. I had a lot of the key riffs done at that point, but they weren’t full songs yet. That August I unfortunately got COVID, and since I was stuck inside all day, I decided to spend those whole two weeks completing the songs and recording the full instrumentals for the album and the demos of potential bass and drum parts. When I got over the sickness, I recorded vocals in tandem with Willy’s bass recording and Zak’s drum recordings. The mixing took some time because I can be very indecisive, but the album was finally completed in May!
ZT: What was your mindset going into this album?
I think the mindset for any Laang album is going to be difficult for me because of how personal the subject matter is. The instrumentals are less emotionally taxing to write. If anything it’s fun for me to find new ways to combine dissonance with melody. But the lyric writing and vocal recording is always difficult emotionally because it involves needing to not only revisit trauma, but to allow myself to actively feel the impacts on myself to authentically represent my emotions and my story.
ZT: Did you meet any obstacles along the way?
I think I’m my own biggest obstacle. I’ve become more confident in my songwriting for Laang, but I’m very indecisive when it comes to mixing. I must have re-mixed this entire album at least five times. Other than that, it was a surprisingly streamlined process. Willy and Zak are both very professional musicians who consistently do great work. They’re very easy to work with!
ZT: How do you feel this record moves the band on from the first two albums?
I think this album combines the best pieces of the previous two. It takes the dissonant chaos of Haiyang and blends it with the doom-tinged melancholy of Xinteng. This album has more blast beats and tremolo picking than our last releases, yet I’d say the songs are more catchy and hopefully enjoyable to both newcomers to the genre and long-time post-black metal fans. It emotionally and sonically represents where I am in my recovery now, which is of course substantially different from the past two records. Each album is a snapshot of where I was at that time.
ZT: You suffered an horrific incident a number of years ago – Would Laang have existed without that?
Almost certainly not. Laang was entirely created to help to come to terms with what had happened and to express the emotions I needed to. Had it not happened I probably would have created a new black metal band someday, but the subject matter and sound would have been very different. Laang, probably in almost every way, is very shaped by this horrible incident.
ZT: And did that shape your soundtracks with songs about death and trauma?
Very much so. I grew up listening to loads of DSBM bands like Lifelover and Totalselfhatred, so songs about death and trauma aren’t exactly something new. But I think what drove me to write and create Laang was that I, unfortunately, had a unique perspective on death and trauma that other black metal bands often don’t. Having been briefly dead myself, the concept of writing music about death and trauma felt much heavier, but also more personal. Many bands in the genre write music about the pain of life and wanting to be dead. But our music is about the pain of death, and the fear of dying and experiencing trauma again. It’s very much an opposing viewpoint. My personal enjoyment of DSBM has decreased a bit since my experience, which probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
ZT: Is there a theme that connects these new songs?
There is. Whereas Haiyang was specifically about the event, and Xinteng about the depression of recovery, the upcoming album Riluo is about acceptance. Accepting what happened to me. But acceptance doesn’t have to mean I’m content with it. This album discusses elements of my experience I wasn’t comfortable sharing before, such as coming to terms with that I know exactly what it feels like to bleed out. Accepting that the person I used to be is never coming back. For better or worse, this is my life now, and there’s nothing that can be done about that fact. It’s a frustrating, terrifying, and depressing fact. But this album is my attempt to reconcile those feelings and accept this reality.
ZT: How do your spiritual beliefs influence and shape the band?
I’m personally an atheist with very little spirituality. But I think some of my mindsets have been influenced by the combination of Chinese Taoism and Indian Buddhism in Taiwan. Death in this view is considered just a stage in the ebb and flow of life, much like the oceans. The ocean can take life just as easily as it gives life. But we don’t fear the ocean. We consider the ocean beautiful. The metaphor of the ocean as a physical embodiment of the process of death, or the boundary between life and death is very common in our music.
ZT: What’s life like for a band in Taiwan?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s unbelievably different from other parts of the world. We have music shops, recording studios, venues, festivals, and everything else we could need. I think the main difficulty is reaching Western audiences. Taiwan is conceptually quite foreign to much of the world, and there are of course stereotypes that are projected onto bands of Asian origin. But there’s a great community of musicians here, and a very passionate local metal community that we’d love to share with the world!
ZT: Were there any influences from your own country that inspired, Chthonic perhaps?
Of course! Any Taiwanese band who claims to not be influenced by Chthonic is lying. They are a great inspiration for many of us to see that the Western world does care about Taiwanese music, culture, and instruments. Our own use of erhu in our music was also directly inspired by Chthonic. I saw them on tour in the early 2010s and saw Freddy playing the erhu while screaming and thought “I want to do that”. I’d also cite Bloody Tyrant as a major inspiration for Laang for many of the same reasons. I’m very lucky to now have their own bassist Willy in Laang!
ZT: And who did you grow up listening to, the first bands to open your eyes to metal?
I went through many stages of music. Growing up as a child I mostly listened to classic rock because that’s what my parents liked. I got really into punk when I was around 12 which was a great introduction. Tool was the first metal band I liked when I was 14. A year later I came across an Alcest song by complete chance and fell in love. That was my official gateway that led to black metal!
ZT: How did your live shows go in the States last year?
I had an amazing time. We certainly had some Spinal Tap-like moments, like pulling up for soundcheck to see the venue had been evicted that day because the venue owner stabbed the sound tech while on a drug-fueled rampage while on parole. But overall, it was wonderful. We met so many great people, made some amazing friends, and had so many moments that will be treasured memories forever. It was honestly so uplifting and encouraging to see how many people connected with our music. I could talk for ages about the tour. Suffice it to say, it was the happiest I’ve been in my life, and I can’t wait for our next chance to tour!
ZT: Are you hoping to visit Europe at some point?
Absolutely! We’ve been trying to find a booking agent in Europe for years now with very limited success. Our largest listener base is in Europe, so it makes the most sense for us to come perform there. We’d absolutely love to come as soon as possible. If anyone is interested in booking us, we’re of course happy to come to make some noise!
ZT: Finally, how ambitious do you remain for Laang?
As ambitious as possible! We have loads of goals we’d love to make realities, such as touring new places and reaching larger audiences. We’re going to keep working hard to make this happen, and hopefully there will be lots to look forward to!