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On the surface, Ripped to Shreds’ new full-length 劇變 (Jubian) is a hell-raising death metal LP. It’s musically ambitious, splitting the difference between thrash-paced ferocity and soaring melodic guitar work. Beyond this record’s raw power, however, Ripped to Shreds uses these 33 minutes to examine history, identity, and the Chinese diaspora’s relationship with America. Masterminded as ever by Bay Area polymath Andrew Lee, 劇變 (Jubian) takes Ripped to Shreds’ sound beyond its previous parameters.
Ripped to Shreds is a more cohesive ensemble now—this is no longer a basement project, but a vehicle for some of Lee’s best ideas to date. Assembled with the help of members of Bay Area acts Doomsday, Spinebreaker, and Hemotoxin, 劇變 (Jubian) also sees Lee handle mixing and mastering himself for the first time on a project of this size.
As a band, Ripped to Shreds’ main motive is heightened visibility for American-born Chinese people in metal. They accomplish this here both through confronting history’s gnarlier side and through the sheer volume of catchy riffs and emotive solos. There’s an unabashedly political element, sure—”being a minority in America is inherently political,” Lee points out—but 劇變 (Jubian) is, first and foremost, a genuinely fun listen.
劇變 (Jubian) is richly detailed, and “獨孤九劍 日月神教第三節 (In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt 3)” is an especially large serving of controlled chaos. It’s a ten-minute opus-within-an-opus that moves from a sprint into an epic, doomy midsection adorned with epic melodeath guitar passages. As with other tracks on 劇變 (Jubian), these ear-catching moments draw the listener into a tale rooted in folklore.
In the case of “Split Apart by Five Chariots,” the folklore in question is a funny-yet-gruesome Qin Dynasty episode of a well-endowed warrior sneaking into the palace disguised as a eunuch to seduce the Empress Dowager. “I wanted a song where the entire chorus is me yelling about cocks,” Lee says of the track, which concludes with the warrior’s explosive five-chariot end. Not everything is so comical—this is not, after all, Houkago Grind Time. “Reek of Burning Freedom” is packed with roiling riffs and pulls no punches in depicting the American firebombing campaign during the Korean War. Other songs grapple with China’s layered political history. Notably, Lee’s furious howls alternate between English and Mandarin on several tracks.
What results is an alternately inspiring and inspired death metal record that confidently creates a space for a growing diversity of musicians and ideas. Lee’s long since proven himself to be capable of marshaling humor and musical depravity in equal measure to a wide variety of ends. 劇變 (Jubian) shows a band capable of doing both at once without eschewing the thick riffs and combustive composition that keep heads banging.