Just when we thought we’ve seen it all, 2020 has served us some more of the good stuff!
Though formed in 2018, Taiwanese death metal band Dharma needed to do a little more before they could unleash their sound on us. Metal drummer, Jack Tung, had a vision. He wanted to combine Buddhist teachings with the power and energy of death metal. Though metal, in all it’s forms, is quite popular in Taipei, he found few takers.
“When people first heard of my idea, they instantly thought of their grandmothers or religious chanting groups,” Tung told the South China Morning Post, “Many asked if I was forming a religious choir band, No!”
The idea first came to him fourteen years ago wen he was inspired by a recording of Tibetan lamas reciting sutras in low throaty chants, which were apt for the genre. Finally, two years ago he collaborated with guitarist Andy Lin to write songs in Sanskrit and Mandarin incorporating symphonic death and black metal elements. They also managed to rope in vocalist Joe Henley, a Taipei-based Canadian journalist and musician to take on the vocal responsibilities of this unique venture.
There was, however, a catch. Before picking up the mic, Joe would have to seek the blessings and study under the band’s spiritual advisor Master Chan Song, a devout Buddhist monk and teacher, who also provided interpretations of ancient Sanskrit texts. Having studied under Song and receiving his blessing to perform the sutras in public, Joe eventually became a Buddhist himself.
“We can do so much with music,” Tung continued, “I hope to use my music, combined with religious scriptures to introduce religion to metalheads.”
Tung is far from apologetic about his music’s evangelistic goals. In fact he says, “I think it’s better to have a religion. It doesn’t matter which religion, they all promote goodness. If we can influence one person with our performances, not necessarily converting that person to Buddhism or Taoism, but by bringing them closer to a religion, that would be a successful show.”
Tung, who grew up when Taiwan was a dictatorship under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, when music like this was heavily censored, now feels, quite ironically, that though he lives in a democracy and an open society with lots of freedom, social morality has declined. With audiences looking up sutras and mantras and their meanings during and after his shows, it seems that his dream may actually be coming true after all.