By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Taiwanese melodic post-black metal act Laang (meaning “cold” in Chinese) recently released the lyric video for debut single “我的漂浮屍體 (My Floating Corpse),” which will be featured on their upcoming sophomore album ‘Xinteng (Sadness, Loss)’ via Austria’s Talheim Records.
Based out of Keelung City, Taiwan, their music is based on the horrific visions captured by frontman Yang Haitao during a near-death experience while declared medically dead.
According to Haitao, ‘Xinteng’ will primarily focus on the “melancholic and depressive overtones of life after death,” different from the first album “Haiyang” (Ocean), which focused on feelings of terror.
Formerly a one-man-band, Haitao also recently announced on social media the recruitment of two more members, drummer Wanling Li and bassist Willy Kreig Tai.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Haitao about the new lyric video and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Taiwan to someone who has never been there before?
Yang Haitao – Good question! I guess it depends on how familiar they are with Eastern culture to begin with. To an outsider, I think it may best be described as a really interesting mixture of cultures because of its history. There are quite a lot of shared Chinese and Japanese cultural elements, as well as many native Taiwanese cultural influences. Taiwan is a very Westernized country in many ways, but does still have important heritage. The food is fantastic, the people are remarkably friendly, karaoke bars are a cultural staple, and the summers are unnecessarily hot!
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about melodic black metal?
Yang Haitao – When I first got into black metal, it was the realization that melody could be so carefully woven into such aggressive music and realizing how dynamic the music could be in that way. Now, I am really excited by finding new ways that even more elements can be involved. When I hear something new that I’ve never heard before, like something crazy, like a Spaghetti Western black metal band or Gregorian Chant black metal or something more innovative, like a change in conventions – that is really exciting to see. How far can people push the genre and what can they make?
Music Bugle – What inspired your newest single “My Floating Corpse”?
Yang Haitao – The album that this song will be included on called ‘Xinteng’ deals with a number of topics relating to depression, loss, and trauma. For those who know the band background, the music is based on a near-death experience I had years ago. While the first album was more about the terror of the experience, this album is about the aftermath and the recovery. What is the mental toll on someone who undergoes a traumatic experience? How does one rationalize being medically dead, but by some miracle, lives in the end? It’s a very difficult thing to think about. The idea of a floating corpse is an allusion of sorts to a state of purgatory of being neither alive nor dead. The lyrics in the bridge probably mention this most directly by saying “the corpses will sink in the ocean, but I cannot, I just float on top of the water.” Water-based metaphors have been the best method I’ve had for conveying the ideas that I want to communicate with Laang, and “My Floating Corpse” essentially paints the ocean as the line between life and death.
Music Bugle – Does social media make it easier or harder for a band to stand out these days?
Yang Haitao – Yes and no. The algorithms are abysmal and you have to pay for more than 10 percent of people who follow your page to actually see what you post. At the same time, it has opened some really interesting avenues that have surprised me. A good friend of mine in Singapore has been running a weekly Facebook livestream of his band The Evil Singing Pandas – who are excellent by the way, don’t be thrown by the name – where they bring in interesting people to interview, kind of like a heavy metal and Asian culture version of a late night show. By being featured on his show every now and then, I’ve been able to connect with some really amazing people and get involved in some great collaborations. It has really surprised me how such a simple idea of a Facebook livestream can make so much community!
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your second album ‘Xinteng’?
Yang Haitao – It’s funny because I had a very definitive method of writing for the first album, but with ‘Xinteng,’ it’s been so different. It’s very spontaneous… I think is the best way to describe it. I would get ideas for songs at the strangest times, like on the bus, or on my lunch break at work and would just take out my computer and write down something quickly in MIDI on a piano plugin and then revisit it when I got home. Once I had that sketch, I would generally be able to record the entire song minus vocals that same day, so it was a lot of working in these sporadic, but hyper-productive bursts. Vocals were recorded in three different sessions, pretty much whenever my roommate was out, so I wouldn’t be too impolite! Since I record and produce everything myself in my bedroom, basically I’m afforded that level of flexibility without spending lots of money at recording studios. The experience has been a lot of fun in some ways because I love writing and recording music, but at the same time, it always opens old wounds through revisiting a uniquely terrible time in my life, so all in all, recording ‘Xinteng’ was a broadly emotional process.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yang Haitao – A lot, actually. Because of my health background, I fall into the high-risk category and haven’t been able to leave my apartment aside from grocery shopping in months so I don’t get sick. It has made me very productive with music, but also being isolated is very unhealthy for the mind, so that has been difficult. As for the band, we had to cancel a co-headlining North American tour that was supposed to be starting this coming weekend. The release date of ‘Xinteng’ has also basically been postponed until the pandemic ends, because with all the issues with postal services right now, it doesn’t make much sense to release an album. Hopefully, things will improve soon!
Music Bugle – According to a recent Facebook post, two new members were recruited. How was that process of selecting them?
Yang Haitao – I’ve got to say, I’ve never had such a simple time finding band members in my life. Band members are notoriously difficult to coordinate with, but this just fell into place beautifully. I put up a Facebook status on my personal profile essentially saying, “I don’t want to be a one-man-band anymore” and a great drummer named Wanling Li got in touch with me within hours and after chatting a bit, she sounded like a great fit! As for our new bassist, Willy Kreig Tai, I had actually been meaning to ask him to join for months. He is the bassist for a great Taiwanese folk metal band called Bloody Tyrant that was a really big inspiration for me to even make the band Laang. He is also a hell of a bassist and producer, so I messaged him, sent him some new tracks and I was surprised how quickly he basically said, “Sure, I love black metal, let’s do it!” A great quote I’ve been circulating with a friend lately is, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” It’s always worth asking, you may surprise yourself!
Music Bugle – Given the heavy emotional tones in both the band’s music and subject matter, what was the hardest song for you to write or compose?
Yang Haitao – That’s a really interesting question, actually. I would say the song “Yan” from the first album ‘Haiyang’ was the most difficult. I had already recorded a few Laang songs at that point, but they had all been very aggressive and dissonant songs because I wanted to make music about the terror, but I was walking home from work one day and had the thought that I should make a song that was more personal and intimate that actually explored how I felt about all of this. Not just recount the story, but to explore the actual emotional component of dying which, up until that point, I had essentially buried. I got home and wrote the song on the piano that evening. It was a very vulnerable time. When I recorded vocals for that album – done in one essentially overnight session, I decided to record vocals for “Yan” first. The idea behind this was to see for myself what my emotional response would be – how would this come out? Even when beginning the recording session, I didn’t actually know what vocal style I would use for Laang. When I started recording, I just tried to go with what I felt and allow myself to re-experience everything. What came out was the vocal sound that Laang has and has ended up becoming the staple sound I suppose. Someone commented on the lyric video for “My Floating Corpse,” earlier today, saying he could “really hear the pain” in the scream and a reviewer once said it sounded like I was “shredding my vocal chords” and that’s exactly what I wanted to make. It was a painful experience and if that is being conveyed through the music, then hopefully, the music will resound with the listeners. “Yan” as a song also opened the door for ‘Xinteng’ as an album on the whole by further exploring these emotional components.
Music Bugle – Away from music, what might people be surprised to know about you?
Yang Haitao – Caught in a bit of a bind here. I spend so much time doing music, sometimes I wonder if I do anything else interesting! (Laughs) Well, maybe this isn’t so interesting, but my day job is I work as a researcher and an instructor in biology at a university! I essentially study how climate change and pollution is affecting animal health. Perhaps someday, I’ll be able to do music as a full-time job, but not yet, but that said, you would be amazed how many musicians are scientists! Brian May from Queen works for NASA and has a PhD in astrophysics. Ville Friman from Insomnium has a PhD in biology and works at a university as well. If you have two passions, you don’t necessarily have to choose just one!
Music Bugle – What do you feel you haven’t accomplished yet, musically speaking?
Yang Haitao – If you asked me this question six months ago, my answer would have been very different than it is tonight. I feel like recently, I’ve accomplished a lot of goals that I initially had, like writing the soundtrack for movies and video games. Laang is currently officially writing the soundtrack for a horror movie and three hentai video games! Yes, apparently hentai games like metal? (Laughs) Right now, I almost feel greedy asking for more than that right now, if I’m honest! I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had recently and it’s really exciting getting to experience so many new sides of music composition work. If I had to choose something I still want to accomplish, I feel like the main thing left is touring, since both tours we’ve booked over the past two years have been cancelled due to crazy international crises. We seem to have bad luck with that so far. Once COVID has been kicked away, hopefully we will be able to do a tour and meet and connect with all of our fans properly!