This Was North Korea's Only Death Metal Band

If any people have a reason to be ticked off, it's North Koreans. They'd never be able to show it in public, though, because Big Brother is not only watching, but arresting folks and tossing them in torture-ridden forced labor camps, as Amnesty International reports. North Korea is a fully state-dominated dictatorship that controls and regulates every single aspect of media, entertainment, and journalism, and is stuffed full of nonstop "surveillance, repression, censorship and propaganda," as Reporters without Borders cites. We've got endless videos online about North Korean defectors (per BBC News), prison camp escapees (per Journeyman Pictures), state secrets (per Vice), worshippers of Great Leader statues (per Joel Olsen), and much, much more.

Alright, but do North Koreans have any freedoms at all? Is there any chance for personal expression? What about the arts or music? Well, let's have a look at North Korean defector Yeonmi Park's YouTube channel. She's posted footage of state-controlled, all-girl, uniform-wearing, military-music outlets like Moranbong Band performing songs praising the dictatorship. Set to a bright, brassy, major-key march, lyrics include, "Firmly trampling over the Yankee Devil's surrender papers / Passing through the square / Comrades, forcefully, forcefully, forcefully / Let the whole earth tremble from our forward march." Right. Not exactly this summer's feel-good hit.

However, it seems like a few North Koreans might have slipped through the musical cracks of such a crushing lack of freedom. Enter Red War, North Korea's sole metal band. And not just any metal, but death metal.

An underground demo surfaces online

So yeah, if death metal seems likely to arise from any place on Earth, you'd think North Korea is a good fit. Enraged lyrics, brutal riffs, savagely pounding double kick drums: could anything be a better vehicle for expressing frustration with the powers that be? Well, unless these musicians were pro-dictatorship, West-hating, Kim Jong Un-loving ultra-nationalists. We're not quite sure, to be honest. But taking a look at some of the band's songs — we've got three, total — it just might be the case that Red War is directing its wrath toward the wrong target.

YouTube user Heliogabalius has helpfully compiled all the links to Red War's available music. The user copied and bootlegged, maybe converted to a single track — we're not sure — a three-song Red War demo reportedly dating back to 2010. Available on YouTube, the video also links to a Red War MySpace page and a Bandcamp page. This is amazing, considering that the North Korean internet routes through China's Great Firewall, per Vox.

And you know what? Even though the quality of the recording is terrible, the music isn't. Actually, it's the exact opposite. Metalheads, and death metal fans in particular, will immediately spot the quality of composition, polyrhythms, and skillful time signature changes, even the decently throaty growl of the singer (no matter that you can't understand the lyrics).

Death metal vs. plain old death

But how about Red War's political leanings? Like we mentioned, you might want to hold off on the headbanging until you look at the names of the band's three available tracks. Visible on Bandcamp, the titles are, "War with U.S.A.," "Stop Imperialism," and "Painful Hate Until Death." So basically, the folks of Red War might have sucked down the Kool-Aid a bit much before they penned these songs. 

Then again, perhaps these track names are a trick that allowed the band to not get discovered and murdered by the authorities while writing and recording. As The New York Times recounts, Kim Jon Un has executed at least 23 people within the past decade just for listening to the "vicious cancer" of K-pop. This information comes to us courtesy of the Seoul-based, human rights-focused Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), whose report is available in full online. The purpose of such state action, of course, is to spread terror amidst the population and ensure that citizens only absorb information directly sanctioned by the government. Like we said before, Red War needs to make sure its wrath is pointed in the right direction.

Regardless, if such music is indeed coming from North Korea at all — and isn't a hoax — then "vicious cancers" besides K-pop have already wriggled their way into the populace. It would be ironic, indeed, if a North Korean death metal band expressed its hatred of the U.S. using music birthed in the U.S.