The Hornèd Hand

Men of metal – short fiction by Kaiser Kuo


Ed: This story was read out at the Anthill Scotch & Stories night, accompanied by the Ardbeg 10

The place: Beijing’s notorious Get Lively club, where it’s Metal Moshpit Monday and the heads, they are a-banging. The band: Daomuren Gonghui, the locally-legendary Grave Robbers Guild, voted Beijing’s Most Morose Band by SinoMetal magazine three years running. They’re harder, louder, faster and far scarier than any band should reasonably be – even one that plays “Dess Maitou,” as they call their genre.

They stalk the stage, menacing and murderous, each clad in a black tee emblazoned with the undecipherable thorn-font logo of another Dess Maitou or Hei Maitou band. They’re painted up to look like they’ve just been exhumed from month-old mass graves, as though what flesh remains on their gaunt faces and gangly arms might slough right off. Fortunately, it doesn’t.

The relentless blast-beats the drummer kicks out slam into you like a jackhammer shoved up against your sternum. The guitar power chords bombard you like a pulse cannon firing volleys of pure white noise. And these are but the opening salvos in GRG’s ruthless “maitou” onslaught.

From above the stage, an inverted crucifix descends. Affixed to it is the Antichrist himself. This is Rot, GRG’s lead screamer. The moshing mass below surges forward to receive the Deceiver. They free him from the cross and deliver him to the stage. His palpable evil is not diminished when his mobile phone falls out of his pocket; no smile crosses his face as he thanks the pimply teen who hands it back to him reverently.

The Baphomet is tattooed onto Rot’s shaven pate. He snarls. His eyes roll back, revealing only bloodshot whites. And then he channels the voice of the cloven-hooved Prince of Darkness, who sounds, as it turns out, uncannily like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. But Rot’s vox is versatile: He shifts now to his other voice, the high voice, which is more like a demonic Elmo. The effect is chilling.

Two hours and a bottle of Nivea cleansing cream later (who knew that makeup was so hard to remove?), they drink tapioca bubble milk tea at a trendy all-night eatery and run through a post-game about their show. I surreptitiously pour myself a glass of scotch from a hip flask, and offer it around. They all politely decline. “We should have closed with ‘Putrefaction,’” says guitarist Si Shen as he wipes bubble milk tea off an errant strand of hair. Si Shen is his stage name: it means Angel of Death, or “Grim Reaper” as he prefers, but his mom won’t let him officially change it from Wang Liwei, and he can respect that, he says. “Which song is ‘Putrefaction’?” asks Thor (pronounced “sore”), their drummer. It takes a while for Thor to get it. GRG riffs, as it turns out, are hard to hum, and “Dying Gasp” confessedly sounds a lot like “Putrefaction.” Rot, Grim Reaper, Thor – the bassist, Li Jing, is the only one without a cool stage name so far. “Problem is we’ve already used all the good words as names for our songs,” he reflects, and the others nod in agreement and suck at their bubble tea pensively through outsize straws.

On Wednesday we’re on the 331 bus from Wudaokou, heading to rehearsal. Rot and the Reaper are talking influences. Reaper’s into Scandinavian Black Maitou. His older brother runs a business importing dried reindeer penises from Finland, and brings back CDs for him from bands like Mayhem, Emperor, Burzum, Dimmu Borgir, and Cradle of Filth. Rot cites Impaled, Nazarene, Christ Denied, Deicide, and Elton John. “We think about Dess all the time,” explains Reaper. “Like right now, I keep thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if a Hummer crashed into this bus and took out like half the passengers?” Reaper is fascinated by Hummers and plans to buy a black one if GRG gets a record deal.

Grave Robbers Guild rehearses twice a week at the Beijing School for the Deaf. They’ve been kicked out of countless rehearsal spaces, but they’ve finally found a place where they’re not likely to disturb anyone. Some of the hearing impaired students regularly come round to their rehearsals, standing so close to the amps that if they weren’t already deaf, they would be. “Have you guys learned any sign language?” I ask. “Nah,” says Rot. “We only need one sign. Hail Satan!” And on cue, they all throw the horns.

Kaiser Kuo combines China hand and metal head, is cohost of Sinica podcast and works at Baidu, which has been described as "like Jon Bon Jovi went to Google”