Ripped to Shreds began as guitarist/vocalist/founding member Andrew Lee’s solo endeavor to prove to himself that he could grind it alone—including on the drums. Now, after just six years, Ripped to Shreds have become a singular force in modern underground death metal.
Since the Bay Area deathdealer’s 2018 debut, the full-length 埋葬 (Mai-zang), Andrew has considered it also his mission to gain more recognition for Asian-American metal musicians. As he told us back when 埋葬 (Mai-zang) was released, his intentions with Ripped to Shreds were “to increase the visibility of ABCs [American-born Chinese] in extreme metal by being very blatantly Chinese.”
Does this mean Ripped to Shreds are a political band, then? We know that alongside his band’s fiery rise, Andrew has stood up as a vocal opponent against racism. “Being a minority in America is inherently political,” Andrew says. “The way that we [Ripped to Shreds] present ourselves live, our album, our artwork, our titles, our lyrics . . . all of it needs to show elements of Chinese culture. That’s been the whole concept of Ripped to Shreds since the very beginning.”
Now, the full-blown quartet of Californian death metal insurgents Ripped to Shreds emerge from the West Coast underground with 劇變 (Jubian), their most fully realized and visceral work yet. It’s not about taking over. With Jubian, which translates to ‘upheaval,’ Ripped to Shreds make their intentions clear.
“This is the next level. We’re making that jump,” Andrew observes when considering what the new album, 劇變 (Jubian), will mean for Ripped to Shreds. Once a project operated out of his parents’ basement, now a fully operational death metal unit, Andrew admits: “It does make me a little bit nervous when I think about how the album is gonna be received. But in terms of what I achieved with the album, I feel like I did a lot of things I’ve wanted to do for a while.”
For one thing, with Jubian, all the recording was handled in Andrew’s home studio by Andrew himself from October 2021 to January 2022. He’s recorded plenty of times as a self-made extreme metal musician, but this time, he went all in. “Compared to the previous album Luan, Justin [Bean] recorded the drums at his friend’s studio. So I’m not exactly sure what all kinds of mics he used. But here, in my home studio, I installed acoustic paneling on the ceiling, some bass traps. I got a whole bunch of new mics. I got new cymbals. I wanted it to sound good.” He adds that the new record is also “the first big thing” he’s mixed entirely by himself.
Andrew recalls he started writing Jubian early in the Spring of 2021. “I was definitely more conscious of what we’d be able to pull off live.” Andrew tells us: “That had never been a consideration.” In the summer of 2019, Ripped to Shreds debuted live in Taiwan, and ever since Andrew has worked toward forming a stateside lineup for live shows. After hiring drummers to play on two previous releases, including sophomore album 亂 (Luan), Jubian will be the first RTS album to feature the band’s full-time drummer Brian Do. In 2020, Ryan, from the Oakland, CA-based Doomsday, also joined the Ripped to Shreds fold.
Having a full lineup changed the way Andrew approached writing Jubian. “On this album I was definitely thinking, ‘Well we’re gonna have to perform at least some of these songs because when we play live people will expect to hear them.’”
This show of restraint existed only when it came to the various layers of the music, Andrew points out. Otherwise Ripped to Shreds’ third album is an unhinged, all-out assault on the senses. As much as they may have held back for the sake of recreating these songs live, Ripped to Shreds conversely seem to have captured the urgency and breakneck energy of their live performances on record. Andrew assures us, “I’m still using my old caveman ways of banging out simple riffs.” Writing songs for Ripped to Shreds, he says, is the same as it ever was: “Small adjustments over and over again.”
Andrew came up with the album title for the third Ripped to Shreds album in a similar fashion. Bouncing ideas off of his friend Derek from Brain Corrosion, etc., Andrew had several ways of expressing what he wanted to say before finding 劇變 (Jubian). “The way the world has been these last three years, the images I had in my mind were world downfall, world extermination, but in a contemporary sense. Nothing Biblical.” He says “just the way [劇變] looks was a big element” to why he chose these characters for the title.
Jubian bursts wide open with “Violent Compulsion for Conquest,” an elegantly dark, new kind of chainsaw sound teeming with acidic vocals gnashing out lyrics inspired by the Mukden Incident. From its lightning-flash solos to those immensely killer echoing “Ough!”s, this absolute scather, according to Andrew, was born to lead. “I wanted to start with something a little different than the openers of the previous two albums, which is why I have that groovy kind of riff that picks up quickly right away, and I knew I wanted a big drop into a super fast double bass section somewhere in it.” And as for the song’s lyrics about the Mukden Incident, Andrew says, “I think it’s one of those incidents that remain in the national memory of a people for a long time, similar to Pearl Harbor or maybe the Lusitania. As a kick-off to a war I thought it would be a topic that made sense thematically for the first song of a record.”
With “Split Apart by Five Chariots,” Andrew was finally able to scratch another line from his bucket list. “I wanted a song where the entire chorus is me yelling about cocks.” He found his inspiration in Lao Ai, a deceptively well-hung rebel who posed as a eunuch and won the queen dowager’s favor during the advent of the Qin Dynasty. Meanwhile, longtime RTS fans will find the latest chapter of the ongoing ‘Sun Moon Holy Cult’ saga to be its most thrilling episode thus far. One of the album’s most impressive and catchiest tracks,“漢奸 (Racetraitor),” represents that “straight-up melodeath” banger Andrew says he’s always wanted to produce while also giving vent to his experience as a minority in America. And “Reek of Burning Freedom,” Andrew tells us, is “an anti-war song” that incites to remind its discerning listers of the the United States’ “indiscriminate bombing” campaign waged on North Korea during the Korean War.
All of the intensity of power coursing through 劇變 (Jubian) is somehow perfectly captured and rendered by Chinese artist Guang Yang, who also painted the cover of the last RTS album. Andrew says the statue on the cover is Mazu, the Taiwanese sea goddess. The setting of the painting, he tells us, was inspired by several of the local temples he’s visited in Taiwan. He says, “I felt like it was important to have something standing in for Chinese people.”
- D. Pearce