How To Be a Bad Asian: I’m a Metalhead

Life is hard enough as an Asian. Not all of us can get perfect SAT scores, graduate from medical school or trick out a Honda Civic. The pressure to embrace our culture remains but sometimes, we just don’t want to. How To Be A Bad Asian is an ongoing series of personal essays by the 8Asians writers about what sets us apart from the API community, how we deal with the stereotypes that we put upon ourselves and why we all can’t be that perfect Asian. It’s time to be bad.

Nothing scares little old Asian ladies as much as guttural growls and double-bass drum blasts. Except, perhaps, Tila Tequila. When my Mom first heard me playing a Metallica tape, she asked me if I was getting a headache. Then she asked how I could listen to people screaming and banging around furniture. This, as you can imagine, is not what she had in mind when she threw me into music to take violin lessons.

Asian Americans are not a common sight at heavy metal shows. I think I counted three at the last Slayer show and just one at All That Remains. Otherwise, it’s typically a sea of homogeneity.

(All bands are linked so you can check out some of their delectable tunes. I’m rocking out to Chimaira as I type this.)

I tell my Mom to blame it all on MTV. Faith No More’s video for “Epic” was on heavy rotation back in the day. The flopping fish was kinda sad, but the tunes were catchy and addictive. Then I discovered Headbanger’s Ball. HFS. What an awesome barrage of energy. Before all this, I didn’t have much of a musical taste. I listened to whatever pop song was on the radio. Madonna, Phil Collins, that sort of thing.

Now, I’m into a range of guitar artistry. From the psychedelic purrs of Pink Floyd to the pounding percussion of Pestilence, and most everything in between: Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Paradise Lost, Pain, Pantera, etc.

Most Asian Americans I meet are into pop, hip hop, or some kind of Asian-pop (J-pop, K-pop, C-pop, whatever-pop). I’m generally greeted with blank stares or, “Oh…” replies whenever I tell them what I like. A few will echo my Mom: “How can you listen to that noise?”

To be fair, there are those into hard rock and metal too. They’ll head-bang to a Megadeth song right alongside me. There’s always a fair number of Asian American fans at Linkin Park shows too, though they’re not as common at similar acts like Crazy Town or Stuck Mojo.

Rare as Asian American metalheads are, I know of a few and we’ve bonded over this fact. Even traded a few mix tapes (back in the day) and MP3s with them.

The extreme end of metal is remarkably empty of Asian Americans, however. I’m talking about sub-genres like death metal, black metal, grindcore, deathcore, etc. Understandably, this isn’t music for everyone. There are sub-genres in every form of music. Many thrive on their obscurity. They revel in being difficult to consume. And woe to the bands that go mainstream – they get labeled as sell outs.

Why are there so few Asian American fans? I don’t know, but maybe it has something to do with one’s childhood environment. I grew up in a mostly-white town. The popular genres of music here were rock and pop. No country or electronica. And hip hop was just emerging and considered to be too “black” by the popular kids.

Death metal wasn’t popular either. Metalheads, or “dirtbags,” as the other kids would call them, were the misfits and outcasts. Being a minority as one out of three Asian Americans in my school, I was also a misfit and outcast.

I started listening to death metal before falling into this crowd though. In many ways, I got along with this crowd because I listened to the same music. They were more into Black Sabbath than Bold Thrower though, more Led Zeppelin than Lamb of God but it was close enough. I liked Sabbath and Zeppelin, too. We got along with our shared tastes in killer riffs and catchy hooks.

Once I hit college, I stopped hanging out with that crowd. Gone were my heavy metal t-shirts and denim jackets. (I never had spiked leather pants though. I was into the music, not the fashion.) As a result, no one could tell I listened to death metal by my appearances – and hey, like Mom always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” right?

I still try to catch a show or two though and I still enjoy discovering new bands. Old school death metal acts like Death and Obituary still grace my MP3 player just as much as rockers of the newer genres, like nu metal (Saliva) and metalcore (Killswitch Engage). Yes, I do love me some crunchy guitars and growly vocals.

This is all very far from the Bach and Beethoven that my Mom wanted me to play on my violin. That’s what you get for not forcing me to practice everyday, Mom!


Didja know there is a metal scene in Asia? Check out these Asian rockers:

Rock on! For more headbanging, check out Popcast88’s interview with guys behind the documentary, GLOBAL METAL.

[Photo courtesy of here]

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About Mike

I'm an idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student. And what, you want to Internet-stalk me too? Why, sure.
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