Crescent Lament will perform for their first time at the Female Metal Voices Fest in Wieze (Belgium), it will even be there very first time in Europe! Time to ask them out and let them tell us their story in all colors …
As it’s our first interview with you, can you tell us what your name means and what’s the philosophy behind it?
Crescent Lament was founded in 2007 as a gothic metal band that blended in oriental folk music and Taiwan’s history and culture. Despite being a free nation, Taiwan is still refused membership by the United Nations, and constantly under threat from China. We therefore decided that we should write songs recounting those tragic stories in Taiwan. The splendid and the dark but aesthetic atmosphere of gothic — a little bit of humble expectations amid angry shouts and despair — is just right for expressing the complicated emotions deep inside our hearts. This is what the name of the band means — in a quiet and dark night filled with negative emotions, the light of a crescent may bring hope to the people.
How would you describe yourself towards people who have never heard of you?
People who listen to our music for the first time would think that our music is unique and innovative, because it not only has the expressive and passionate characters of western mental, but also the mysticism of traditional oriental music. The bold attempt in mixing features in oriental and western music, is difficult and rare even in Asia. However, we have a successful start, and we’re confident that we would bring oriental metal music that’s new and fresh to the audience.
Do you use local/old instruments sometimes too?
There have been two phases in production of our music. In the first phase from 2007 to 2011, we focused on western music style, and produced our first album Behind the Lethal Deceit with an anti-war theme. Since 2011, we’ve decided to refocus the theme on Taiwan’s history. The 2015 album Elegy for the Blossoms, for example, tells the story of a Taiwanese geisha who lived in early 20th century. To reenact the surroundings of the time, we used many traditional instruments, such as erhu, pipa and flute from Taiwan, as well as shakuhachi, shamisen, koto, and tsuzumi from Japan.
In the future, we will continue to use folk instruments as an important symbol of our music.
You are from Taiwan, how is life for a metal band from Taiwan?
Although more and more Taiwanese people are getting in touch, getting to understand, and getting to like metal music as Chthonic becomes well-known, metal has never been the mainstream, and Gothic metal that we’re devoted to has even a smaller market. So, in general, it’s very challenging to run a metal band in Taiwan. Economically, since there are little metal fans, musicians have to have other jobs to keep the band running. For marketing, due to lack of professional managers and promoters for metal bands, we musicians often have to market our own works, and release albums on our own. As for performance, there are little venues suitable for metal bands, and in music festivals, metal bands are often given time to perform between main performances. We hope that local metal bands could get out of such difficulties and the environment would have positive developments after metal music matures in Taiwan.
Do you have a lot of gigs outside of Taiwan and how is the local scene doing?
We’ve been actively taking part in shows around Taiwan, and gained opportunities to perform in many world-class music festivals, such as Formoz, Megaport, and Hohaiyan Gongliao Rock Festival. When internationally well-known bands like Lacrimosa, Chthonic, Epica, and Xandria have their concerts in Taipei, we were also fortunate enough to perform as the opening band. In 2012, we were invited to take part in the metal music festival Extreme Camp in South Korea, and this year, we’re planning on having our Asia tour.
How was it to tour with Lacrimosa?
Lacrimosa has been one of our favorite and respected bands. It’s an honor and equally a challenge to perform as the opening guest twice at their concerts in Taiwan in 2009 and 2015. As they are a first-class band and the audience expected to see a perfect show, we of course had to do our best. Off the stage, Lacrimosa members are very easy-going; Tilo and Anne enthusiastically invited us to the backstage to chat on music and performance. Tilo was also very interested in our history and culture, so when he knew that our new album Elegy for the Blossoms was about the story of Taiwanese geishas in the last century, he patiently listened as we spoke about Taiwan’s history, and the complicated relations among Taiwan, Japan, and China.
We’ve learned a lot from performing with Lacrimosa.
You released in 2015 your second album Elegy for the Blossoms, a conceptual album recounting the sorrowful story of a Taiwanese geisha that happened in the late Japanese period and early Chinese Nationalist Party period in Taiwan’s history. Can you tell us more about this story?
Taiwan belonged to the Empire of Japan from 1895 to 1945. Before 1895, honestly speaking, Taiwan was quite a primitive, undeveloped island. Marked imbalance of population and social status existed between men and women. Bad habits (such as foot binding and opium addiction) and poor public hygiene also caused negative influences on Taiwanese.
During the initial years of the Japanese rule, the relationship between the Japanese government and Taiwanese citizens was indeed quite tense. From 1895 to 1915, Taiwanese launched several military attacks against the Japanese governors. However, as long as the military resistance subsided, the Empire of Japan modernized Taiwan at a rapid speed. Infrastructures and industries were well-established. The life quality of Taiwanese people was dramatically improved.
The Japanese government civilized Taiwanese citizens not only physically but also mentally. Before the Japanese era, education in Taiwan was a privilege limited to rich people. Moreover, girls were discouraged from learning because of the unreasonable tradition: Ignorance is a woman's virtue. Since the public school system was set up in Taiwan in 1896, the situation was getting much better. By the end of 1943, about 71% children in Taiwan had attended public schools. Taiwanese people became educated citizens that would obey the laws and be punctual. Public order was excellent: people even had no need to close their doors while sleeping, because there was almost no thief or murderer.
On 1945/08/15, the Empire of Japan lost the World War 2, and gave up the control over Taiwan. There was no functioning government in Taiwan in the following two months; even so, the public order in Taiwan was still as good as before. Taiwanese proved they were civilized people with great self-control and strict morality. It was the Utopia time in Taiwan’s history that makes every Taiwanese be proud of it. It is undeniable the Japanese education had a great contribution to such positive behaviors.
The Utopia time ended after the Republic of China (ROC, controlled by Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as KMT) took over Taiwan on 1945/10/25. The KMT government came as a conqueror, not a savior. When the KMT soldiers and policemen saw the Taiwanese left the doors unlocked, they broke into the houses and stole everything they found. The public order of Taiwan was destroyed immediately, and never recovered. Later, the Chinese Civil War occurred in China (1946-1949) dragged Taiwanese to hell. Being a wealthy island with advanced agriculture, Taiwan became the major supply base for the ROC during the entire war against the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As the war situation deteriorated, the KMT government shipped almost all of the Taiwan’s resources to China regardless of the essential need of Taiwanese citizens. Severe famine and uncontrollable inflation, which even didn’t happen during World War II, stroke Taiwan since 1946. Numerous Taiwanese died of starvation. The suicide rate became incredibly high.
As an inevitable consequence, the 228 Incidence broke out in 1947. However, the KMT government carried out a brutal, extensive military massacre to respond to people’s request. Within 2 months, the KMT army executed about 30,000 Taiwanese citizens. To prevent further organized resistance of Taiwanese people, elites such as doctors and lawyers had been intentionally eliminated. Later, during the prolonged martial law rule from 1949-1987 (called “White Terror” in Taiwan’s history), there were additional 140,000 innocent citizens got imprisoned or executed.
Taiwanese use a proverb to describe the political change from the Japanese era to the KMT rule. We say: “Dogs left (Japanese left), pigs come (Chinese come). Dogs will at least guard the house for you, but the only thing pigs can do is to eat.” Our album Elegy for the Blossoms also spoke about the story. Taiwanese geisha is actually not a product of Japanese culture: it existed in Taiwan since mid-19th century, decades before the Japanese rule. As the Japanese government gave tacit consent to it, the trade reached its peak during the Japanese era. Taiwanese geishas “sold” their artistic skills but not their bodies, and were good at poetry, music and were able to give cultured talks. In the Taiwanese society at the time, especially the local intellectuals, admired the geishas. However, the culture that existed for nearly a century disappeared as the new ruler—KMT government—arrived in 1945. This is also hinted in the story of A-hiong and Bîng-hong, who survived World War II, but their happiness disappeared in 1946 after the war ended.
How did the world react onwards this album?
There are three features of this album: first, the story comes from Taiwan’s history and culture; second, we used our native tongue—Taiwanese—to write the lyrics; and third, a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese folk instruments were used. The three features won wide praises from many people.
We chose to tell the story of Taiwanese geishas because we wanted to preserve Taiwan’s history and culture. Why? Well, on October 25, 1945, Taiwan was transferred from the Japanese government to the KMT government. However, the corrupted and incapable nationalist government led to complete disappointment of the Taiwanese people within merely six weeks. But the KMT regime’s reaction to it, was the massacre of Taiwanese elite during the 228 Incident in 1947, and the prolonged martial law rule from 1949 to 1987—which was later known as the White Terror—to restrict people’s freedom of thoughts. Under the dark repressive regime, people could become a political prisoner for talking about their lives in the past, or remembering their history. People could even be punished for speaking their own native language, which was Taiwanese. Under such social atmosphere, the early history and culture of Taiwan were intentionally erased by the government.
Let’s go back to the main character in the album, Taiwanese geishas. They had been quite popular around the country from mid-19th century to mid-20th century. However, in the 21st century when we made the album “Elegy for the Blossoms”, we were surprised to find that it was almost impossible to find complete documentations about these Taiwanese geishas. We could only try to understand how they lived and worked through a few research papers in the national library. It’s really saddening that, traces of Taiwanese geishas, once popular for nearly one century in Taiwan, were almost completely wiped out by the KMT regime through decades of mind control, blocking of historical facts, and brainwashing.
Beginning this year, the issue of transitional justice and the handling of the government’s wrongdoings since 1945 has been formally discussed. In addition, preserving historical objects and saving cultural heritage that were once wiped out by the government have also been brought under the spotlight. In Elegy for the Blossoms, we intentionally told the story of Taiwanese geishas, and wrote lyrics in Taiwanese, because we wanted to preserve the cultural landscape, and what we’ve done has won wide support from local historians.
We also tried to pass on Taiwan’s historical memories by blending in Taiwanese and Japanese folk music in Gothic metal. Against a drastic background, the sorrowful tone of the folk instruments may summon the retrospective atmosphere of the age. The harmonious mixing of oriental and western music is one big feature of “Elegy for the Blossoms”. No matter the audience from Taiwan or abroad, music critics or amateur music lovers, have given positive remarks for the “oriental” Gothic metal music with our own style.
Orphaned Warriors is a beautiful ballad and indeed with a very weeping sound and a very sad feel. Can we say that this is one of the most beautiful anti-war songs from Asia?
First of all, thanks very much for your good words! Orphaned Warriors is in our 2011 album Behind the Lethal Deceit, with an anti-war theme, which was not usual in Asian bands. The song Orphaned Warriors recounts the story of a girl missing her loved one on the battlefield, who has not returned when he was supposed to. The psychological suffering because of the waiting and the worries was an important element of the song.
Taiwan is now still under military threat of China (PRC), and therefore the anti-war issue is something we’re paying a lot of attention to. We wouldn’t say that this is one of the most beautiful anti-war songs in Asia, but it’s a song through which we wanted to show our wish of peace.
You will perform at the Metal Female Voices Fest, how did you get in touch with this festival?
Metal Female Voices Fest is a very well known music festival, and we often hear metal fans talking about it even when we’re afar in Taiwan. Since many years ago, we’ve always wanted to be performing at the MFVF, but as we were working on the album Elegy for the Blossoms at the time, we didn’t get a chance to do it. In June last year, we finally released Elegy for the Blossoms. From then on, we’ve set taking part at MFVF as our objective of the year in 2016, and closely followed the submission information on its official website. Through the online system, we easily completed the submission, and got response from MFVF staff regarding any questions we’ve asked. We were truly impressed!
What can we expect on stage?
One major feature of our current music is that we’ve used many traditional Taiwanese folk instruments. To give the audience the oriental taste, we will invite musicians good at playing these traditional instruments to perform with us on the stage in Belgium. Moreover, we will use animations to show the story of the Taiwanese geisha as described in Elegy for the Blossoms. With such visual effect, the audience would better understand the story that we’re trying to tell. Even when we sing in our native tongue—Taiwanese—the audience would understand what we’re trying to express through the English messages in the video.
Will you sing some songs in English too?
That’s possible. Our first album Behind the Lethal Deceit is an English album, and a lot of songs from the album are very popular in Taiwan. But the style and instrumental arrangements in the album are western, and may not be unique enough for the audience in Europe. So our performance would base on the style of Elegy for the Blossoms, hoping to allow the audience to feel the unique charm of oriental metal music. Of course, as we mentioned, when singing in Taiwanese, we would use videos to allow the audience to better enjoy our performance.
If you would have the chance to add one more band, who would it be and why?
If we are the organizers and could add one more band, we’d love to invite the Japanese band Wagakki. They are a very popular band, and we’re sure that a lot of people know them. Their performance is spectacular with unique appearance, and more importantly, under a modern musical structure, they use a lot of folk instruments, and successfully promoted their traditional culture. Some people may think it’s an unexpected choice for a Taiwanese band to recommend an already-famous Japanese band, but their successful blend of western and oriental, classical and modern is our objective, and that’s why we would recommend the band.
This festival is also known for a lot of occasional duets and special performances, who would you love to invite on stage or join on stage (from the list of already known artists)?
As a genuine music lover, we love and respect all the bands on the list a lot, and we want to invite them all on stage! But if we must make a choice, Tarja and Liv are of course our dream partners. We’ve started listening to their beautiful voices since we first knew metal music. They’ve inspired us a lot, and have a profound influence on our music career. It will be truly amazing if we have the chance to invite them!
How good do you know Belgium? What do you know about us?
Although we haven’t got a chance to visit Belgium, we’ve always known Belgium as a beautiful nation that plays a key role in the international stage. It has beautiful historical buildings, advanced industries, and its capital Brussels is known as “capital of Europe”. Soccer is also something that we would think of when speaking about Belgium. Although Taiwan’s national soccer team is far from being among the top-ranking teams in the world, we would be excited and stay up all night to watch the FIFA World Cup games. We were very impressed about the good performance of the Belgian team in the 2014 World Cup. Of course, the delicious food in Belgium is very famous too. Belgian chocolate and beers sell very well in Taiwan. We’ve also heard that Belgian fries is a must-eat when visiting the country.
We’re looking forward to our trip to Belgium in every way!
Will you release a new CD soon?
We’re not moving very fast in terms of releasing new albums. Take our second album for example, it took us three-and-a-half year to finish. There are several reasons: first, all of us in the band have a job that’s unrelated to music, and we can only work on the band at our spare time. In addition, the main songwriter of the band, Komet, is an attending doctor at a medical center, and therefore has even limited time on songwriting. But it’s exactly because we have other stable sources of income that we could spend a lot of time and energy to pursue perfect musical works without having to worry about the economic issue.
Recently, we’ve started discussing the direction for our new album, but there is still a long way before its release. No matter what the theme of our next project is, we’re determined to create music based on Taiwan’s stories along the road of oriental Gothic metal.
Do you have a message for the world?
Although Taiwan is an independent democratic nation, it has often been silenced in the international society because of not being a member of the United Nations. Therefore, what we want to do is to “let the world hear the voices of Taiwan”. We’re thankful to the MFVF for giving us such a good opportunity. Maybe it’s the first time that people hear about us, and know nothing about Crescent Lament, about Taiwan, or the local folk metal that we want to show, but please listen to our music, and maybe you would fall in love with Taiwan, which you’re just getting to know.
Is there something you would love to achieve?
Taiwan’s historical and cultural heritages are rapidly disappearing as the government is intentionally or unintentionally overlooking them. Although many people are working hard to preserve them, only a small part could be saved. We hope to raise awareness of the Taiwanese on cultural heritage through the album, so that our own history could be passed on, and not disappear with time.
Through the album, we also wish to promote Taiwanese music and culture to the world. As a small island nation under military threat of China (PRC), it would be our biggest wish to attract more people to understand Taiwan, and to support Taiwan’s freedom and democracy with us.
Thank you for your time and see you on stage!
Discover them at The Metal Female voices fest in Wieze:
Mercy Isle (Usa)
Skarlett Riot (Uk)