Ripped to Shreds has undergone a remarkable ascent since its beginnings as the solo project of Bay Area musician Andrew Lee. The group’s debut album 埋葬 (which translates to “Burial”) presented Lee as a formidable force in old-school death metal, building on the vintage chainsaw riffs of Entombed-style Gothenburg rippers with a unique narrative approach drawn heavily from Chinese history and mythology. From the beginning, as Lee pointed out in a press release, it’s been his goal “to increase the visibility of ABCs [American-born Chinese] in extreme metal by being very blatantly Chinese,” which in large part set albums like 2020’s outstanding Luan apart from the more Eurocentric or generic horror tropes of extreme metal—not to mention the fact it just simply rips.
Third album 劇變 (Jubian)—which loosely translates to “upheaval”—represents a convergence of significant milestones for Ripped to Shreds. Though Lee wasn’t the only musician who performed on its predecessor, this is the first in which Ripped to Shreds is a proper band, rounded out by guitarist Michael Chavez, drummer Brian Do and bassist Ryan. Additionally it’s the band’s first for Relapse, a leveling up in visibility for the group as they emerge with an utterly scorching new album, reaffirming their continued growth and vitality in a period that feels like an embarrassment of riches in contemporary death metal.
Comprising songs of war, history and Lee’s own real-life experiences as an Asian-American, 劇變 (Jubian) is neither wholly escapist nor exclusively topical. Sometimes it’s even absurdly funny, as on “Split Apart by Five Chariots,” which in its revisitation of the story of Lao Ai, an impostor eunuch of the State of Qin famed for his sexual misadventures, features the lyric, “Split apart/ Giant cock/ Split apart for his giant cock.” Which is some indication of how much fun this album ultimately is. Yet even amid some of its more serious moments, 劇變 (Jubian) is death metal at its most electrifying, from the thunderous gallop of opener “Violent Compulsion for Conquest” to the total annihilation of “Reek of Burning Freedom” to the epic scope of “In Solitude – Sun Moon Holy Cult Pt. 3.” Not a moment here is weighed down with throat-clearing or bloat; even closer “Scripture Containing The Supreme Internal Energy Arts That Render The Practitioner Invincible Throughout The Martial Realm” (which takes nearly as long to speak its title), is 50 seconds well spent.
The rawness and urgency of songs like “Race Traitor” and “Harmonious Impiety” alone position this among the year’s best death metal albums, but there’s more to explore than riffs alone. 劇變 (Jubian) offers a wider glimpse beyond death metal’s usual suspects while maintaining a ferociousness and occasional penchant for the hilarious and gross that serve as reminders of why death metal is such a gloriously fun form of music. Lee knows this as well as anyone, and that’s palpable throughout this, one of the year’s most vital metal records.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.