Sunday Sesh: When Good Bands Quit

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Late last year, while trawling through the mountains of Z-tier pornogrind and terrible stoner metal that seem to constitute the bulk of material on Bandcamp, I stumbled across something extraordinary. Nestled between the horrible anime girl photoshops that adorn Bandcamp slam bands and the Roman numeral-bedecked Gustave Doré pieces lining the basement black metal releases was a striking yet unassuming expressionist piece with a clearly Eastern influence. Intrigued, I clicked the link and discovered a new band with whom I would spend a torrid love affair over the next several months before their abrupt departure from the world of metal. This is the story of love, loss, and 厄鬼.

厄鬼, romanized as Aek Gwi, were a cult South Korean black/doom band with a truly unique sound. Formed in 2009 by mastermind Vhan (Shadows of Black Candlelight, Thy Sepulchral Moon), the band played an alarmingly effective synthesis of traditional Eastern music and Western metal. Widely touted by those in the know as the single best metal band to come out of South Korea, Aek Gwi released three splits and two full lengths before vanishing into the gossamer mist from whence they came.

The album that hooked me on Aek Gwi was Hideous Dreams, a macabre blend of black metal caterwauling, soul-crushing doom riffs, and alluring folk instrumentation. Hideous Dreams very much lived up to its name, plunging you into black pools of ambient string and wind flute sections before battering you deeper into the black sleep of terror with massive riffs. The vocals, admittedly, took some adjustment. Li Chao of Chinese horror band Enmity performed vocal duties for the record, croaking, snarling, and otherwise sounding like a deranged old loon crying obscenities into a pitch-black, merciless sky. Once I got past those odd vocals, however, I discovered an immersive, rich labyrinth of surreal details amid the three, mysterious tracks. Hideous Dreams was a unique record, taking cues from Beherit and Disembowelment without ever really sounding like them or the associated act 폐허; it blended black metal atmosphere and vocals with doom instrumentation, all presented in a genuine embodiment of the culture that spawned it, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything half as amid all the soulless retreads of past glories that seem to glut the metalsphere today.

Back in November, the band posted the full record to stream on Bandcamp but promised that an official, physical release was forthcoming on Goatowarex. So, at least once a week for several months straight (and some weeks every single day), I would find myself on Aek Gwi’s Bandcamp and Goatowarex’s online store to see if the CD had manifested (the band had promised vinyl, CD, and tape, so I wanted to be sure to nab it on my preferred format). Although the vinyl did eventually appear in a limited number (which has since sold out), the CD and tapes, as far as I can tell, never surfaced.

Then, one fateful day in June, Vhan posted a simple update to Facebook.

Band broke up 🙁

That was it. Just like that, Aek Gwi was gone. In the following days, Aek Gwi would delete both their Bandcamp and Facebook accounts, and Goatowarex would never get the chance to sell Hideous Dreams again after the extremely limited vinyl first run. I’d never get to follow up with them after a brief Facebook message exchange where I asked Vhan what themes had inspired the album (to which he had responded in charmingly non-native English, “The album is inspired by East Asian ghost stories.”). The band had all but returned to their own hideous dreams.

But not quite. Before plunging back into the abyss, Vhan uploaded all of Hideous Dreams to Youtube, leaving us the stream I’ve embedded above as a reminder of what’s lost. What’s more, the band’s first full-length, Forest of Ghost, can still be heard on Bandcamp via Eerie Hint Productions, and there’s another Goatowarex split featuring the band and other Asian artists collaborating to tell tales of folk terror lurking out there in the internet. Aek Gwi may be gone, but they’re not forgotten, and thanks to Vhan, they’ve left at least one indelible, unique reminder of how terrifying metal can be behind them on Youtube for all the world to stream.

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Have you ever missed out on snagging some music from a band you loved before they disappeared? Have you ever fallen in love with an artist just as they were exiting the limelight? Let me know in the comments below.

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