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That’s right everyone, it’s time for another Black Metal Banchan!! This time around, we’re going to discuss the delightful music of a mysterious Korean black metal entity by the name of Pyha (폐허). Y’see, many years ago began floating around internet metal forums about some Korean kid who was creating some pretty dark, depressing black metal (many years before depressive suicidal black metal (DBSM) became the trend that’s all the rage these days), and there was much speculation as to the validity of these recordings in terms of the alleged identity of the creator. However, that’s not to say that high school kids can’t record high-quality metal, as everyone knows that Burzum, Emperor, Blut aus Nord, Dissection, and Sarcófago were all teenagers when they formed these bands and recorded their debut albums. Anyway, as it turns out, the internet rumors about Pyha (I don’t know why he chose to spell it like that, as “Pyayheo” or something like that would be more accurate if you’re going by the Revised Romanization of Korean) were quite close to the truth for once, although there is still much mystery that surrounds the project. You’ll just have to read on for more info!
Anyway, since we’re talking about bedroom black metal made by an angsty teenager, why not also talk about some snacks that are all the rage with the kids here in South Korea these days? This time around we’re going to talk about something everyone, but especially Korean teenagers, love- ramen (or in Korea, “ramyeon“)! I always see kids eating ramyeon in convenience stores here. This is because in many Asian countries most convenience stores have hot water dispensers, cup ramen/noodles, and chopsticks so that you can get a cheap, delicious (and completely devoid of any nutritional value whatsoever) snack. I’m not sure about other countries, but I know that in South Korea they usually have extra stuff that you can buy if you want to make the snack more filling (and delicious), such as kimchi, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, imitation crab, etc. Eat Your Kimchi has a great video about this if you want some more info. Anyway, whenever I think of the snack that the kids go crazy for over here, it’s definitely Korean ramyeon! Furthermore, this is a really exciting time in the Korean ramyeon scene right now, because culinary scientists have finally figured out how to combine ramyeon with the absolutely killer Chinese-Korean jjambbong!! More on that below.
Last, to continue with the whole middle school/high school theme, we’re going to explore the popular Korean Whispering Corridors (여고괴담) movie series, a pentalogy of nightmarish horror that always takes place in an all-girls high school! While some are certainly better than others, it’s interesting to consider their underlying themes and what they suggest about Korean culture and society. Having taught at a Korean middle school myself for several years, some of the themes in these movies hit fairly close to home.
Let’s get to it!
If the rumors are true and Pyha really started this band when he was 12, then this is arguably the most depressing album ever created by a 12-year old. It first starts out with a feedback-laden, Burzum-worshiping (think Hvis Lyset Tar Os-era), whispered, “evil” vocals, and a depressing drone metal motif that occasionally includes some mysterious, atmospheric keyboards, clean guitar ambience, and tortured wailings. Hell, on some tracks that’s all it is! For 2001, I’d say this could almost be considered proto-DSBM, or at least similar to something Xasthur or Nortt were doing at the time. It also reminds me a lot of Abruptum. By the time the simple, possibly-programmed drums kick in, you pretty much can tell how the rest of the album is going to play out- hypnotic, gloomy, bedroom black metal. Also, I’m pretty sure this is a concept album (at least partially) and is set in a…you guessed it! Haunted house!!! For a 12-year old to create this on his own, in 2001, in South Korea, I’d say this is pretty impressive! However, it’s still probably not something I would sit around and listen to, as I’d probably just end up offing myself eventually.
The Jjammbong Ramyeon Wars
Crab Chips (Ggotgaerang), Fire JJambbong (꽃게랑 (불짬뽕))
WULF AT THE MOVIES!!
Apparently, this is one of the first successful Korean horror movie series, and the first one is arguably perhaps is one of the first movies to kick off the whole “exploitation” theme that has haunted this particular genre of Korean cinema ever since. It seems as if this is something that elevates these movies from just being an attempt at “being scary” (while there is still that, of course) to simultaneously also trying to convey a “message”. In my completely uninformed and unprofessional opinion, it seems like the filmmakers for these movies grew up in “old-school” Korea, where society was even more rigidly hierarchical than it is today. South Korea, in particular, is a country that has gone through massive changes in the last 100 years or so, and even in the present this metamorphosis shows no signs of slowing down. It is especially apparent when comparing elderly Koreans with those who are of university-age, or even adolescence. While much has been written about this phenomenon and I don’t want to turn this into some pseudo-intellectual rant, it’s important to keep this concept in mind when watching these films. Whispering Corridors, in my opinion, is an allegory or metaphor for the changes in society and the psychic scars that the current younger generation continues to bear as they continue to develop and mature in Korean society.
Whispering Corridors (여고괴담) (1998)
Whispering Corridors 2: Memento Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기) (1999)
Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs (여고괴담 3: 여우계단) (2003)
Whispering Corridors 4: Voice (여고괴담 4: 목소리) (2005)
Yeah, I can’t really say this one is that good, even though I think the poster looks fairly promising. Whereas the others were slow and subtle, the stories seemed mysterious and compelling enough that they were able to carry the story. Although the twist in this movie is still kind of cool, and it has all the familiar tropes found in the earlier movies of the series (suicide, a cheonyeo gwishin (kind of), lesbianism, illicit sexual affairs, greed, a shocking twist, etc.), it’s just not enough to save what is overall a pretty boring film. The acting and production is decent, but I found that the characters in this film just quite up to par compared with the others. It just seems to be missing some of the edginess that made the other movies stand out, although I suppose it does kind of explore some Korean social problems in terms of the lack of support or care for the elderly/terminally ill and the burden this can have on families. Lacking in thrills, creepiness, compelling characters, and an intriguing story, this one just did not take it to the next level for me. This next one better be good!