Long-haired and tattooed, Freddy Lim fronts the long running Taiwanese metal band Chthonic. Crisp-shirted and suited, he also fronts the newly formed NPP (New Power Party), the leading pro-democracy youth movement in Taiwan. In March, Lim announced that he will be running for the Taiwan parliament in next year's legislative elections as a representative of Taipei’s Wanhua and Zhongzheng districts.
After 8 albums and multiple tours, Chthonic are one of the most renowned Asian bands, metal or otherwise. They were the first Asian band to play Ozzfest, have toured with Lamb of God, and their 2009 album Mirror of Retribution was produced by Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano. Incorporating traditional instruments such as the erhu and shamisen, their sound mixes blasting death metal with interludes of melodic oriental textures. Lim's lyrics incorporate Taiwanese mythology, the country’s forgotten violent history, to fascist persecutions of Taiwanese nationalists.
As a Taiwanese nationalist himself, Kim is banned from performing in China. Emerging from the Sunflower student movement, the NPP was founded in January 2015 and advocates for universal human rights, civil and political liberties and protecting Taiwan's independence as a sovereign state. It is now Taiwan’s third biggest party and it’s "Transitional Justice” policy has made it popular amongst the country’s younger voters.
We sat with Freddy at his party’s Taipei headquarters and discussed his political aspirations, touring the world as an Asian metal band, and the surprising parallels between being onstage as a metal vocalist and as a politician.
Noisey: Your lyrics are very centered on Taiwanese history, mythology and local aboriginal culture. Where did this interest come from?
Freddy Lim: When I was younger almost everyone thought of Taiwan unified with China. Textbooks were Chinese-centric and didn’t teach Taiwanese history or geography. I still know all the details from Tibet and Mongolia and they’re not even part of China!
Young people in Taiwan have learned more about their history from the Internet than through government books. When I was younger a lot of books were banned so you couldn’t’ even get information in bookshops.
Does Chthonic try to inform Taiwanese about their history?
All these happenings are very close to my family and hometown, so it was natural that my lyrics tell these stories. My grandparents might not know anything about metal, but they can certainly understand the historical references in our lyrics.
Is it difficult trying to explain being a metal vocalist/politician to older relatives at family gatherings?
I don’t really explain to them [laughs]. My parents weren’t supportive of my music career, but I worked very hard to achieve the goals I set for myself. But when I decided to run as a candidate in the elections, they said, "After 20 years as a metalhead touring the world, when we finally were accepting your choices, now you decide to become a politician?"
Chthonic are known for Asian instrumentation. Have you always tried to create a kind of Oriental metal sound?
I was always very familiar with those sounds. I enjoyed Taiwanese traditional opera with my grandmother when I was very young. I also listened to a lot of Taiwanese pop songs that my aunts listened to and liked the traditional instruments they used. When writing songs, I try to incorporate both.
You’ve also included Taiwanese traditions in your act, such as performing at the Shing Ling temple.
Shing Ling Temple is a very important site for Taiwanese history and in our music story so we had to have a concert there. Some of the fans don’t really give a shit about the history element of the lyrics, they just like metal and want to be energized. But many fans follow the story behind the lyrics and really wanted to see a concert there.
What are the differences and similarities of being on stage as a metal vocalist, or as a politician?
As a metal vocalist you need to bring that power that you believe in something higher than your music and exchange that energy with the crowd. It sets the mood and the scene and brings out the raw energy. In a political rally you have to be level-headed and emotional at the same time. However, in both, you’re repeating an act to a different crowd, and you can’t let them get bored with it, so each time you have to find a way to re-energize yourself and make it unique.
Why did you create the New Power Party?
Forming a political party wasn’t on the top of my list, but in the last two years in Taiwan, you’ve seen a lot of political changes. After seeing such a trend of political unrest, I’m worried we can gather that strength and force momentum and that it will just get lost. So I thought we needed a party that could reunite that force and consolidate all this energies and actually obtain some kind of political power and have a real influence in Taiwan. I also wanted to break away from that old party's monopoly and create a new alternative power.
Is Asia ready for a metal musician as president?
I don’t know, but if I was president of Taiwan I would focus on transitional justice since a lot of anxiety and unrest in Taiwanese society stems from the stigma that the past hurts. By revealing these historical truths, Taiwan will have a chance to surpass this miserable atmosphere. Also, the KMT is the richest political party in the world, with almost US $892 billion in assets, because at upon arrival in 1949 to Taiwan, Chiang Kai Chek and his party stole all of Taiwan’s resources. I believe those assets should be returned to the Taiwanese people, and justice needs to be served.
You are banned in China due to your lyrics political lyrical content.
We have a lot of Chinese fans who constantly ask us to tour China, but I don't think they’ll let us in for maybe 10 years. I actually think for Chinese fans, our two countries' relations is not that big a deal—they just want to see us play. I did an interview for a Chinese website recently and they didn’t knew if the government censorship would allow it. Hopefully Taiwan’s status as a country will be normalized and we’ll finally tour there.
This article originally appeared on Noisey Australia.