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K-Pop Star Flashback: Seo Taiji's First Band Sinawe Rock Across The Cultural Divide On Their 1980 Hit 'Metalizer' [AUDIO]

By Jeff Tobias | June 06, 2014 03:27 PM EDT


We're not so different, you and I.

A myriad of cultural forces would like us to believe otherwise; by keeping us in our personalized niches, we're easily turned against one another. This is just historical fact. But universality is real, and can be discovered in unlikely places.

Regardless of whether or not it was their goal, Korean metal band Sinawe teach us that lesson.

On their 1990 torpedo-speed hit song "Metalizer," the long-running Korean metal pioneers attempted to unite metal heads the world over.

"Metalizer" is the kind of music that acts as a catalyst for connection, speaking a language that nearly anyone can appreciate. Through their sheer kinetic propulsion, Sinawe implicitly call for unity even when on the surface they're only asking to rock.

Formed in Seoul in 1986, Sinawe was one of the first metal bands of note to emerge out of South Korea. "Metalizer" comes from the album "Four," which, curiously, is not the band's fourth album.

The band had a head-start right out the gate: their flashy lead guitarist, Shin Dae Chul, was the son of Shin Joong Hyun, often referred to as the "godfather of Korean rock."

On "Metalizer," Shin Dae Chul proves to be a raging guitarist.

And if the voice sounds familiar, you're not mistaken. It's veteran South Korean rocker Kim Jong Seo.

That's not the only future superstar to experience 1980s metal glory with Sinawe. On bass, we have a then unknown aspiring musician by the name of Seo Taiji.

Considering one of the latter performer's later group Seo Taiji and Boys is credited with starting the K-pop craze in the 1990s,  I believe this raises Sinawe to supergroup status.

Before discussing the song itself, the title alone warrants a moment's attention. While the word "Metalizer" is written in English, it's worth noting that it's not really a word in any language.

Until Sinawe invented it, there was no such thing as a "Metalizer." What is it? What does it do? Who cares? It's an idea representing heavy metal, loving heavy metal, making things more heavy metal. 'Nuff said.

"Metalizer" is one of the handful of songs from the album "Four" with a title written in English, and the track is split up between Korean and English lyrics. This is clearly a gesture towards commercialism, but it's also a refreshing attempt at bridging like-minded people who happen to be living a world apart.

The nod towards Western audiences makes perfect sense for Sinawe, because musically, they can go toe-to-toe with any one of their thrashing, '80s-era peers.

Long gone is the "charming" amateurism of earlier Korean rock, replaced with the musicianship-first ethos of heavy metal. It would be easy to imagine Sinawe headlining for huge audiences the world over around the time of this song's release.

The English lyrics lay out a sort of rallying cry that wouldn't be out of place in a song by Judas Priest: 

Hey: you're going too fast

My life too slow, I gotta escape

Okay: step on the gas

Burning up, I rock the world

If these don't qualify as universal themes, I don't know what would. The youthful escapism vibe is very strong, and would've been understood by any metal fan, even if it hadn't been laid out in English.

As the song grinds along at an unstoppable tempo, Kim demonstrates a vocal range that might not match that of, say, Axl Rose, but more than stands up for itself.

Sinawe's decidedly mainstream vision of metal is without guttural or otherwise objectionable vocal techniques, which means Kim would be expected to possess a voice that must simultaneously be impossibly high and deadly precise. He fits the bill.

Meanwhile, Shin takes not one but two lengthy solos, cumulatively taking up about a minute and a half of the song's total duration. When I say this is "for the best," I mean "for the best time possible," because both solos are Mustaine-worthy gut-punchers.

At this point, 24 years after "Metalizer," Sinawe has gone through all the rock n' roll cliches--a temporary breakup, a revolving door of band members. Shin Dae Chul remains the only original member.

But on "Metalizer," Sinawe were speaking a "universal language," and I'm not talking about English.

I'm talking about a common feeling, a power and energy that really and truly only lives in this singular genre of music. Sinawe mastered that language and spoke it well. Those who find power in that language would be well-advised to listen.

Listen to "Metalizer" from Seo Taiji's first band Sinawe RIGHT HERE


Jeff Tobias is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, he has been researching the history of tuning systems and working on his jump shot. 

Tagged :  Sinawe, metalizer, four, shin dae chul


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