In recent years, the eyes of the world have gradually turned toward South Korea thanks to its pop culture exports, Netflix K-drama Squid Game, K-pop idols BTS and Oscar-winning movie Parasite, to name a few. Meanwhile, the K-rock and metal scene has rock and rolled along, waiting for its time to shine on the global stage.
In the world of K-rock, language barriers are a thing of the past. While most bands produce Korean songs, it’s likely you’ll hear an occasional line in English to conjure more universally accessible choruses to belt out at live shows. Some even produce full English versions of their most popular songs. From F.T. Island, the rock band that set the idol group template, to symphonic-metal outfit Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy, we’ve brought together the 15 Korean rock and metal artists you should know.
If you like your metalcore energetic, packed with screaming riffs and accompanied by roof-raising vocals with an astounding range, look no further than Bursters. Making a name for themselves on South Korea’s X Factor equivalent Superstar K in 2014, the Seoul outfit have since released two albums. Both detail their infectious metalcore trademark through both Korean and full English songs, gaining international traction as they enter their eighth year.
If you already recognize the Japanese-based concept of visual kei, forget what you know — Madmans Esprit will alter it beyond all recognition. Loaded with sinister, androgynous visuals and equally dark instrumentals, the Seoul outfit take their influences in black metal to the next level and beyond. Armed with all the sensibilities and dedication of a K-pop group lured to the dark side of metal never to return, Madmans Esprit have so far packed two albums of English, Korean and German songs with their unique menace.
Brilliantly fusing the choreographic vibrancy of K-pop with the screaming instrumentals of K-rock, Dreamcatcher have danced along the borderline of two competing genres since their debut. Featuring occasional English lyrics amid their Korean and Japanese language albums, the Seoul group conjure up insanely catchy anthems and music videos drawn together by complex storylines that keep audiences coming back for more.
DAY6 have been firing out emotional pop-laced anthems since their debut in 2015, featuring English lyrics in their choruses and producing English versions for international audiences. Plugging screaming guitars into enticing melodies, smooth hooks and addictive singalongs, DAY6 break the K-rock mold by remaining heavily involved in the instrumental recording and production of their own music. From the surefire hit “Shoot Me” to the tear-jerking “Congratulations,” authenticity and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll live on through DAY6.
Dating back to 1996, devastating metalcore is Vassline’s game, and they play it well, winning a Korean Music Award for Best Rock Album in 2005. Over the span of five albums and three EPs, Seoul’s answer to Bury Tomorrow and Dillinger Escape Plan have perfected their brand of face-melting riffs and cutting vocals. The aptly named member DoubleAxe skilfully denounces social issues and politics through both Korean and English songs.
Compelling hard rock powered by colorful visuals and striking vocals neatly define Rolling Quartz, a quintet based in Seoul. Their debut in 2020 was considerably delayed due to the pandemic. However, it gave them plenty of time to perform local shows in Hongdae before breaking out into the mainstream to significant attention for their own brand of attitude-driven K-rock sprinkled with English lyrics. The future’s bright for a wide-eyed, youthful outfit hell-bent on drawing in crowds for years to come.
Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy
If Cradle Of Filth formed in Seoul, merged with Avantasia and began their theatrical gothic journey on the streets of Hongdae, they might well have created Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy. Korea’s contribution to the vast expanse of international symphonic metal takes on sinfully dark aesthetics and sinister vocals to create an immersive musical experience that draws audiences into its bleak world. Formed in 2003, the mysterious outfit boast four full-lengths with English songs jammed full of their signature mysterious ode to metal’s tempting dark side.
End These Days
Not content with steadily introducing the Korean market to metalcore by themselves, Busan’s End These Days founded the Beyond The Ocean tour to celebrate the latest names in the South Korean metal arena. Singing and screaming entirely in English amid gut-wrenching breakdowns and dirty basslines (picture Architects meeting Power Trip in a dark alley), the four-piece have collaborated with Crystal Lake’s Ryo Kinoshita and Ki Seok Seo of Korea’s pioneering hardcore outfit the Geeks.
If Western bands aren’t delivering heavy enough metalcore for you, give Noeazy a chance. They’ll be your new South Korean obsession who never seem to take themselves seriously, if their self-deprecating music videos are anything to go by. Hailing from Daejeon just south of Seoul, the heavy quintet that began as a student band playing cover songs graduated to shape their own brutal approach for devastating albums featuring both English and Korean songs.
Arguably Busan’s heaviest exports, death-metal outfit Traitor have been distributing their relentless unclean vocals and punishing riffs since 2013. Bleeding English lyrics into Korean verses screamed into the void as it inevitably answers back, the trio sound like SK’s answer to Cannibal Corpse feeding off a Carcass and writing an Obituary at the same time. That can only be a good thing.
Relaxed indie K-rock takes its form at the hands of HYUKOH, producing the soundtrack to your morning cup of coffee since their debut in 2014. Seoul’s chill exports blend Korean, English and Chinese lyrics to drive their tranquil singalongs inspired by the Beatles and guided by multitalented frontman and songwriter Oh Hyuk. While jamming HYUKOH, picture a road trip across South Korea and a hop over to Jeju Island for full effect.
The boundaries between K-pop and K-rock are blurred beautifully by N.Flying, who’ve been enjoying the best of both worlds since their formation in 2013. Before you get too comfortable in a contagious singalong, a gritty rap interlude drags you away just in time for a glittering guitar solo that’s been building up in the background the whole time. Seoul’s award-sweeping exports make full use of English lyrics amid Korean, Japanese and Chinese lines for a wide-reaching appeal that has already brought the rockers international attention.
Slickly produced melodic rock charged with infectious riffs comes naturally to Seoul’s IZ (pronounced “eyes”). Debuting in 2017 and driven by a vocalist who would give Myles Kennedy a run for his money, the K-rock quartet have established a template of guitar-driven anthems and melodies that sweep listeners away, wherever they may be. Producing English versions of their most popular Korean songs along with the odd English lyric sneaking into the originals, the universal appeal of IZ makes for a promising future career.
Walking After U
Formed as a collaboration between members of Korean indie groups Rubber Duckie and Swingz, Walking After U made their hard-rock debut in 2014. While English lyrics seep into Korean choruses, their dark instrumentals and Baek Haein’s versatile vocals explore every heavy trope in their own style from emo rock to grinding metal. With three well-received albums under their belts, the outfit play regular Seoul shows with their rock peers, keeping the scene alive and kicking.
The concept of South Korean idol bands, carefully crafted acts produced for the mainstream music scene under strict controls from their agencies over their image and output, ostensibly began in earnest with F.T. Island, Seoul’s K-rock pioneers formed in 2007. Renowned for radio rock ballads such as “Bad Woman” and “Severely,” plus a plethora of English versions amid Korean and Japanese tracks, the rock scene in SK often takes its lead from the legacy of the well-coordinated band known as Five Treasure Island.