Metal Chick of the Month – Tina Guo

A true metal cello Wonder Woman!

She might not be a pure Heavy Metal woman, but her superior skills and her passion for music truly make her unique. Armed with her flammable cello or with her whimsical erhu (the same two-stringed bowed musical instrument used by Taiwanese metallers Chthonic), she has been embellishing stages, movies, television and video game scores with her refined technique and stunning looks since around 1994, when her unparalleled career kicked off. Born on October 28, 1985 in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, a global financial centre and transport hub and one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of more than 24 million as of 2017, but currently residing in Los Angeles, California, United States, here comes the internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Chinese-American cellist, erhuist, recording artist and composer Tina Guo (or 郭婷娜 in Chinese), a woman with a multi-faceted career and mastery in a wide range of genres, showcasing a deep and strong passion for musical exploration, artistic expression and technology. And of course, among all that, there’s still time for her to demonstrate her appreciation for our good old heavy music.

Tina Guo was born in Shanghai to father Lu-Yan Guo, a concert cellist, and mother Fei-Fei Soong, a concert violinist, both artistic directors of the California International Music and Art Festival, an annual event held in San Diego, California. She began playing piano at the age of 3 in China, but once she moved to America at the age of 5 with her family, she began violin lessons with her mother. At the age of 7, she began studying the cello under the instruction of her father, with both her parents forcing her to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. She then continued her professional cello studies with Slovenian cellist Eleonore Schoenfeld (1925–2007), one of the most influential cellists of the 20th century (who also taught Guo’s father), at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on full scholarship.

During her freshman year, Guo started dating a guitar player of an 80’s-style classic Heavy Metal band, and after attending one of their shows one night at The Whiskey in Hollywood, she started to think about how she could incorporate the cello into the metal style, experimenting with pedals and different techniques while trying to figure out how to play the cello and sound like a guitar player. While the fingering for both instruments were virtually the same, it took her three years and many YouTube videos to figure out what she was doing. She eventually left USC in her junior year, despite having a full scholarship to attend, after she found it increasingly difficult to balance performing and going to classes. Her parents were very angry and didn’t understand her decision at the time, getting used to the idea after a while. As a matter of fact, she claims to hold a Bachelors in Metaphysical Theology with a focus on Eastern Philosphy from the International College of Metaphysical Theology, but this is an unaccredited distance learning degree mill.

Her career has reached such a complex and diverse level I’m pretty sure you’ve listened to the cello by our Asian virtuoso at least once in your lifetime in a movie score, in a video game, or in a multitude of other media platforms. Known for her distinct videos showcasing her talent against theatrical backdrops and elaborate costumes, she has already appeared in her career as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, the Petrobras Symphony in Brazil, and the Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia, not to mention her participation in the Civic Youth Orchestra at the age of 10, her performance with violinist Midori Goto in Dvorak’s American String Quartet at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and her four national tours of Mexico and Italy performing the Shostakovich, Dvorak, Haydn, and Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos. Tina endorses Larsen Strings, Yamaha, Line 6, Sennheiser, Focusrite, ENGL Amps, Voodoo Lab Pedals, Coffin Case, Samson, Reunion Blues, Analysis Plus Cables and Apogee Electronics.

Among her countless other projects and appearances as a special guest musician, some of the most interesting ones are her performance with the Tenerife Symphony and Choir in the Canary Islands performing Batman: The Dark Knight; her 2017 Australian tour with an all-girl crossover band named Metaphor; her 2008 Grammy Awards performance with the Foo Fighters; her 2011-2013 tour as the featured electric cellist with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour; her performance for the League of Legends World Championship to a sold out arena at Staples Center in Los Angeles and an audience of 33 million streaming online; playing the electric cello in a super-band with The Crystal Method, Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Danny Lohner (NIN), Joe Letz (Combichrist) and the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra; playing with Brazilian guitarist Victor Biglione in a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro; performing as soloist on music from Vikings, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Chicago Fire with the Krakow Symphony and Polish Radio Choir at the Krakow Film Music Festival; and completing an acoustic tour and two sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in 2016 with Blues Legend Joe Bonamassa, as you can see in the song Black Lung Heartache.

Furthermore, Tina has already shared the stage in her career with The Tenors, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, John Legend, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Isaak, Il Divo, Ariana Grande, Lupe Fiasco, and Michael McDonald, among others, and has been featured as a soloist on the scores of several movies such as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Inception, Clash of the Titans, Olympus Has Fallen, Escape Plan, Sleepy Hollow, Hancock, Battle: Los Angeles, Predators and X-Men: First Class, as well as TV shows like  The Mentalist, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, commercials for Apple, Under Armour, and countless video games. As a solo artist, Tina has already released 8 albums, those being Autumn Winds and The Journey (both in 2011), Eternity (2013), Ray of Light and A Cello Christmas (both in 2014), Inner Passion (with Peter Kater) and Cello Metal (both in 2015), and more recently Game On! (2017). Furthermore, you can enjoy some very interesting videos on YouTube where Tina shows all her skills with her erhu, such as “Tina Guo plays music from Uncharted 2 on the Erhu with the GSPO”, and “Tina Guo and Michael Barry Random Jam: Danny Boy on Erhu and Piano”, or simply enjoy some of her official videos and songs like World of Warcraft, Dragonborn, Forrest Gump: Feather Theme and Genesis Rising.

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In regards to Tina’s contributions to the metal scene, she has been featured as a guest cellist in numerous distinguished bands and projects since 2009. For instance, in 2009 she played the cello in the songs The Lone Spaniard and So Far Gone, from the album Molecular Heinosity by American Progressive Metal/Rock keyboardist Derek Sherinian; in the song I Am the Nothing, from the 2014 album The Beauty of Destruction by  American Metalcore act Devil You Know (now called Light The Torch); in the 2017 album Störtebeker, by German Heavy/Power/Progressive Metal band FB1964; in the single Let Down, from the 2011 album Secret Passion by Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal group Imperia; in the song Duet for Electric Guitar and Electric Cello in A Minor, from the 2010 album Speed Force by American shredder Maxxxwell Carlisle; and in the 2015 album The Life I Remember, by American Groove Metal act Once Human.

Among her main influences in music, we’ll find the most diverse range of bands and artist like Rammstein, Jacqueline du Pre, System of a Down, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Lady Gaga, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Sevendust, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, just to give you an idea of how eclectic our stunning cellist is. Moreover, when asked about what music means for her, Tina said that playing music requires an intense emotional connection, and that she didn’t always have such level of creative freedom in her life due to her strict childhood with her parents, who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution and who consequently didn’t allow her to listen to any other types of music at home besides classical music. However, it was through a critically acclaimed album by one of the aforementioned influences, the classic Antichrist Superstar by the iconic American rockstar Marilyn Manson, that she got her first taste of Industrial Metal and heavy music in general, getting to know the rebellious music by bands like Daft Punk and Guns N’ Roses from then on.

The indomitable Tina Guo is not our metal chick of the month in vain, having released in 2015 a majestic album of heavy music titled CELLO METAL, with Tina obviously on the electric cello and featuring Wes Borland and John Huldt on the guitars, Marty O’Brien (We Are The Fallen) on bass, and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper, Alcatrazz) on drums, as well as guitarists Al Di Meola, John 5 (Marilyn Manson) and Nita Strauss (The Iron Maidens). Tina and her henchmen delivered ass-kicking cello-infused cover songs for some of the biggest metal classics with this album, which by the way took around three years to be ready, those being Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, Slayer’s Raining Blood, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, and Metallica’s Sanitarium, together with five original songs (Child of Genesis, The God Particle, Eternal Night, Forbidden City and Queen Bee). By the way, Tina spent her entire life savings (a little under US$ 6,000) on the official video for Queen Bee, a metal-inspired take on the orchestral interlude “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and that risk paid off as what’s probably her “most extreme” music video to date (it got an 18+ restriction on YouTube) caught the attention of Hans Zimmer, who at that time was searching for a cellist to play on the score of Sherlock Holmes. “I wasn’t trying to get into the soundtrack world. Actually, I was hoping that Rammstein would see the video and invite me to play with them”, said our skillful cellist in one of her interviews. Anyway, you can have a very detailed listen at Cello Metal on Spotify, and see why this Asian bombshell is respected and admired by the entire world of music, including the always-demanding metal scene.

And Tina is not only an accomplished cellist, but she’s also a writer, a philanthropist and a very successful businesswoman. As a writer, her first published work was called “Event Horizons of Yin and Yang”, a collection of philosophical prose and poetry. As a philanthropist, Guo is a passionate supporter of the Academy of Music for the Blind, Partners in Health, Animal Welfare Institute, Homes for our Troops and Child Find of America. For instance, in 2015, she released a Charity album with 13 composer friends called Tina Guo & Composers for Charity, with 100% of the proceeds from the album going directly to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in support of music education. And last but not least, as a businesswoman, she runs a Los Angeles-based venture named Tina Guo Contracting, which provides exclusive musicians and entertainment for live performances, recording and corporate events; she has a sample library that composers and producers can purchase and use; and above all that, she started her own music instrument line, named Tina Guo Strings, selling custom acoustic cellos, carbon fiber cases, and colourful “unicorn hair” bows for the violin, viola, and cello, with her first products available being the Tina Guo Model 300 cello, the Tina Guo Elite Master Art Model 600 cello, and a full line of custom Tina Guo bows. As a matter of fact, she has been self-managing her career since the beginning, having only signed an exclusive recording contact with Sony Music in 2016, as she thinks it’s very important to understand the business aspect and see everything that’s going on, especially because managers are always going to have other clients they’re dealing with.

However, despite being a successful musician and entrepreneur, she hasn’t been immune to sexism yet, noting that image sells in the performing world, and as a young Asian-American woman she’s more than familiar with the challenges that come with working in these two very white male-dominated spheres. “As a performing artist, we don’t only listen with our ears”, she said in one of her interviews. “If I look different or wasn’t as young, I might have a very different experience.” You can get a sense of all the awesomeness surrounding Tina as a musician and as a woman by watching several videos on YouTube where she’s either playing her cello or talking about her career and skills, such as “Tina Guo and her troublesome cello”, an interview with Tina Guo on classical and electric cello, or a mini-tutorial on playing fast, proving she’s more-than-ready to conquer the entire world of music and arts no matter how sexist that world might be.

Equipment
Gand & Bernardel Cello (Paris, France, 1878)
Custom Tina Guo Model Yamaha SVC-210
Erhu (Shangai, China)

Tina Guo’s Official Facebook page
Tina Guo’s Official Twitter
Tina Guo’s Official Instagram
Tina Guo’s Official YouTube channel

“When I make music, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn’t involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied.” – Tina Guo

Album Review – Deep Mountains / Lake Of Solace (2014)

An atmospheric music experiment full of melancholy and Chinese elements.

Rating5

coverLooking for a complete different experience in the world of heavy music? If so, I suggest you “travel” further east and listen to the debut-album from Chinese Atmospheric Black Metal band Deep Mountains, or 深山 in their own language, the lugubrious and intense Lake Of Solace (or 忘忧湖) . I must warn you the music from this band formed in 2009 in the city of Tai’an, in the Shandong Province, is not easy to absorb: there are no fast songs, no shredding, almost no solos, and in many moments it doesn’t even sound Black Metal. But again, as I said it’s a totally distinct music adventure from the traditional bands we know, and if you take that “risk” you might be very pleased in the end.

What I’m going to say may not make a lot of sense, mainly because the comparison I’m going to make is not exactly a comparison, but before listening to Lake Of Solace I felt almost the same as when one of my Chinese friends told me to watch two great Chinese movies, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. I was really skeptic about those movies, in other words, how could they be better than many Hollywood blockbusters as he said? Give me a break, a good Chinese movie? Well, they’re definitely not the best movies in the world, but really well-done and above the average, and after watching them I realized how stupid my prejudgement was. And the same is valid for this album.

Throughout the whole album, it’s easy to notice the band’s use (and abuse) of Nature and Chinese Culture as their main themes, which already starts with 引子 Intro. I love those intros that connect with the history and culture of the band’s homeland, and in this case all the Chinese elements, especially the soothing sound of the water from the “lake of solace”, work like a spiritual prep for what’s next, the very atmospheric song 毀滅 Sin, with its deep vocals giving us a feeling of agony while the beautiful acoustic parts provide us some peace of mind.

九黎之舞 Wind And Stellar, with its nice guitars in the beginning, is a more acoustic track that turns into more traditional Atmospheric Black Metal with devilish vocals, while 脫 Detachment, which starts with a very engaging narration (“To deliberate believe in lies…”) talking about how humans should be to be accepted by society (as they say it’s a “Marketing Holocaust”), has a pleasant instrumental and, although it’s a very melancholic and depressive song, will hold your attention from start to finish. It’s the best song of the album, and would also be the perfect choice for a very in-depth music video.

deep_mountainsThen we have a two part song with some highs and lows:  忘憂湖 壹 Lake Of Solace Pt.1 is an instrumental track totally focused on the sound of an acoustic guitar and some nature elements, and I’m not sure if this can even be considered Black Metal at all; and 忘憂湖 贰 Lake Of Solace Pt. 2, which begins in a similar way as the first part but with a more metallic sonority and some “vocals of despair” again, is a very sad song, complemented by an interesting guitar solo and clean vocals.

Lake Of Solace ends with the atmospheric ballad 渿河謠 Ballad Of Nai River, a beautiful composition that sounds a lot like traditional Chinese music, full of nature elements and smooth female vocals, and the peaceful instrumental outro 李鳳華 Li Fenghua, the shortest track of the album. And that’s it! Do not expect any epic songs or other Heavy Metal clichés, as the objective in Lake Of Solace is to be more atmospheric than Black Metal, which ends up working pretty well.

The instrumental is quite fundamental and the vocals are always more desperate than tuneful, but that’s not an issue for the purpose of the music here. Add to that the beautiful album art, and you have a sincere and captivating music experimentation from this honest and fresh East Asian music group.

Best moments of the album: 毀滅 Sin, 脫 Detachment and 渿河謠 Ballad Of Nai River.

Worst moments of the album: 九黎之舞 Wind And Stellar and 李鳳華 Li Fenghua.

Released in 2014 Pest Productions

Track listing
1. 引子 Intro 3:09
2. 毀滅 Sin 4:11
3. 九黎之舞 Wind And Stellar 5:58
4. 超脫 Detachment 8:24
5. 忘憂湖 壹 Lake Of Solace Pt.1 7:36
6. 忘憂湖 贰 Lake Of Solace Pt. 2 7:41
7. 渿河謠 Ballad Of Nai River 3:36
8. 李鳳華 Li Fenghua 2:58

Band members
Liu Qiang – vocals, guitars
Song Chen – guitars
Chen Xiao – bass
Zou Qiang – drums

Album Review – Matanza / A Arte do Insulto (2006)

Learning Brazilian Portuguese can be a lot easier and more fun with this awesome countrycore album.

Rating3

A+Arte+do+InsultoWith less than 3 months to the 2014 World Cup, lots of soccer fans from all around the world are probably heading to Brazil pretty soon and, of course, are trying to learn some basic words and sentences in Brazilian Portuguese (well, the original Portuguese from Portugal might be helpful too) in order to have an even better experience during the event there. However, if you really want to mingle with the locals, you’ll need more than a simple “por favor” (please) or “obrigado” (thank you), and Brazilian Countrycore band Matanza can help you out with that.

This very talented band from Rio de Janeiro plays an awesome mix of heavy music, hardcore, punk and country, being highly influenced by sacred monsters such as Johnny Cash, Motörhead, Slayer and The Exploited, and adding a huge amount of irony and sarcasm in their lyrics about women, alcohol, violence and human ignorance. After two excellent full-length albums (Santa Madre Cassino, from 2001, and Música para Beber e Brigar, from 2003) and a tribute album composed in its entirety by heavy versions of many classics from Johnny Cash called To Hell With Johnny Cash, from 2005, Matanza released A Arte do Insulto in 2006, or “The Art of Insult” if translated to English, considered their best album until today by the fans.

The title-track, A Arte do Insulto (The Art of Insult), is pure hardcore that will teach you a vast cursing vocabulary for you to use whenever you meet a Brazilian, while Clube dos Canalhas (Scoundrels’ Club) reminds us men what it really is to be a man. The next track is also mandatory for anyone that wants to party in Brazil:  O Chamado do Bar (The Call of the Bar) has some awesome fast riffs and is perfect for some insane circle pits. Sabendo Que Posso Morrer (Knowing I Can Die), a song that talks about love, and Quem Perde Sai (Who Loses Leaves), focused on the pitfalls of poker, are also pretty good fast songs that showcase all the talent of the band’s musicians, as well as the amazing Meio Psicopata (Half Psychopath) with its funny lyrics.

matanzaThe album continues its feast of black humor and bad mood with the classic Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém (I Don’t Like Anyone), an excellent hardcore song with one of the most acid lyrics I’ve ever seen, and the slow-paced O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda (The Way of the Ladder and the Rope), which despite its cool lyrics is not as exciting as the previous songs. Then we have another great example of what countrycore is with Ressaca Sem Fim (Endless Hangover), the intelligent Tempo Ruim (Bad Weather), and Quem Leva A Sério O Quê? (Who Takes What Seriously?) which is pretty much filler. The last two tracks are pretty cool:  both Whisky Para Um Condenado (Whisky for a Convicted) and Estamos Todos Bêbados (We’re all Drunk) are some kind of funny tribute to alcoholism, with the last being even funnier due to its “pirate song” atmosphere.

Regarding the musicians, I would say the heart and soul of the band are the guitar player Donida (who wrote pretty much all the songs from A Arte do Insulto), and especially the lead singer Jimmy London. Although he was born in Rio, he doesn’t look like a “carioca” at all, resembling a lot more with a metalhead from Ireland, and his voice and attitude add a lot of value to the music of Matanza. And finally, the album art is simple but very effective, inspired by sexy saloon dancers, alcohol and guns, a constant in all of their albums.

Do you understand now how Matanza will help you during the World Cup? It’s heavy music with lots of sarcasm, bad words, and the perfect soundtrack for partying and having some drinks at a pub, which is pretty much everything you’ll be doing in Brazil, right? Or are you going to tell me you are planning to get there just to support your national squad?

Best moments of the album: A Arte do Insulto, O Chamado do Bar and Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém.

Worst moments of the album: O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda and Quem Leva A Sério O Quê?

Released in 2006 Deckdisc

Track listing
1. A Arte do Insulto 1:51
2. Clube dos Canalhas 3:01
3. O Chamado do Bar 2:06
4. Sabendo Que Posso Morrer 2:19
5. Quem Perde Sai 2:32
6. Meio Psicopata 2:18
7. Eu Não Gosto De Ninguém 3:53
8. O Caminho Da Escada e Da Corda 3:00
9. Ressaca Sem Fim 3:08
10. Tempo Ruim 2:43
11. Quem Leva A Sério O Quê? 2:50
12. Whisky Para Um Condenado 2:22
13. Estamos Todos Bêbados 3:32

Band members
Jimmy London – vocals
China – bass
Fausto – drums
Donida – lead and rhythm guitar