Takasago Army (Spinefarm Records)
Returning with their second album in less than two years, the prolific CHTHONIC (pronounced Ka-thon-ick) is back once again to thrill your ears. Named for a sect of Greek occultists and also a theme in parapsychology detailing the shadow self, the band has been a leading light of extreme metal in Asia for many years. Wrapping up a trilogy that began with the 2005 opus Seediq Bale, the band continues to examine socio-political concepts through their music and lyrics. They are champions for Taiwanese independence as well as other issues (Free Tibet etc). Considering they come from a culture where such openness is not always welcome by the powers that be, you must admire their temerity and trueness of heart. Musically the album is a complex, lush epic on a grand scale, sure to please fans of a myriad of styles and tastes.
Opening up with the prelude “The Island” strings and pan flute give you an instant feeling like something big is about to unfold. And it is! The band has never been shy about melding their homespun cultural influences into extreme metal, but now they have really achieved a seamless match. “Legacy of the Seediq” talks about the plight of the indigenous Taiwanese people recruited into the Japanese army as soldiers during WWII. The song blends epic thrash, symphonic themes and black metal flourishes all together. Vocalist Freddy Lim has a hellishly good screaming voice; waves of his pain and suffering raining down on your ears. Lim’s guttural bellows have also reached a new benchmark of excellence too. Guitarist Jesse Liu provides the main riffs of the song, a deadly thrasher mixed with a recurring motif that is one part BLACK SABBATH and one part Taiwanese folk music. The post-chorus just screams symphonic death metal of the highest order. Great drumming from Dani Wang is also present here and throughout the album. “Takao” has another fabulous track, huge chorus, terrific chord structures and keyboards. Synth player CJ has a deft ear for blending classical sounding piano parts with well developed strings and occasional horns. The track also features some awesome Asian-style throat singing vocals that really put the song over the top. In a addition to being a fine bassist, Doris Yeh provides ethereal female vocals bordering on operatic. “Oceanquake” is another burner encompassing all the things the band does well. The out and out thrash of the verses is terrific and the keys and guitars sync up to play the main melody of the song. The effect is magical. The track even has a metalcore-esque breakdown, but it comes off more ballsy, like the power-groove of say a TESTAMENT or EXODUS. The guitar solo is really uplifting as well. The next track “Southern Cross” begins again with the docile flute sounds, but quickly breaks down into a proggy dirge that calls to mind some of the more extreme work of SLIPKNOT. As heavy as Lim brings the vocals, you can always understand him (in English) which is key since the band’s message is all important and would be less effective if you were unable to get it. “Karou” is a killer track which finds Lim’s whisper to a scream delivery quite pleasing. Award winning Taiwanese singer Tsiam Nga Bun (Chan Yia Wen) lent her voice to the track as well. Another thing I like about this album is the mixing job. All of the instruments and voices fit nicely in the mix and the intricate keyboards and synths don’t get drowned out at all. Other standout tracks on the album are “Broken Jade”, “Mahakala” and the positively CRADLE OF FILTH/ENSLAVED inspired “Quell The Souls in Sing Ling Temple”. The bonus track version of the record includes a version of the single “Takao” sung by folk metallers ENSIFERUM! This is well crafted metal, unafraid to take chances and break down walls. CHTONIC as a band moves forward by not forgetting where they came from. I look forward to their upcoming tour with ARCH ENEMY this fall.
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes