In their time away from the music scene, life has been busy for Taiwanese act Chthonic. Five years have passed since their last studio album Bú-Tik (Spinefarm), and family has played a large part, most notably with married couple, bassist Doris Yeh and vocalist Freddy Lim, having a baby last year. Having also taken up politics, Lim swapped his stage make-up and black leather for a nice clean suit and tie, his progressive New Power Party, formed in 2015, becoming elected into the Taiwanese Parliament in January this year.
With family, politics, and the band even appearing in Taiwanese action/comedy film ‘Tshiong’, live shows and new music have been at a premium for Chthonic, with only ‘Souls Of The Revolution’ – a song recorded for the aforementioned movie (and included on this release) – their only output in half a decade. But now, with eighth studio album Battlefields of Asura (independent release), the band are keen to redress the balance and get back to their roots.
Serving as a prologue to, well… everything, Battlefields… is inspired by, and dedicated to, the activists of Taiwan’s first modern political reform movement back in the 1920s, and represents the journey of Taiwanese deities as they search for eternal wisdom. A story of good vs evil, gods vs demons, each song carries a message of resistance, adversity, brotherhood, and freedom; all themes explored on the band’s previous records.
Opening with the sweeping and cinematic orchestral intro of ‘Drawing Omnipotence Nigh’, the album’s first proper track, ‘The Silent One’s Torch’ quickly takes over and, with Jesse Liu‘s fast, sharp riffing backed with the band’s trademark erhu, proves the Taipei terrors are clearly making up for lost time. The thunderous ‘Flames Upon The Weeping Winds’ follows, and the riffs and melodies that dominate ‘A Crimson Sky’s Command’ are constructed of purest Iron Maiden.
Recorded last year, the blistering ‘Souls of the Revolution’ features none other than Randy Blythe from Lamb of God trading vocal lines with Freddy Lim; a suitably furious track drenched in ominous sounding choral backing vocals make it one of the record’s many highlights. The militaristic tendencies of ‘Taste the Black Tears’ and the almost Nightwish-esque, mid-paced ‘One Thousand Eyes’ give way to ‘Masked Faith’, an atmospheric instrumental with bluesy guitar played over the sound of traditional eastern instruments as sticksman Dani Wang occasionally interjects with some huge drums, before the effortlessly catchy ‘Carved in Bloodstone’ hits you with both barrels.
Featuring Denise Ho, a pro-democracy, LGBT rights activist and singer from Hong Kong, the towering ‘Millennia’s Faith Undone’ is simply magnificent, while creepy outro ‘Autopoiesis’ sounds like the worst kind of midnight stroll around the labyrinthine corridors of a not-quite-as-abandoned-as-you’d-hope mental asylum.
While the tedious, oft-repeated comparisons to Cradle Of Filth might still hold true to a point, Chthonic have long since developed their own distinct signature sound, even going so far as to label their hybrid variation of death and black metal ‘Orient Metal’. Some of the riffs might be a little similar, but the choral vocals, orchestrations, and CJ Kao‘s keyboards are uniquely “Chthonic”. And with as much emphasis on restraint and atmosphere as full-on aggression, Battlefields of Asura is certainly one of the most accomplished records the band has released to date.