When I was a kid, it seemed like everything I owned was made in Taiwan — toys, clothes, electronics… you name it. And it seems odd that China has, for now, ostensibly superseded Taiwan, since both countries use “China” in their name, and things have gotten mixed up a few times during the 20th century. Chthonic, on the other hand, are not mixed up. They refuse to forget their homeland’s bloody past, utilizing horrific incidents during mankind’s currently-monikered “Century of Warfare” as source material. Couple that with their amazing humanitarian work, and you have a band who walks as well as they talk.
Chthonic have kept the same lineup since Seediq Bale dropped in 2005, and though their ethos has remained, the band has also adapted since Spinefarm started backing them in 2009. First, both of their logos were redesigned, then they wisely ceased wearing corpsepaint reminiscent of Scandanavian black metal brethren, and instead opted for the self-proclaimed “ghostpaint”, culled from Taoist legend.
A few years ago, when interviewing vocalist/frontman/erhu player Freddy Lim, he revealed that the accompanying stories struck him as interesting but were not dogmatically believed; the same goes for the spells scrawled on the Left Face of Maradau. Rather, the focus of Chthonic has been, like their name, bound not only to this earth but rooted on a deeper level, remembering the sacrifice of recent ancestors — often a literal living hell.
Bú-Tik again revisits the 228 Massacre first referenced on Mirror of Retribution, only instead of a fictional frame story that references real-life incidents, their latest effort delves further into the genocide, yet still find glimmers of hope in what the band calls “righteous violence and justifiable defense”. Songs like ‘Defenders Of Bú-Tik Palace’ demonstrate (especially in the accompanying video) the nobility of resistance to oppression, even in the face of insurmountable odds and likely death.
The symphonic majesty is still present, with keyboardist CJ Kao adding tasteful touches, commanding reflexive reactions to both warm and chill your ears; both ‘Arising Armament’ and ‘Undying Rearmament’ give a Morricone-esque atmosphere to the proceedings, as tireless drummer Dani Wang maintains a strong backbone with Doris Yeh’s somewhat-buried bass (although her growls are always welcome).
Excellent riffing, solos, and incorporation of the erhu decorate ‘Supreme Pain For The Tyrant’ with a crowd-ready battle cry of “Let me stand up like the Taiwanese / Only justice will you bring you peace”. ‘Sail Into The Sunset’s Fire’ surprised me with its maritime swing versus blackened blasts, and then AGAIN with the sweet solo — apparently, Jesse Liu just decided to get wicked catchy with brilliant effect, because he is not afraid to add lovely little flourishes throughout this album.
This sound may have something to do with Rickard Bengtsson, who also produced their last album Takasago Army, thus understanding Chthonic from past experience. Or perhaps since this is the first album since concluding the ‘Souls Reposed’ trilogy of the last three albums, the group felt energized enough to try new things (like shoot the aforementioned high-flying, high-concept martial arts flick as lead single). The overall mix is well-balanced, so you can hear the subtle touches while still feeling fully engulfed in sonics. Freddy enunciates better than ever, and placement of his erhu is superb. Bú-Tik evidences Chthonic’s undying love and loyalty to their homeland — particularly its warriors for social justice — to whom they continue to act as a willing channel.