Sound: Chthonic are one of those bands that apparently everyone loves: If you've ever been to one of their gigs, you will see the hardest of hard metalheads moshing and head-banging with J-rock and Visual Kei fans. An odd spectacle indeed but its a nice reminder of how special ethnic metal can be.
Chthonic play a style of black metal that infuses hints of death metal, gothenburg metal and a hefty side order of traditional Taiwanese instrumentation and folklore (think I got away with that). Its only recently that they've developed this sound into a brain-friendlier term called "oriental metal" which their 2009 disc "Mirror Of Retribution" saw come into its own.
I always thought that "MoR" was a good album let down by some average song-writing and not-quite-there-yet production. Well, good news first: Both have been piled high onto your plate of audible material. I feel the use of the traditional instruments has become much more apparent, their interlacing with the energetic black metal sound is a really powerful melodic tool that Chthonic use most effectively. The production is upped in terms of richness, the guitar sound is much more in relation to a Dark Tranquillity album, as well as having some almost power metal like solo-work added in (don't worry, no 3 minute guitar battles, just some purely awesome solo-work), quite a bit more than their previous material and the drums are much heavier in sound as well.
If there was one bad thing to say about the sound, it would be the synths. As skilled as CJ their keyboardist is, they've chosen some almost basic synths to work with, very unreal sounding and somewhat unconvincing. But you'll be forgetting this very, very soon as the main bulk of the music rips your face to pieces and you'll be wondering if you haven't stepped into a war zone. // 9
Lyrics: The "Takasago Army" was a fighting unit in the Japanese military during the second world war where all the members where aboriginal volunteers from Taiwan. The lyrics are a blend of this piece of history with Taiwanese mythology, which adds a certain mysticism to the songs. As black metal tends to be, the lyrics are very descriptive and somewhat heartstring-tugging, with one song describing the last few minutes of a soldier on a suicide mission. It should also be noted that quite a chunk of the lyrics are in traditional Taiwanese, adding a tasty, exotic extra to the vocals.
Vocals are handled by Freddy Lim (sometimes you have to give credit to the vocalists with silly names for having balls) who has a fairly diverse harsh vocal range, including ear-shredding black metal screams and more Gothenburg-ish mid-high growls. They even have a few clean vocal sections such as on "Takao" which has male vocalist Yu Tien for the final chorus. As far as delivery goes, Freddy Lim has passion. True passion. Its not hard to understand why once you understand even the basics of Taiwanese history: he has a lot to scream about and the whole band should be commended for their ideals. // 8
Overall Impression: I've yet to hear a band that sounds remotely like Chthonic, their blend of oriental music and raging black metal is one of admirability because it works so well. As an album, "Takasago Army" just gives you more of everything from Chthonic. If you want something different from the Children Of Bodoms and Cradle Of Filths's of the world then you should most definitely check this out.
Songs to look out for: "The Island", "Legacy Of The Seediq", "Takao", "Southern Cross", "Broken Jade", "Kaoru", "Broken Jade", "Root Regeneration", "Quell The Souls In Sing Ling Temple". // 8