Taiwanese metallers Chthonic took their time, but was it worth the wait?
Chthonic’s last album Bú-Tik stems from 2013 and for a while I was actually afraid we might not hear from the Taiwanese extreme metal band again. Chthonic was always a political band, so it was no surprise when frontman Freddy Lim decided to actually found the Taiwanese New Power Party and head into politics, but as a fan of the band it’s been a long, five-year wait for anything to happen on the musical front again. For some reason, an action/comedy film was announced that would feature the band, but other than that, nothing until a few months ago when Battlefields of Asura, the band’s eighth album, was finally scheduled for an October release.
The good news first then: Battlefields of Asura was well worth the wait, and at first glance actually one-ups Bú-Tik in terms of accessibility and musical prowess. The band is firing on all cylinders and the songwriting, although bearing all the staples you’ve come to expect from them, sounds inspired. Continuing a trend set in years ago, Battlefields continues to strip down the black metal elements in favour of a more orchestral and organic sound, bringing their Asian musical roots more to the front than ever. Since the marriage between extreme metal and oriental influences is a large part of the band’s charm, that can only be a good thing.
The orchestral intro Drawing Omnipotence Nigh does an excellent of getting the listener pumped up for what’s to come. It’s heavy on percussion and strings and really sounds like a rally, a prelude to war before chaos in unleashed properly with The Silent One’s Torch. From the off, it immediately becomes clear that Chthonic has ramped up the digital orchestration a notch, giving the songs a more epic feel without losing too much of the metallic madness. Freddy Lim still shrieks like a banshee, with the contrast between the melodies and the high-pitched shrieks and barks larger than ever. The thrashy riffing is excellent and from the opening track through to Taste the Black Tears the band sounds more inspired maybe even than on Bú-Tik, once again impressively combining extreme metal with traditional Asian instrumentation.
After that, Chthonic ups the epicness a notch with One Thousand Eyes, featuring an even more orchestral sound, ritualistic chants and layered vocal harmonies before they head into almost Pink Floyd like territories with the instrumental interlude Masked Faith, which sports some very Gilmour-esque guitar work. The following Carved in Bloodstone is as short as it is epic, again featuring a cool, clean chorus and subtle choirs to propel the song to greater heights. Closing track Millennia’s Faith Undone (not counting the outro Autopoiesis) features guest vocals by Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, turning an otherwise already excellent song filled with cool melodies and riffs into something really special.
Now, all of this would sound grand, were it not that the production is absolutely dire. Battlefields of Asura sounds remarkably thin and unbalanced, with the drums sounding cheap and Doris Yeh’s bass so deeply buried in the mix it ventures into Metallica’s …And Justice for All levels. For all the musical excellence on display here, this is not a good sounding album at all, with the vocals and keys way up front in the mix and the rest sounding so shrill and cheap it really hurts an otherwise really good album. Another gripe I have with with Battlefields of Asura is the length of the thing. Forty minutes, on paper, is more often than not a perfect running time. It reduces the risk of bloat and, for the listener, boredom. However, when more than six minutes of that time is spent on intros, outros and interludes you’re left with a record running for little over half an hour, sporting eight proper songs. It’s hard to justify the five year wait, but your mileage may vary.
In the end, Chthonic’s eighth album is a disappointment. Musically it’s spot on, continuing the trend of moving away from blackened death into more melodic death metal territories. The combination of styles remains a remarkable and very interesting one, being able to make you sit up and take notice. It’s a shame then that there is only half an hour’s worth of proper material, and that it sounds like shit to boot. Musically, Battlefields of Asura is one of my favourite records released in the second half of this year, but with a production job like this it’s hard to recommend it over Bú-Tik or 2011’s Takasago Army, and that’s a crying shame.
Label: Ciong Zo, 2018
- Drawing Omnipotence Nigh (2:07)
- The Silent One’s Torch (4:03)
- Flames upon the Weeping Winds (3:10)
- A Crimson Sky’s Command (3:31)
- Souls of the Revolution (4:39)
- Taste the Black Tears (4:49)
- One Thousand Eyes (5:16)
- Masked Faith (2:19)
- Carved in Bloodstone (2:57)
- Millennia’s Faith Undone (5:06)
- Autopoiesis (2:05)
- Freddy Lim, “Left Face of Maradou” – lead vocals, erhu
- Doris Yeh, “Thunder Tears” – bass, backing vocals
- Jesse Liu, “The Infernal” – guitars, backing vocals
- Dani Wang, “Azathothian Hands” – drums
- CJ Kao, “Dispersed Fingers” – keyboards, synthesizer
Review by Ralph Plug