There’s no denying how important of a band Chthonic are, yet are so often unfairly left out of the metal conversation. Even away from frontman Freddy Lim forming his own political party and being elected into the Taiwanese Parliament just this year, they’ve arguably been the band to embrace their Asian heritage the most of the continent’s ever-growing list of metal exports, frequently writing basing their lyrics on Taiwanese history and mythology, as well augmenting their sound with traditional Asian erhu and writing and performing their lyrics in Taiwanese. It’s a genuinely fascinating, unique stance that deserves huge appreciation, and while the preconceived narrower reach of symphonic and blackened death metal has limited that somewhat, the fact they’ve remained strong for over twenty years is a testament to the longevity of their vision.
Really though, the idea of genre being a boundary to how widely that vision is received isn’t as severe an issue as it would be made out to be, especially on an album like Battlefields Of Asura. It’s by no means as heavy and unnavigable as a lot of death metal can be to newcomers, and with a greater focus on sonic opulence and the origins of the vast mythology of Taiwanese deities that’s previously been integral to Chthonic’s work, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to group this in with symphonic metal or power metal, albeit stripped of some of the more relentlessly cheesy moments.
That can also mean that production on Battlefields Of Asura isn’t quite as dense though, and as a result, some of these songs, particularly near the start, are notably disjointed from how the pieces struggle to click together. It’s particularly noticeable in the first track proper The Silent One’s Touch, where Lim’s vocals feel a good six feet in front of any of the scorching metal bombast, which is further drowned out by the thick walls of strings and choral vocals. It can make an otherwise decent song feel messy, as if these individual components are in separate blocks rather than interacting with each other, and though it might be a case of growing pains overall (for majority of the album, it does get rectified), the whole regality of it all can feel somewhat compromised, and that’s a shame.
That said, if there’s one thing that Chthonic can do ridiculously well here, it’s cultivating a sense of real, formidable size, and it can’t be ignored that this is the triumphant, galloping cry for battle that Chthonic excel at and continue to do incredibly well. Of course, the main proponent of this is the additional instrumentation, whether that’s the clashing, cinematic strings that adorn virtually every track or the slight plucks of erhu for that greater traditional feel on Masked Faith and Millennia’s Faith Undone. More so than anything else, Chthonic know how to craft an atmosphere that stands defiantly unique from so many others in their field, but it’s paired with a familiarity of western death metal to resonate as strongly as it does. Lim’s sharp, incisive tones definitely have that feeling, to the point where putting them alongside Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe on Souls Of The Revolution couldn’t feel like a more natural fit, and yet with a grandiosity and sonic breadth like theirs, Battlefields Of Asura feels more deeply entrenched in the Chthonic mould than anything else, familiar but unable to be mistaken for any other band.
And that’s arguably where Chthonic shine the most, in that they’ve established such a uniquely identifiable and workable sound for themselves that there’s really no need to deviate from it. The production hiccups might keep it a few shades away from being truly great, but Battlefields Of Asura is hardly going to rub any long term fans the wrong way, or even anyone who prefers their metal decked out with a bit more pomp and circumstance. Accessible might be the wrong word, but for anyone looking to jump deeper into the metal well, this could probably be a decent starting point; it’s certainly more interesting in both concept and execution than so much else out there.
For fans of: Melechesh, Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Battlefields Of Asura’ by Chthonic is released on 12th October.