Completing their concept trilogy that started with Seediq Bale in 2007 and continued by Mirror Of Retribution in 2009, Taiwanese symphonic black metalers Chthonic release Takasago Army via Spinefarm Records. Produced by Rickard Bengtsson (Arch Enemy, Nemesis) at Sweet Spot Studios in Halmstad, Sweden, the band’s sixth album brings more of their distinctive blend of oriental folk sounds and extreme harsh and melodic black metal all coated with copious essences of dark spirits, shadows and emotion.
Chthonic (pronounced ‘Thonic’ and a name deriving from a Greek word signifying spirits of the underworld) though deeply placed in the heart of symphonic black metal stand apart from equivalent bands around the world with their thickly added traditional Taiwanese sounds, elements and instruments. In many respects they are like Russian folk metalers Arkona, the instinctive use and influence of their heritage and folklore aurally adds dimensions other bands can only dream of. When hearing them at first Chthonic instantly draw obvious comparisons to the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Burzum but soon their traditional additives, the unique atmosphere they raise, and the refreshing mesmeric emotive flows that weave through the hard intense sound reveals a band of immense quality and individualism musically.
Seediq Bale started the theme of the three part concept with the Wushe Incident when Taiwanese aborigines were massacred by Japanese colonial forces they had rebelled against. Takasago Army closes the trilogy with reference to the Takasago Volunteers, aboriginal tribesmen recruited and trained in guerrilla warfare by the Japanese during World War II. Chthonic bassist Doris Yeh commented about the release “We’re very proud to present our latest album Takasago Army; it’s a masterpiece of the elements of Orient folk and extreme metal. The background revolves around WWII, and we want to reveal the spirit of finding your own dignity through the most difficult and dangerous mission on the battle ground. The closer you cone to death, the more you know who you are.”
The album opens with the atmospherically layered instrumental ‘The Island ‘, its dramatic texture and sound setting the scene and opening imagery for the album and its emotive content. ‘Legacy of the Seediq’ strikes next loaded with crushing riffs, power and intensity as flowing melodies swoop and sway with precision. Vocally it is definite Dani Filth territory though with more control and variation, not exactly unique but lays alongside the wonderful creativity musically perfectly.
The next track ‘Takao’ is one of three tracks that especially stand-out on Takasago Army. Relentlessly it surges into the ear with an eager urgency as strong as the lingering impact left once the last note departs. ‘Oceanquake’ and ‘Broken Jade’ stand alongside it parading the extra qualities taking an impressive album to a potential album of the year. The first of the two is an express train of a track veined with melodramatic and expressive weaves and passages, as addictive as it is unrelenting the song is imperial. The latter and the video from the album is a less forceful piece in some ways bringing a respite to the aggressively intense tracks that had invaded previously, though still extremely powerful and sharply edged. Its harmonies and melodic caresses sitting seamlessly alongside the directness it carries, and even in its slightly more subdued attack still strikes deeply and cleanly.
Takasago Army has so much more to reveal but rather than give away all its secrets the suggestion is to go and discover its charms and wonders for yourselves. Though black metal is the influential sound and the basis for their music, Chthonic use their instinctive historical and musical heritage to create something special in the same way the aforementioned Arkona and India’s Motherjane do in their own individual music identities, the result music that if it works for you will become a deep passion in the musical heart.