Melodic Black Metal
Ditching the image that they had in 2009’s Mirror of Retribution in favour of less make up and face paints, Taiwan’s ChthoniC returns this year with their brand new effort Takasago Army, marking the end of a trilogy that began with 2005’s Seediq Bale. Similar to the music that was presented with Mirror of Retribution, Takasago Army sees ChthoniC carry on with their newer bombastic and flamboyant style of melodic black metal, and this is what has been making the newer ChthoniC materials particularly enjoyable personally, while older materials have seemingly failed to really capture my attention.
Album opener The Island sounds almost as if it could come out of an epic Chinese wartime movie, complete with synths, flutes and an epic orchestral arrangement in the background, giving listeners a preview of what to expect next and also setting down the mood for the rest of the album. As the album begins proper with Legacy of the Seediq, one instantly notices the increased prominence of the guitars on the album. The riffs are melodic yet strong and aggressive, and like the previous offering by ChthoniC, the riffs are often punctuated by pinch harmonics. There is also a marked increase in technicality in the riffs unleashed, evident on tracks like Southern Cross. But this is not the main difference as guitarist Jesse (aka The Infernal) displays his technical prowess on selected tracks with face-ripping guitar solos, such as on Southern Cross, making this one of the biggest difference from the previous Mirror of Retribution with the lack of guitar solos.
On top of the increased presence of the guitar, further new traditional instruments are introduced, such as the usage of the gu-zheng, especially on the band’s first single off the album, Takao, on top of the er-hu usage that ChthoniC has become known for. Vocalist Freddy (aka Left Face of Maradou) displays a higher range of vocals on the album as well, often alternating between deep growls and his usual high-pitched shrieks. On Takao, there is even a moment where vocal effects are used, sounding as if Freddy were screaming into a WWII-era transmitter set. However, the increased usage of growls is my only gripe, having become used to the shrieking vocal style of Freddy on albums like Mirror of Retribution (and let’s admit it, Freddy certainly isn’t the best growler around). There are also guest vocalists featured on the album, and unlike most other metal bands, ChthoniC has chosen to feature vocalists more well-known and respected in the Taiwanese mainstream music circle instead, and to surprisingly good effect as well. For example, the vocals of Yu Tien on Takao provides a further nice traditional feel to the songs, and the soulful vocals of Yia Wen on Kaoru emphasises the emotions felt in the music, all the while remaining relevant to the songs and not feel out of place at all.
Drummer Dani also punishes the drum set, pounding on the skins relentlessly, making the band sound more energetic and aggressive than ever, backed by the rumbling bass of Doris. The atmosphere of the album is maintained throughout the album through the usage of synths of CJ, which fortunately does not drown out any of the other instruments, a mistake that many melodic/symphonic bands tend to make. The synths here also take the role of a background instrument rather than a lead instrument, and is certainly a wise choice as it further gives space for the 2 lead instruments (the guitar and the er-hu) to shine.
Takasago Army sees a further growth not only in the songwriting of ChthoniC, but also on the individual instruments as evident on tracks like Southern Cross and Takao. While fans of old ChthoniC material may decry this as a major shift in musical direction of the band, it is hard to deny that Takasago Army is one of the best ChthoniC output yet.