ChthoniC – ‘Takasago Army’, Spinefarm Records; 2011

It’s taken six albums, but ChthoniC have finally latched onto a sound that fits them like a glove. Moving away from the European synth-driven black metal template put up by the likes of Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, the group have focused more on their Taiwanese background for new offering ‘Takasago Army’ – a path which, contrary to negative outcries of pandering to Western stereotyping from music industry critics, the band have always followed through the years before the rest of the metal world even knew about them.

ChthoniC achieve this musically by a change in their songwriting and instrumentation. Compared to their previous records which often set traditional er-hu strings against the aforementioned European black metal style, ‘Takasago Army‘ showcases a more streamlined sound from the band. Rather than form a musical wall against them, the guitars, bass and even singer Freddy Lim “Left Face of Maradou” work alongside traditional East Asian rhythms. Without compromising their intense, reactionary riffs or Lim’s shrill growls, the band successfully draw further on the cultural notes of their country for outside audiences to hear. As such, this makes for not just a more East Asian-based atmosphere, but an even more emotionally involved record.

Being a concept album which looks at the deeds and stories of the Taiwanese division of the Japanese Imperial Army, ‘Takasago Army‘ also differs from its predecessors in the respect that it has a more hopeful tune to its atmosphere. ChthoniC have always chosen tales based in tragedy and national conflict, and while these parts of their atmosphere haven’t been left behind – especially from the er-hu’s mournful whines or the angered, tremolo plucking of black metal – there is a greater sense of honour and heroism. Case in point, the third track ‘Takao‘ and its use of folk song structure in its chorus. The Taiwanese verse begins with one voice before more join in; offering a sense of growing momentum and solidarity.

At the same time, this momentum is what gives ‘Takasago Army‘ its drawbacks, even for an extreme metal album. Including the traditional sounds and tunes to make their mark as a Taiwanese band is fair enough, yet at the same time ChthoniC are so eager to do this that they seem to cram anything and everything into the record. A profound example comes later on in ‘KAORU‘, which pitches fast chords against low tuned, clean female vocals with distorted recording quality. The effect of this is that there are points when ‘Takasago Army‘ feels like a cramped album, without much musical space for either the band’s vision or their audience. Yet as a whole, this does little to distract from the sense of a band who have found a stronger direction for their own path.

7/10

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