Home Magazine Album Reviews Interviews News Featured Musician Genre Seeker SOTW

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ChthoniC 閃靈: Mirror of Retribution

Year Released: 2009
Website: www.chthonic.tw, www.myspace.com/chthonictw
Label: Spinefarm Records


1. Autoscopy [1:57]

2. Blooming Blades [4:41]

3. Hearts Condemned [4:31]

4. Venom In My Veins [3:02]

5. The Aroused [5:07]

6. Sing-Ling Temple [4:07]

7. 1947 [4:18]

8. Forty-Nine Theurgy Chains [3:37]

9. Rise Of The Shadows [4:09]

10. Bloody Waves Of Sorrow [4:49]

11. Spell of Setting Sun: Mirror of Retribution [5:56]

12. Unlimited Taiwan [4:43]

ChthoniC, otherwise known by their more native name 閃靈, is a Taiwanese symphonic black death metal band from Taipei. They formed in 1995, and have 5 members whom all sport Chinese folklore-inspired goth makeup. Their music is very unique, as they combine both Western and Chinese instruments to weave a musical style that is dark, exotic, melodious and insane. Hypnotizing listeners into a false sense of tranquillity at the beginning, the album soon kicks off with a ravaging tide of guitar riffs that washes over you and drowns you in dark aural ambience. They are a melo-death/symphonic black metal hybrid, but what sets them apart from the crowd in that category is that they utilize the Chinese erhu (known as hena in Taiwan) as well, which is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument. It is the Chinese equivalent of the Western violin. In fact, on the single "Forty-Nine Theurgy Chains", a Chinese gong was even used! This is certainly one aspect of cross-cultural assimilation that the Western metal community would be happy to have.

Of all the black metal bands I have been listening to for 2009, ChthoniC easily won me over as a fan. Why? That would be because apart from their musical uniqueness, there are two other facts about them that are pretty interesting. Firstly, their frontman Freddy Lim feels very strongly about the strained political ties between Taiwan and China and is a political activist at home. Earlier this year, he even shook hands with then presidential hopeful Ma Ying Jeoue (now President of Taiwan), whom he had personally endorsed and hence managed to secure him many young voters. Secondly, they are the first Asian extreme metal band to be signed on to Spinefarm Records, a prestigious Finland based label, and that is a very big deal because they are now label mates with big time metal acts like Children Of Bodom, Nightwish, and Satyricon. Talk about finally getting a big break.

The lyrical theme of this album revolves around the spiritual world and the tyranny the Taiwanese had faced from the mainland Chinese government many decades ago. Basically, it is spawned from a combination of local folklore, supernatural myths, and a political agenda against the monolithic Chinese government. Hence, Western metalheads might find the lyrics a little weird and out-of-place because it is culturally different from what they are accustomed to seeing in Western black metal. For example, perhaps only those Western metalheads who learn East Asian history would recognize ChthoniC's reference to the notorious ‘228 Massacre’ in Taiwan throughout the album. You would have to read the lyrics to know that though, as usual, it is kind of impossible to make out the lyrics by ear alone. For those who just concentrate on the music as a whole anyway and do not really care what the lyrics are talking about (like me :P), well, just do your usual stuff and appreciate the aural assault from ChthoniC.

For those who do not like BMTH's music because of the screechy harsh vocals, you might not like ChthoniC's music. Freddy sounds just like Oliver, as he shrieks his way through for the large part of every song, utilizing low growls just once in a while. For those who are fine with BMTH's harsh vocals, you would definitely be fine with ChthoniC's harsh vocals too. Guitar-wise, they churn out melo-death worthy solos, and shred at blazing fast speeds. Not much to talk about the drums, because the drummer deliver beats that are as fast as what most other extreme metal bands usually offer as well. The most obviously striking instrument here would be the Chinese two-stringed violin that Freddy uses to great musical effect. Throughout the entire album, he is able to deliver hauntingly melancholic solos that traverse the border between Western and Eastern music, and which shatters the belief (if any) that Chinese instruments would be out of place in a Western music genre.

Black deities of the underworld: From left to right - Dani Wang/Azathothian Hands (Drums), Doris Yeh/Thunder Tears (Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals), Freddy Lim/Left Face Of Maradou (Vocals, Erhu/Hena), Jesse Liu/The Infernal (Guitar), CJ Kao/Dispersed Fingers (Piano, Synthesizer)

However, one disappointing aspect about the instrumentals would be the supposed presence of the piano. CJ, the finger guy (my own moniker for the dude in any band who deals with the piano or synthesizer), sure puts the synthesizer to good use on many tracks such as the all instrumental track "1947" and the single "Forty-Nine Theurgy Chains". The piano is neglected though, because although CJ apparently plays it on the band, for most of the album, it is like a ghost because it hardly sounds like it is there at all. In fact, the only few moments I hear it clearly on the album was on the tracks "Hearts Condemned" and "Unlimited Taiwan". On the track "Hearts Condemned", the piano could be heard clearly from 2:42 onwards, and on "Unlimited Taiwan", at 1:41 and 2:50, the piano can be heard playing a series of short ascending note sequences. I personally think the piano is a very good accompaniment for any melo-death or black metal band, because the melodies it can create can be so angelic yet intimidating at times, hence here's me hoping that it can be more prominent on future ChthoniC albums.

Take a listen!: This ferocious yet hauntingly melodic brand of black metal will keep you coming back for more.

Alright, this is it for 2009. "Mirror of Retribution" is a must-get black metal album for this year, and if you didn't get it for Christmas, get it for the New Year!

P.S. It would be interesting to see if ChthoniC would eventually make use of other traditional Chinese musical instruments in future, I am all for a pipa or guzheng.

Verdict: 8.9 / 10

No comments: