Chthonic rep their motherland of Taiwan. On 2005’s Seediq Bale, the band wrote an orchestral black metal concept album about the Wushe Incident, in which Taiwanese aborigines rebelled against and were massacred by Japanese colonial forces. Now, with Takasago Army, the band uses their hyperbolic brand of bombastic sonic darkness to tell the story of the Takasago Volunteers, those Taiwanese aboriginal tribesmen whom the Japanese trained in guerilla warfare and sent into the fray. Such awesome concepts demand awesome music, and thankfully, this Taipei quintet delivers.
The album’s intro track is an imperial synth melody reminiscent of both nationalist propaganda and the Terminator soundtrack, but then “Legacy of the Seediq” whips up into a frenzied cyclone of charging riffs, blistering synths, harpyish screams, and a little two-stringed eh-hu to add an atmosphere of traditional Asian music. The album sees Chthonic’s sound evolving into something beyond simple Cradle-style baroque black metal; tracks like “Takao” and “Southern Cross” possess Alexi Laiho-like guitar showmanship, and the rhythms of drummer Azathothian Hands channel the zeal of pagan folk metal. The blend of melancholy er-hu leads and pained female vocals on “Kaoru” blends elements of Septicflesh and old Dimmu Borgir to dodge the gothic-emo route and instead create something original and entertaining that stays deadly serious.
At times, the album can be a little much; after the 17th grinding breakdown decked in plucking harp strings, things can blur together—but the things that make Takasago Army stand out are worth any flaws it possesses as an album (the weird jungle insert of “Root Regeneration” makes you feel like you’re at a spa with the devil). Chthonic have made metal that’s traditional in so many ways, but finally provides a breath of fresh air from your normal death metal stomp-fest. CHRIS KROVATIN