What would you get if Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth decided to join forces, started using Asian stringed instruments and keyboard passages and moved to Taiwan? If you said Chthonic, then you are already ahead of the curve. Chthonic, pronounced Thonic, formed about 2 years after Dimmu Borgir, so to write them off as a mere carbon copy would do them a disservice. Though there are many similarities, Chthonic forge their own unique path as they navigate through the symphonic metal scene. Takasago Army is the latest offering from these metal veterans, and at first listen provides enough atmosphere and aggression to slake the thirst of the most jaded listener.
Takasago is an ancient Japanese term that refers to Taiwan; it also is a reference to soldiers recruited from Taiwanese aboriginal tribes to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The album opens with “The Island”, a 2 minute atmospheric, instrumental intro which gives way to “Legacy of Seediq” and “Takao“, two blistering tracks that charge forth at a frantic, unrelenting pace. The song “Oceanquake”, for my money, is the standout track as it seamlessly blends all of the elements of the symphonic black metal sound with keyboard arrangements and an oriental feel, not to mention the utilization of a stringed instrument called an erhu. Chthonic don’t stop there, as the listener will notice hints of melodic death metal on “Southern Cross”, as well as small doses of power metal.
There are two noticeable elements that do detract from the overall feel of the album: vocal delivery and repetitive nature of the music. Lead vocalist, Freddie Lim tends to invoke a shrieking style which directly parallels that of Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth. After awhile it tends to become more than a bit nerve wracking in the sense that it has already been done before; to his credit he does mix it up a bit with a deeper, more guttural approach occasionally. Additionally, there are some female vocals to help compliment Lim’s vocals on the album, keeping it from being labeled as overly harsh. The one other aspect that hurts this album is the lack of variety and approach. I do not envision this as an album that you will continue to spin over and over for the next year or so, but to Chthonic’s credit I consider them more original than most in the genre. Sadly, I will probably always compare them to their European counterparts at least in terms of overall contribution; however, with Takasago Army I feel that Chthonic may have more to offer lately than many of their peers out there.
In closing, Chthonic offer up an exceptional album that is worthy of praise and closer inspection. Since the commercialization of bands like Dimmu Borgir have left them as little more than commodities, ripe for a pack of mall core kids to drool over in the local Hot Topic, Chthonic bring a fresh take to a genre on the brink of extinction. In 2007, Chthonic won Best Band Award at the Taiwan Golden Melodies Award Ceremony, so it would appear that they are doing something right, and it would seem that any success has not gone to their head. If you are looking for something with a bit of an exotic edge in the Symphonic metal genre then I suggest you check out Takasago Army and give it a listen or two; I bet that you will be pleasantly surprised.