It’s been five years since we’ve heard new material from Sing Ling Temple and Taiwan’s fiercest celestial defenders. Five years with precious little available outside of Taiwan to keep us occupied. Well apart from the Takasago Army and Bu-Tik albums which are still in rotation for me.
That’s what happens when your singer forms his own Nationalist party and gets elected to parliament (and before you get any knee jerk reaction to the Nationalist word check out Taiwan’s politics – their giant neighbour China refuses to even recognise them as an independent country despite the rest of the world doing so, and some Taiwanese politicians want to appease China. Yeah it gets messy…And Freddy Lim decided to stand up and do something. They also advocate universal human rights and social and political freedoms, so you know…)
So for the uninitiated, formed in 1995 Chthonic (Sing Ling in Taiwan, the name of a nationally important temple and the setting for an incredible live album) are steeped in National pride, an unflinching look at their own history and an extravagant exploration of the mythology and folklore of Taiwan threaded through. Somehow they manage to weave that all together seamlessly with their incredible brand of symphonic, melodic blackened death metal with a huge vein of traditional instrumentation. And energy. And…
You get the picture.
They probably haven’t put a foot wrong since 2009’s Mirror Of Retribution finally began to push the Taiwanese melodies and instrumentation more and ease back on the Cradle Of Filth vibe (not that previous albums aren’t worth checking out if you can find them.)
But five years is a long time.
‘Drawing Omnipotence Nigh’ ends the silence with a cinematic, soul stirring piece of strings, drumming and traditional instrumentation. Immediately this is Chthonic. Whole and undimmed. ‘The Silent One’s Torch’ begins with a melodic riff before Freddy Kim rips into it. His harsh vocals are still superb; varied, dramatic, even intelligible and when they combine in the chorus with backing vocals and the keyboard and string arrangement my stomach gets butterflies and it’s like the strength flows into me. No, really. This reaches something in my Yorkshire and Scottish and Scandinavian soul and just sets a glow in my heart. It’s so good to know that they haven’t withered…
What follows is a stormy ride through battles between gods and demons with an allegory about the political awakening of Taiwan in the 1920s. And if that sounds heavy, don’t worry; this is catchy, concise and thrilling as anything you could wish for. With guest appearances from Randy Blythe and Hong Kong singer and freedom activist Denise Ho we are presented with a dynamic and passionate journey which bassist/spokesperson Doris Yeh has described as a prelude to the themes of their previous albums.
When you hear something like ‘Crimson Sky’s Command’ and the yearning melody rushing over the top of the melodeath riff it can only be Chthonic. They mostly keep up a restless and relentless pace here too, storm ride if you like. ‘Taste The Black Tears’ is like heroic, demi-human warriors descending; cinematic and epic, one of their best ever, and ‘Millenia’s Faith Undone’ is just furious and no doubt the inclusion of Denise Ho a point well made to their giant neighbour.
Battlefields Of Asura is certainly Chthonic’s most intense work, full gallop throughout but retaining all their ancestral character and so bright it may hurt your eyes. Takasago Army is probably an easier first meal, but this has the edge over Bu Tik for me and is a fine welcome back for a unique band who walk the walk and play like demons.