Friday, June 14, 2013

ChthoniC - Bú-Tik (2013)

The music industry is full of rebels without a cause; people who make music for the fame, the money, the women, or the drugs. To each their own, I suppose. But there are still those few who make music with a purpose, an underlying goal for themselves or their fans. Taiwanese metal act Chthonic have earned themselves an audience through their music, speaking their piece to fans around the world, and in front of the United Nations. Their desire is clear, albeit complicated: freedom for Taiwan. Controlled by the Chinese government, yet a world economic power, the tiny island of Taiwan is ready to make their case for a seat as a sovereign country. There are hurdles to be cleared, of course. And the members of Chthonic, on tours throughout the world have voiced their wishes to all who would hear them. But they are not political figures, they are musicians. And they best represent their country with their music, an unmatched combination of blackened death metal, and worldly influences. "Bú-Tik" sees the band arm themselves again, in telling more of the history of their home.

The intro track, ""Arising Armament," sets the scene as only Chthonic can; the blaring of a horn and thumping of drums welcome in a host of orchestral elements, provided by the nimble hands of keyboardist CJ Kao. By the time "Supreme Pain for the Tyrant" begins, you are already completely immersed in the album. Immediately, you can hear the amount of time and skill that has gone into the mixing and mastering of the album. Despite an overwhelming sea of drums, there is never a moment when it buries the other elements. Everything comes through, helping to push vocalist Freddy Lim and his combination of coarse screams and pummeling growls even higher in the mix. The guitar work is detailed and devastating, with equal parts chugging and shredding. It is the secondary instruments, whether it be ehru, clean guitar, or keyboards, that have always been the key to success here. And with "Sail into the Sunset's Fire," the band lets their sonic assault speak just as loudly as the lyrical content. Drummer Dani Wang, who could easily be considered one of the more talented drummers on the world metal scene, delivers a powerhouse performance that redefines the term "machine gun drums." The highlight, though, is the ability to be melodic and grave at the same time.

The track "Next Republic" begins with a beautifully sung opening, sampled from the works of Su Beng. With the pace often teetering on break neck speeds, it is a wonder how the band manages to stay so surgically precise with all of their instrumental work. Yet, they manage, as you spend time trying to find a single note out of place and fail. Guitarist Jesse Liu proves his mettle time and time again, darting up and down the fretboard in screaming solo sections. The use of native instrumentation does wonders here, with the intro to ""Rage of my Sword" giving you a mere moment to prepare for the onslaught of crushing percussion. Lim is at his vicious best in these moments, commanding the mic like the seasoned veteran he is. With backing screeches provided by bassist Doris Yeh, you have a two pronged attack that would be hard to top. Tied together with some great atmospheric keyboard work, the track stands out as a must hear for anyone unfamiliar with the band. Never suffering from a lack of intensity or energy, they launch directly into the thrashing "Between Silence and Death," a rolling thunder behind them. It's no coincidence that the most boisterous track is also the most catchy one, as you are treated to a track that would please fans of melodic death and black metal alike.

With the keyboards seeing the most impressive work, outside of the intro track, "Resurrection Pyre" sets an early tone that can not be extinguished. To call the drum work relentless is an understatement, as percussion fills every narrow gap throughout the song. It's the way all of these elements come together that keeps things so balanced and deadly. At no point do you have to struggle to pick out guitar or bass, as each separate instrumental adds something dynamic to the mix. When Lim unleashes a massive growl and scream to open "Set Fire to the Island," it is already too late to turn tail and run. You are dragged into the middle of a tornado of activity, all packed into a masterpiece that is less than four minutes long. The vocals even take a melodic turn, adding yet another dimension to the band's sparkling track record. The ripping guitar solo that follows is one for the ages, undoubtedly. The namesake of the album, "Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace" rises from the ashes of the previous track, anchored by a sweeping keyboard melody and unrivaled deathly vocals. This is Chthonic at their very best, executing all of the aspects of their sound with grace, precision, and a talent that goes beyond the sound on digital media. And with a closing track of beauty, like "Undying Rearmament," you get a glimpse into the genius and artistic integrity the band holds so dear.

This is yet another look at a band that can seemingly do no wrong. Good will aside, this album is yet another landmark in a career that has been as prolific as any in the last decade. No filler, no nonsense, and certainly no contrived, quasi-emotional drivel to be found. Instead, you have another ten tracks of pure, unbridled energy, unleashed on every unsuspecting listener who wasn't quite sure what they were getting themselves into. Chthonic have always used their music to retell legends and history of their country in the most brutal of art forms. But to use their musical notoriety in the world to fight and rally for the independence of Taiwan is a venture that deserves all of the credit and admiration we can muster. They continue to blur the lines between genres, and between the political and musical world. But their albums are more than that. They've managed to be powerful on both sides of that fence with every release. The attention they've brought to the cause would be reason enough to continue, year after year, tour after tour. And in time, they will open enough eyes to get what they've sought all this time.


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