Album Review: CHTHONIC Battlefields of Asura
Fronted as they are by Freddy Lim, the world’s first metal parliamentarian, it’s understandable that Taiwanese genre-benders Chthonic took half a decade to get this album out into the world. Lim founded the youth-oriented New Power Party almost two years after the release of 2013’s Bú-Tik, then became an elected lawmaker in January 2016. With such a heavy workload to deal with, musical delays were inevitable.
Even before Lim’s history-making political victory, Chthonic had long taken pains to differentiate themselves from the rest of the metal pack. After using a handful of early albums to find their feet and collective voice—while enduring multiple lineup changes along the way—Chthonic gradually established a style they call “oriental metal,” a mix of everything from symphonic black metal to power metal, prog, death metal, and even small amounts of metalcore. At its core, however, Chthonic’s unique approach centers itself around the band’s willingness to embrace and emphasize their native country’s political and musical heritage.
By incorporating an assortment of traditional instruments into their music (most notably the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle) and penning plenty of lyrical epics based on a mix of regional mythology and real-world historical events, Chthonic have managed to carve out a truly authoritative niche that only they could authentically occupy. Their success in doing so is not only reflected in the metal world’s open-armed acceptance and Chthonic’s commercial achievements, including the ability to tour dozens of countries across the planet, but also Freddy Lim’s ongoing status as a groundbreaking politician. This band has always been dedicated to a never-ending process of incremental improvement, refinement, and growth that has finally culminated in Battlefields of Asura’s all-encompassing onslaught.
Chthonic are synonymous with disciplined consistency, and the past five years have not worn that connection down. Nor have these guys allowed their skills to rust; instead, Battlefields of Asura sees them hit the peak of their powers, both politically and musically. This album practically bursts with confidence, joy, and ambition backed up by hard work and spectacular accomplishments.
Especially given the context that surrounds it, Battlefields of Asura is one of Chthonic’s most definitive albums to date. Conceptually, it’s intended to act as a prologue to all the albums that came before it, a release that lays the foundations of a weighty back catalog. The fact that it comes at a time of triumph says a lot about Chthonic’s pride and belief in what they do, and it goes without saying that they have earned the right to feel that way.
This album frequently feels like a victory lap, leaning heavily on power metal and its associated themes of struggle and triumph. Despite the seriousness of the stories and issues they tackle through their songs, activism, and other political actions, Chthonic have clearly retained their passion for metal and all the positive benefits it offers to its most dedicated disciples. Listening to Battlefields of Asura, you get the sense that Freddy Lim, his fellow activist, wife, and bandmate Doris Yeh, and their comrades are determined to share the emotional wealth generated over the last few years, rather than keep it to themselves.
You can hear it from the stirring strings and battle drums of grandiose intro track “Drawing Omnipotence Nigh” to “Millennia’s Faith Undone,” the annihilative single which precedes eerie closing cliffhanger “Autopoiesis”. You can hear it in Freddy Lim’s screams, delivered with precisely toned clarity, indicating a burning desire to be heard and understood. Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe pops up during filthy highlight “Souls of the Revolution,” as does LGBT activist Denise Ho on the aforementioned “Millennia’s Faith Undone,” their efforts smoothly integrated into each whole to great effect.
Apart from a short Pink Floyd-evoking interlude titled “Masked Faith,” Battlefields of Asura barely affords the listener time to catch a single breath. You could, of course, pause the whole thing at any time, but that would spoil the effect – and besides, it’s not a very metal thing to do. Only at the very end, when silence finally becomes acceptable, does the most reasonable conclusion make itself known.
This album was worth the wait.