Chthonic: Takasago Army

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Chthonic: Takasago Army
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Chthonic: Takasago Army
Melodic Death Metal
Spinefarm Records
September 6th, 2011
Release length: 41:36
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Taiwan and the struggle for freedom it faces, which is pointed out in various reviews about this and other albums. But, with that, this concept may not be enough to save Takasago Army. The audio of the album is top notch of course, which should be expected for one of Taiwan’s biggest Metal exports at this point. The guitars are heavy and crushing with an audible bass that doesn’t really make much of an impact to the music other then being there to give a little extra heaviness to it. The bass kicks are much stronger, using a loud thud with a slight click going on that makes them distinctive against the loud booming snares, and the cymbols are pretty loud too, as are every other instrument here. But, while the audio isn’t necessarily the problem despite having a little less of an impact from the bass then you would want, this album doesn’t quite feel like Chthonic. In fact, it feels a little lost in itself in that it doesn’t know what melodic style to embrace.

There are plenty of strong Black Metal influenced moments on here, such as “Takao” which is a furious assault that you simply cannot deny as one of the stronger tracks here, and shows off the varying vocal approaches of this effort well from guttural shouts, rhaspy Black Metal shrieks, and more Viking Metal-esque clean harmonized chanting. But while this song has a good idea of what’s going on, other tracks, like the previous “Legacy of the Seediq” seem departed from Black Metal in favor of a more common Melodic Death Metal sound. While this isn’t bad and can often mix nicely with the Black Metal ideas the band brings to the table, it’s also just not that good. The guttural shouting here isn’t that strong or unique, and when coupled with moments that seem geared more towards Melodic Death passages, it just feels like something we’ve all heard before, losing some of the band’s more unique sound and aggression in favor of regional specific instruments and orchestral driven keyboards, breakdowns, and even generic bridges that are soaked with a great deal of energy, intensity, and great solos that do manage to save the album somewhat. The band’s heritage also seeps through in the music, though during regular tracks it’s mostly through the addition of the keyboards and a region specific sounding guitar that is more then likely performed through the keyboards as well. However, that heritage can largely be found the instrumental tracks like “The Island”, which sets up the atmosphere, though the music just doesn’t live up to it as much. After this introductory track you expect something regionally inspired to the point of a Nile album, but instead it just seems to be a lighter impression found only in the keyboards most of the time that sometimes just feel tacked on outside the atmosphere melodies performed such as during “Legacy of the Seediq”.

But, despite some of these issues, if you can take the time to look past this new sound Chthonic has taken up, you will still find a good release under it all. The main issue here is that the group seems to have gone away from their roots in favor of a more modern and slightly mainstream (as far as Metal goes that is, not along the lines of radio friendly material because this simply won’t be on the playlist of any latest Hard Rock radio program out there) stylish approach. The audio itself is heavy, the performance is energetic and intense as already stated, and it still sounds really professional, solid, and consistant. “Takao” is a fantastic track that really captures the heaviness of the album well, and “Kaoru” is another song that really just hammers away at the listener from the moment is starts with some passionate clean female singing, the guttural shouts work for the song to make it a little more abrasive when they appear, but the main focus is the shrieking which feels sorely lacking here and is easily the best vocal style of the entire release. In fact, the shrieks feel a lot more natural to this album then anything else except the harmonized chanting when met with a more “epic” sound, and really should have been the driving force of this release with the gutturals that show on “Kaoru” near the end, and even the shouting gutturals being more of a secondary approach instead of a primary focus for this release. Even the breakdown during “Oceanquake” is well executed, transitioned into nicely to feel natural to the song and album, and really has a decent amount of heaviness to it, though not comparable to the other tracks here.

The rest of the album plays out pretty much the same way. The songs are unique in their own sense, but there’s some things that keep popping up that eventually become tiresome by this point on the first listen. “Broken Jade” does feature what sounds like someone on a loud speaker talking, but it’s rather loud and eventually just comes off as noise over the song that feels out of place and hinders a strong conclusion due to how long it’s executed. “Root Regeneration” features a similar regional-based audio sound that feels tranquill like “The Island” with a spoken word segment layered over it. This minute and twenty five second track is nothing too fantastic and actually seems to interrupt the album a bit moreso then help with the atmosphere or be a good interlude track to have. But of all the songs, “Quell the Souls in Sing Ling Temp” really becomes one of the most energetic and powerful performances on the album, though it doesn’t really start off that way, and neither does it really make you feel complete at the end. This doesn’t really end up being the best conclusion track to the album, but it builds up nicely as it progresses to a rather over-the-top climax that simply cannot be ignored. The only problem is much of the song just feels like what we’ve all heard before, and also seems to end like any other song as well, using a rather quick fade effect to kind of close the track and album out. In fact, had this song held onto the end a bit instead of fading it out, and then went into the track “Root Regeneration”, even with the spoken word part in it, or just rehashed “The Island”, even just pasted it with a few seconds cut off from the start to merge the songs together, it would have made a far better closing to the album, leaving the listener feeling whole inside. But, given the struggles the people of Taiwan face and the concept behind the album, perhaps this is meant to be more a patriotic conclusion to show that such problems do still exist and have no really reached such a conclusion yet.

But, however you want to spin the album, it does end up feeling like a proper conclusion should have been put into place, and it just wasn’t, even if the conclusion is meant to represent the continuing struggle. Despite that and the rather interesting change in musical direction for Chthonic, Takasago Army is far from a bad album. It’s clear from the start that the band wanted to take their music in a different direction, and even the mental representation I had of it was more of a white, region-based composition that took a more Folk direction, which is commendable, but in the end gave way to many faults. The vocals are really not that great outside the tried and true Black Metal shrieks the band is known for using, the music sometimes goes into various directions that, while giving the already heavy music more intensity and energy, is not the most unique material to be found blended with a Melodic Black Metal backdrop, and even some of the band’s ethnic musical inclusions on here through the keyboards can sometimes feel a little tacked on when not meant to be more orchestral and atmospheric instead of just simple chords that sound more like plucking of Taiwan specific instruments that really don’t offer much to this release. Anyone walking into Takasago Army expecting another Seediq Bale or even the more Black Metal driven elements of Mirror of Retribution will be greatly let down, but if given a chance, the energetic performance of this album, and solid musicianship despite some less-then-unique material popping up in some songs, will easily grab the listener and make this an album worth revisiting.

01. The Island – 2:19
02. Legacy of the Seediq – 4:28
03. Takao – 4:20
04. Oceanquake – 3:50
05. Southern Cross – 4:00
06. Kaoru – 5:47
07. Broken Jade – 5:52
08. Root Regeneration – 1:25
09. Mahakala – 4:09
10. Quell the Souls in Sing Ling Temp – 5:27
Overall Score: 7.5/10
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Digital review copy of this release provided by Spinefarm Records via Earsplit PR.