Chthonic's music and politics are inextricably entwined, an equally brutal blend of Taiwanese nationalism, traditional folk music, and gorgeous metal. Their seventh album, Bu-Tik (Spinefarm Records), is the most polished synthesis of their unique sound, incorporating more East Asian instrumentation and sweeping orchestral washes than on past releases. Grand theatrical opener "Arising Armament" begins with the blast of a conch shell -- used, depending on the tradition, as a call to arms or religious assembly, or to drive away evil spirits. All three apply here, as Chthonic set forth into righteous battle in order to defeat those who would encroach on their home country, Taiwan. The song swells before their signature assault of kick-step drums, demonic screeching, and staccato riffs plow through on "Supreme Pain for the Tyrant." The Asian instrumentation (the stringed erhu and flute-like dizi) has always been a staple of Chthonic's music, but they employ it deftly on this album, stringing in moments of melodic beauty among all the brutality. The band -- as politically active as they are divisive, much like Sepultura, System of a Down, and Rage Against the Machine -- continue to make statements that align with their demands for Taiwanese national independence. Their music and message are as much a source of Asian pride as they are of Taiwanese nationalism ("Let me stand up like a Taiwanese/Only justice will bring you peace" bellows vocalist Freddy Lim). Overwhelmingly rousing, this is music to accompany a ride onto the battlefield. "Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace" (featuring a surprising turn from Taiwanese opera actress Meiyun Tang) pledges violence and defiance for a "thousand years and ten-thousand more." The message is clearest on "New Republic," which opens with a short clip from political dissident and activist Su Beng, literally calling for Taiwanese nationalism. They make no secret of their ideology, making them vastly influential with disaffected youth in a country trapped between its past and future with cross-straits neighbor China. This directly informs their music: each song is either a call-to-arms or a defiant stance. "Set Fire to the Island" is a euphoric highlight, punctuating the frantic pace with a gorgeous swelling of Chinese opera, calling warriors to rise up and join the fight. It's heavy on dramatics, but considering the political climate in East Asia, this is majorly influential and bold. Regardless of affiliation, Chthonic's music is important to many, not only in the political sphere, but also the music scene. Bu-Tik (roughly translated as "the virtue of war") intensifies their sonic and political reach, reminding listeners -- both at home and abroad -- that Taiwan has a voice that demands to be heard.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung