Chthonic – Takasago Army

The master land has called us here
Killing Machines who have no fear
Our flesh and blood upon the earth
Called to this destination

- Oceanquake
Chthonic – Takasago Army - 4/5

Following their three-part concept involving the turbulent history of their homeland, Taiwan, comes the aptly titled conclusion and one of the few times of late I've found myself eagerly anticipating the next instalment. Much like their last, the album comes with its own detailed concept coming in the form of the Takasago volunteers; Taiwanese aboriginals recruited into a separate unit of the Japanese army, favoured for their natural abilities in the jungles where much of the Pacific war was fought and it wasn't long before they became revered as amongst the most feared combatants on the field. Ever hear about Teruo Nakamura? The man once thought dead who was fighting his own private war for twenty years after the war had ended, only matched by Hiroo Onada who was discovered a few months later. The Japanese haven't exactly been known throughout history for their fondness of foreigners either, so when no commander issued a word against the Takasago placed under their command it kinda speaks for itself. When food supplies were low or shelter scarce, these were the men to whom they would rely upon; the eyes and ears of the Japanese army who would otherwise be blind to combat in the undergrowth.

If the last albums theme was vengeance for the atrocity of the 228 massacre, then here it's been replaced by a puff-your-chest-out pride in the volunteers that made up these fearsome opponents; pride in their abilities in guerilla warfare standing tall against all opposition, and this epic sense of power is perfectly achieved by their renewed evolution of Chthonic's sound. Straying further from their blackened origins, it's only the signature high pitched shrieking of Freddy Lim and the very occasional flourish of tremolo riffing that allude to their origins; much of the frenetic guitar work and bombastic drumming wouldn't feel out of place in a death metal album; the solo's having an almost 'power metal' sensibility to their aggression. The keyboards have an altogether more important role to play this time around in working with the ever increasing number of traditional Chinese (and Taiwanese) folk instruments; lutes, flutes as well as the er-hu making another return, maintaining a grandiose atmosphere, surrounding you in the chaos and adding an almost symphonic undertone to the proceedings. Everything feels like an expansion on the style they've been developing which the band can only refer to as 'Oriental Metal' (because some think using the term 'Extreme Majestic Epic Melodic Folk Metal' would be retarded – Jari Mäenpää, I'm looking at you).

But 'Mirror of Retribution' was a tough album to follow, and whilst on the one hand it feels as though their expanding their horizons, in trying to do more they start to lose focus on what's important; too many times the guitars are content to chug along for folkier instruments, and then resume playing when they end. It feels all too happy to wait for one member to finish their bit before someone else jumps in, and whilst I applaud the revised importance of the keyboards and the improvements in varying the drum beats, the band doesn't seem to harmonise with one another quite as much as they do take it in turns and as a result, whilst they don't do anything in particular badly, they don't do much to make you remember them, each track blurring with the next in an incredibly proud, powerful, atmospheric but ultimately unmemorable experience.

These guys aren't simply making good music but they're doing their country a valuable service; for centuries they've been under Chinese and Japanese control and it's only in recent years that they've emerged as a nation independent from others. I've learnt more about their history from listening to Chthonic than I ever would have otherwise, and through their music they've begun promoting their own cultural identity which can only help get their independence recognise that much quicker. You don't need to appreciate their concept in order to enjoy their music, but by ignoring it you're missing on much of what makes them so unique. This isn't their careers highlight but an extension of the path they first began treading down with 'Seediq Bale,' and whilstly slightly disappointing is by no means a tarnish on their already impressive career.

Highlights: Takao, Broken Jade, Quell the Souls in Sing Ling Temple