Saturday, September 10, 2011

Takasago Army - Chthonic - 2011

Takasago ArmyMy recent crash course in Chthonic has been nothing short of incredible. Four albums in thus far (2002's Relentless Recurrence though this week's Takasago Army), I am entirely enamored with this meld of melodic black metal and traditional Taiwanese music and instrumentation. Takasago Army and the previous two records, Seediq Bale and Mirror of Retribution, form a trilogy communicating remarkable histories of the Taiwanese people. Even without the impressive sociopolitical content of the lyric, largely dealing here with the role of indigenous Taiwanese soldiers serving in the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, Takasago Army is a majestic, epic listen and sets Chthonic apart from even the most excellent of their peers in what is a decade-long, unflagging run of top-notch albums. 

When it comes to black metal and its related genres vocals are generally, for me, the least compelling instrument in the mix. Chthonic's male/female balance of Freddy Lim and bassist Doris Yeh achieve operatic heights with Lim damn near perfecting a range of subtleties across whisper to bellow somehow communicating a musicality - and clarity - frequently missed in the oft-bludgeoning of the growled approach. Jesse Liu's riffs synch perfectly with standout synth player CJ Kao's contribution of not only keys but strings, brass and virtually every effect outside of guest players that makes this sound so very grand.

There is a real polished production on Takasago Army that communicates an elegance above and beyond most other black metal acts. Anthrax's Rob Caggiano handily oversaw Mirror of Retribution and I was surprised to see a change for Takasago Army to Rickard Bengtsson (most often recently associated with Arch Enemy) and I am happy to report that his touch here befits a record of this cinematic scale.

Finally, the songs. Compelling, intricate, surprising and, most importantly, all-out rocking. Takasago Army practically demands the volume remain fully dialed to the right and manages to play very well as a full album without losing the identities of the individual compositions. There really isn't a low point to be found and, aside from singles "Takao" and "Broken Jade," "Southern Cross" and "MAHAKALA" stand out as particular favorites, both encompassing that balance of traditional and contemporary that I find so interesting about the band while also masterfully presenting the familar, incredible dynamics associated with the black metal genre.

Chthonic's Takasago Army is a can't miss. While I still rank Mirror of Retribution as their top offering to date, comparing album versus album is like sorting diamonds from pearls and it's a damn pleasure to listen to anything released thus far from this incredible band.

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