Review Summary: yet another miss.
One could say that Taiwanese symphonic black metal band Chthonic have a lot to answer for. If you aren't one of those who hasn't been following this band, Chthonic released a very widely acclaimed album Seediq Bale
in 2006. An impressively crafted album of traditional Taiwanese instruments and black metal, almost seamlessly put together with gem after gem of incredibly enjoyable symphonic black metal. Their last album Mirror of Retribution
was a total failure in this respect. Chthonic tried to take a heavier approach to their music in places, trying a more metal-fronted sound rather than their instantly recognizable Taiwanese folk-instruments. Because of this, the unique atmosphere of their music was more or less nowhere to be found. Many of those who really enjoyed Seediq Bale
(me included) were left very disappointed by the fact that Chthonic had forgotten what made them a unique, refreshing and overall a very entertaining and captivating band.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. Since their mainstream success, Chthonic have more or less abandoned their atmosphere in favour of relatively simplistic guitar-fronted songs without the captivating feeling Seediq Bale
perfectly crafted and practised. There are moments here where the atmospherics seem to mingle with the rest of the mix but it's not enough to save this album from becoming just another symphonic black metal album that could really be anyone. Yes, they have the folk instruments that set them apart, but the biggest issue is the fact that nothing seems seamless here like it did in Seediq Bale
. It seems thrown in as an afterthought. It's far too evident here that they started composing the riffs before anything else so the metal parts are too prominent and nothing really blends together very well as a consequence. It more or less kills any cohesiveness that this band used to have a knack for.
isn't a bad album, but it will be a disappointment to those who were expecting a return to form for Chthonic. Perhaps this would be worth a listen of the metal sections were any good, but they only really do their job. There's no memorable solos, memorable riffs and melodies are too little to speak of and nothing seems to stick out about anything in this album as impressive. It seems comfortable, everything doing their job. Okay, I guess there are some moments where the drums really stand out but even then those moments are just not frequent enough to earn themselves any merit. The most frustrating thing is the fact that some tracks hint at their past glories and perform them well, such as some sections in the track Oceanquake
. But then there are some moments where they try and replace the authentic instruments with keyboards like in the intro track The Island
and Quell The Souls In Sing Ling Temple
. Keyboards certainly aren't a bad thing in music like this, but knowing that Chthonic are capable of crafting brilliant atmospheres without resorting to it makes it all the more frustrating when they just don't bother to.
Aside from the occasional memorable melody in tracks like Takao
and Broken Jade
, this album just doesn't offer anything that any other band in the genre couldn't do better. It's not the bad album that Mirror of Retribution
was, but it's far from the great album that Seediq Bale
was. I guess I can't expect every band to top their greats, but the hints are here that they're more than capable of reaching that again if they play to their strengths - which just isn't what Chthonic are doing here. Instead they're focusing on heaviness when they should be focusing on atmosphere, because that's what they were good at. Seediq Bale
was heavy enough without the need of focusing on how prominent the guitars were, and the bottom line is Chthonic just don't have that authentic, interesting vibe any more. They've just fallen into normality, occasionally showing a glimmer of what they used to be. But it is an improvement on their last effort, so who knows, they could surprise us. But that prospect is slipping away with every passing release, and no doubt the next Chthonic release (if there is one) will give me the same feeling. But it's produced pretty well and it's at least competent so it's not totally useless.