Review Summary: An impressive re-imagination that offers originality, diversity and brutality all in one coherent package.
Chthonic are one of those pleasant oddities, kind of like the equivalent of a black metal Spork. Expanding their unique Taiwanese influence on the traditional black metal sound, alongside a growth in musicianship and song-writing maturity, it finally feels as if the band has found a comfortable niche. Despite earlier albums feeling underwhelming and inconsistent the improvement ‘Bu Tik’, the band’s most current release, makes over its predecessors is a noticeable one indeed. The development of the melodies seen in ‘Takasago Army’ is evident, alongside a creativity Chthonic have had yet to express. Technical ability and high production value notwithstanding, ‘Bu Tik’ is the first Chthonic album that feels intrinsically right.
The most striking aspect of ‘Bu Tik’ is how whole-heartedly Chthonic have embraced the Eastern musical culture as part of their own sound in lieu of its former position as concessionary bells and whistles. The introductory and concluding tracks, the sisterhood of ‘Arising Armament’ and ‘Undying Rearmament’, both are wholly dedicated to Taiwanese influence, being both culturally diverse and singularly beautiful. Whilst it is not always successful in more substantial songs, the light smattering of this feature they receive contributes readily to the increased focus on melody. Chthonic in this regard have discarded solitary focus on brutality in favour of diversification. First shown on ‘Takasago Army’, this movement has led to some of their strongest, cohesive song-writing. The album is befitted with engaging and accessible rhythm that offers light and shade: the interplay with heavier riffs and shredding does not always work perfectly but still retains an interesting dynamic.
Despite the melodic shift of gears, Chthonic haven’t abandoned their roots in terms of musical aggression. The vocals on ‘Bu Tik’ are pleasantly acerbic- the lyrical content equally so- and the riffs remain barbed if a little more restrained. There is noticeable dilution in some areas: the quotient of blast-beats is heavily reduced, atonal sections being kept to a minimum in most cases. Often the distinction between black metal and other more accessible genres blurred, sometimes effectively and other times detractively. However, this felt not to be the mark of a band losing their fundamental heritage, but rather of one rediscovering it. A balance is struck and, although sometimes offset, Chthonic’s blend of melody and brutality therefore sits comfortably rather than irritatingly.
There remain a few issues, such as the sometimes jarring transitions between clean melody and heavier sections, but these are largely overshadowed by the impressive musicianship and creativity on show. In ‘Bu Tik’ Chthonic have produced their most consistent and impressive work to date. In comparison to other recent black metal releases, the album is articulate, polished and diverse. After several years of confusion, Chthonic have resonantly found their feet.