Chthonic Battlefields of Asura

Chthonic Battlefields of Asura
6
It's almost easier to list the things that don't make Chthonic unique. They are one of Asia's biggest metal acts, their singer Freddy Lim is a Taiwanese legislator and former Chair of the Taiwanese chapter of Amnesty International, and they've been banned in China for their support of Tibetan and Uyghur independence movements. Not exactly your average basement band.
 
With all that going on, it's easy to forget that Chthonic actually make music. This is their seventh album, and the first in half-a-decade. Battlefields of Asura starts like the intro to a fantasy videogame, before abruptly changing into their usual symphonic black metal. Their inclusion of traditional Taiwanese instruments remains their greatest asset, strengthening the music rather than turning it into a gimmick. Their grassroots influence goes even deeper, in the form of Asian pentatonic scales that pepper the album.
 
Chthonic's sound clearly owes a large debt to Cradle of Filth, but they rise above that band's schlocky Hot Topic aesthetic. It's like Emperor and Orphaned Land got lost in the Taiwanese highlands. The militaristic march of "Carved In Bloodstone" even brings Sabaton to mind.
 
But where Chthonic fatally screw up is on production. This is especially apparent on "A Crimson Sky's Command," where the mix is wince-inducing. Pair them with a good producer and they could eclipse Nightwish in terms of sheer scope. But that won't happen until their sound soars as it did on 2011's Takasago Army. (Spinefarm)