Chthonic: Takasago Army

So, in a nutshell, it’s about a bunch of suicidal Taiwanese Arnold Schwarzeneggers whom were fighting on Japan’s side back in WWII. What a subtle way to warn China not to mess with Taiwan.


Takasago Army

Label: Spinefarm
US Release Date: 2011-07-11
UK Release Date: Import

Taiwanese oriental black-metal fiends Chthonic have always been well known for their fervent Nationalistic political agendas and novel usage of traditional Asian oriental instruments, adding an element of exoticness to their otherwise straightforward and melodic black-metal style. With this six studio full-length album, they have taken both of these unique traits a huge step further, with a backstory in the CD booklet that reads like an excerpt from a history textbook on the rise of East Asian Nationalism and a stronger presence of oriental tunes in their music than ever before.

Up until their previous album, Mirror Of Retribution (their debut on Spinefarm Records), they had only ever utilized the Chinese oriental violin called the erhu, but on “Takasago Army”, they have included two more Chinese oriental instruments: the Pgaku flute and the guzheng. Additionally, coupled with the fact that they have abandoned their ghost paint in favor of military-style costumes (The band got tired of how tedious it was to don and remove ghost paint), they have completed their metamorphosis into a truly oriental metal band, leaving behind much of their older style of symphonic black-metal, but it is still a welcome and apt change nonetheless. After all, the focus on Taiwanese Nationalism in their lyrical themes has only grown stronger over the years while their focus on Taiwanese supernatural mythology has waned instead. Being part three of a trilogy of concept albums, Takasago Army is a decent curtain call that doesn’t leave a superbly strong impression but deserves praise anyhow for its ambitious and appropriate approach to East Asian Nationalism in extreme music.

Together with Chthonic’s last two albums, 2007’s Seediq Bale and 2009’s Mirror Of Retribution, the trilogy espouses a lyrical theme that mainly deals with the defiant spirit of early Taiwanese colonizers, fictional wars waged between Taiwanese aboriginal deities and Chinese Han gods, Taiwanese folklore and mythology, and historical events such as the Wushe Incident, 228 Incident, and the Takasago Volunteers. However, if you look specifically at Takasago Army, bassist Doris Yeh had commented earlier this year in June that "The Takasago Army was a Taiwanese troop of Japanese force/Axis powers that fought in the Pacific War/World War II between 1940 and 1944. The Takasago soldiers were descendants of a brave and powerful people from the mountains of Taiwan, people with a strong warrior tradition. They impressed their rivals with their cunning, tenacity and skill on the battlefield, and they became the most revered and most feared combat unit in the Japanese Imperial Army." So, in a nutshell, it’s about a bunch of suicidal Taiwanese Arnold Schwarzeneggers whom were fighting on Japan’s side back in WWII, and it is probably trying to tell China how she shouldn’t mess around with Taiwan because they might still have kickass citizens like them around today.

Clean group vocals chanted in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien are a welcome addition to Chthonic’s music, as they add a nice touch of East Asian flavor to Freddy Lim’s otherwise atypical black-metal shrieking and death growls. Unfortunately, the only moment on the album they are utilized is in the chorus section of single “Takao”, which is a real pity because the subsequent eight tracks are worthy of such embellishments -- Lim’s harsh, monotonous vocals get dull after awhile. Fortunately, the introductory instrumental track, “The Island”, has a kind of tranquil yet epic atmosphere, very akin to the soundtracks of John Woo’s Chinese war films, Red Cliff 1 and 2, and together with the creative usage of Hokkien chants, they are the kind of stuff that really drive home the concept of “East meets West” in the realm of cross-cultural metal.

However, as with many bands that become commercial after experiencing great success, Chthonic has under-performed in certain areas in which they used to previously excel. Even though Sunung “The Bloody String” Chao’s decorative erhu melodies and CJ Kao’s hypnotizing synths constantly make their presence felt throughout the album, they are no longer as dominant as they used to be on the older Chthonic records before their time with Spinefarm. They take on more of a secondary role now, clearly overshadowed by Lim’s vocals and Jesse Liu’s guitar, probably a marketing strategy to cater more to the tastes of the Western crowd, whereas previously on older albums like Seediq Bale, they held primary roles and often led the music in a beautifully surreal direction, as can be heard on “Bloody Gaya Fulfilled” and “The Gods Weep”. You don’t hear any of Doris Yeh’s haunting clean singing (like she did on “Seediq Bale”) anymore either, with the sixth track “Kaoru” being the only moment on the album containing some form of female vocals (performed by guest singer Chan Ya Wen), and even then, it is done in a melancholic but not very ear-pleasing operatic style known as enka, a traditional Japanese art form. Similarly, Liu no longer has any of those slow, melodic moments (like on “Onset of Tragedy” off of Chthonic’s third studio album, Relentless Recurrence) that make goosebumps spring up all over your body -- he has chosen instead to take a more thrashy route on this album, mostly chugging along in an uninspiring manner. His only melodic moments are melo-death style guitar solos that only appear after the halfway mark of songs like “Oceanquake”, “Southern Cross”, “Mahakala” and “Quell The Souls In Sing-Ling Temple”, which come off as being too little compensation to the listener -- it's not worth having to sit through boring chunks of repetitive guitar passages filled with pounding chords and breakdowns before arriving at Destination Sweden. Lastly, the sepia-toned album artwork has a dated look that really should be commended for its synergy with the Nationalistic lyrical theme, but it lacks the disturbing feel and visceral visual appeal of the cover of the last album, Mirror Of Retribution.

Still, this is a great record to add to your collection for its sheer exotic value as an epic Nationalistic concept album. It's filled with plenty of fresh oriental tunes that will seduce your ears into a brief respite from traditional forms of metal. In fact, you might even find yourself unconsciously booking a flight ticket to the Far East for your next metal holiday destination.







The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.