It’s been a long five-year wait for fans of Taiwanese metallers Chthonic; what with vocalist Freddy Lim forming a political party and then being elected to parliament in 2016, it’s understandable the band might take their time in crafting a new opus. Whether that long wait was worth it is dispelled in short order once Battlefields of Asura hits its stride; although bookended by instrumentals, the music between is as furious and grandiose as ever.
Conceptually, Battlefields… stands as a prequel to their other works, inspired by the political movements in Taiwan of the 1920s but, as Freddy explains, each track is also inspired by a Taiwanese deity. Musically, the band continue where Takasago Army and Bu Tik left off, featuring lush symphonic elements that revolve heavily around traditional instruments, notably the erhu (a type of two-stringed fiddle) as well as more usual keyboards. Taken together, these elements form the backbone of Chthonic’s sound and it’s abundantly clear that not only have Chthonic not gotten rusty in their time away but have returned hungrier than ever before. Freddy switches effortlessly between guttural roars and searing screams and the traditional instrumentation very much strengthens the music as opposed to appearing as a schlocky gimmick.
Highlights are plentiful and truthfully there’s not really a weak song on the album; first full track ‘The Silent One’s Torch’ follows the instrumental opener and takes no time at all in establishing just why Chthonic are such a dominant force; ‘Souls of the Revolution’ features Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe on blistering form, trading vocal lines with Freddy atop razor sharp riffing. Instrumental midpoint ‘Masked Faith’ allows a brief lull before the devilishly catchy ‘Carved In Bloodstone’ and the utterly majestic ‘Millenia’s Faith Undone’ with a guest appearance by political activist Denise Ho, the album then being closed out by the final instrumental ‘Autopoiesis’.
The vocals and keys are mixed a little higher this time around than on previous releases but it’s not something that works to the album’s detriment - they aren’t overpowering and help to convey a sense of struggle and triumph that has become a cornerstone of Chthonic’s music. If there is any complaint to be had about the mix, it’s that the bass isn’t quite audible despite all other parts sounding full-bodied and clear. Runtime as well isn’t an issue - despite there being eleven tracks including the three instrumentals, the album clocks in at an easily digestible forty minutes and doesn’t feel at all that it outstays its welcome.
Some bands may struggle to overcome such a long layover between records but Chthonic have had no such issues and have come back reinvigorated to reaffirm their place as one of the most essential extreme bands around today. Battlefields of Asura shows Chthonic are back in top form and this will surely take its place as one of their finest works.