Interview | Chthonic on music, myth and politics

Chthonic are one of the best bands to come out of the Asian metal scene in decades and have released dependably solid albums throughout their career. Now after a five-year absence and following his election to the Taiwanese parliament this January we caught up with frontman Freddy Lim to talk about the new album and what comes next.

It’s been five years since you released Bu-Tik; how has the writing process changed for this record compared to your earlier records?

In our early albums, we usually wrote metal structures first, and added some Taiwanese elements at last. But since 2011 album "TAKASAGO ARMY", we have tried the opposite way which was to write Taiwanese melodies and materials first, and make them heavier and heavier. This way has been much more natural for us. And this new album is the third one since we tried this way, and it's not too difficult any more, we think it's the most mature one. We blended Taiwanese melodies with metal very smoothly and naturally.

You were elected to Taiwanese parliament in 2016 - do you think that has affected the way the band is perceived, in Taiwan or internationally?

The band has stayed out from Freddy’s political career. Although there have been some major media, such as BBC, CNN, NYTimes..etc., who got interested in Freddy and have done some interviews with him, all these topics have always focused on politics. So, it’s hard to say how these affect the way the band is perceived.

The new record Battlefields of Asura was inspired by political activists by Taiwan in the 1920s - what inspires you the most about their story?

They led the first wave of Taiwanese modern political movement and cooperated with a lot of artists from different areas, such as music, fine-art, theatres...etc., for developing better communications with the regular people in the society to get more support.

They inspired me to refresh our values and beliefs in artistic ways, and it makes people feel deeper meanings of these values and beliefs.

All your records have had a basis in mythology - how does Battlefields of Asura fit into the concepts of your previous albums?

Every single song in the album represents a deity in Taiwanese folk belief, and the values or ideas behind them. But the entire album itself is a conceptual story too.

A series of stories told in our albums started with Seediq Bale in 2005. One of the main characters is a psychic who has the power to travel through hell and change history named Tsing-guan. Our new album is a prelude to this series of stories. It tells you from which deities did Tsing-guan get his divine power, and his birth.

Bu-Tik and Takasago Army introduced a lot more traditional instruments to your music - is this something you’ve continued with the new album?

Yes, we have used the same traditional instrumental arrangements this time. But we think the new album is the most mature one with the way of song-writing process and arrangements we started from Takasago Army.

Given that Chthonic often use mythology as a theme within the lyrics and music, do you have any particular favourite myths or stories?

It’s very difficult to decide which is our favorite one. But I think the most encouraging one in the new album is the story of “Flames upon the Weeping Winds” which is about the god Thai-tsu-ia (known as “Nezha” in Mandarin.) The story tells that in order to fight against the authoritative control from his parents, he cut his flesh and return to his parents and died. But then he was resurrected with divine power. In Taiwan, he is the god who dares to resist and has the ability to resurrect. I think the story encourages that we have to be courageous enough to resist authority, and grow bigger, stronger, and more brave even in failure.

You worked with Randy Blythe of Lamb of God and Denise Ho making the album - how did this come about and what was it like to work with them?

We knew Randy Blythe when we played Ozzfest 2007 in North America. Since then we have become good friends. We played shows together in Japan and Taiwan, and we invited him to play a role in our movie “Tshiong”. The song “Souls of the Revolution” is the theme song of that movie, so it’s very natural to have him participate in the song too.

Randy is always very easy to hang out with, to work with him is just like to have fun together!

We knew Denise when she came to Taiwan to play Megaport Festival in 2015. She’s quite outspoken about social issues, so after our initial meeting we exchanged some ideas every once in a while. When we were preparing our new album, the idea of having her guesting on one of our songs just naturally come up.

Although she couldn’t speak Taiwanese, she is very talented singer, so her recording session was very efficient! The song is filled with the emotion of righteousness with her vocals, we love them very much.

What does 2019 hold for Chthonic? Any surprises in store for fans?

Since Freddy has been elected as a MP in Taiwan, so it's almost impossible to do long tours as we did before. But we will still take part in festivals hopefully. We can’t wait to meet fans!