The Lowdown: With frontman Freddy Lim having been elected to Taiwan’s parliament a few years ago, Chthonic had to pump the brakes on their touring and recording career, but five years after their last proper album, the extreme-metal band returns with another blast of erhu-infused melodic death, thrash, and black metal, with lyrics rooted in Taiwanese folklore. Battlefields of Asura is every bit as symphonic as its predecessors, and features guest vocals from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe on the track “Souls of the Revolution” and Hong Kong pop singer Denise Ho on “Millenia’s Faith Undone”.
The Good: Battlefields of Asura contains no shortage of rad riffs. Strings and synths abound again, this time flanked by more guest vocalists and additional percussion — most notably the backing chants on “Souls of the Revolution” (feat. Blythe) and “Carved in Bloodstone,” and the thunderous toms on “Masked Faith”. The track “Flames upon the Weeping Winds” opens with an At the Gates tonality, laying a foundation for dancing synth strings and maintaining a relentless pace. The album’s intro and outro offer another new twist, drawing shades of classic composers such as John Carpenter and Hans Zimmer as well as experimental electronic artists such as Ben Frost. The outro in particular could be used on a modern horror score.
The Bad: Despite the guests and new directions, few tracks stand out as compositionally different on Battlefields of Asura, which suffers somewhat from “everything is epic” syndrome due to an endless supply of sweeping accompaniment. It isn’t until the bluesy, percussive, cinematic interlude “Masked Faith,” the album’s eighth track, that a more dynamic range is introduced. The erhu, koto, shamisen, and other folk instruments that played a larger role in the past are sometimes missing or drowned out by synths.
The Verdict: Whereas Chthonic’s last studio album, Bú-Tik, had a more seamless integration of Taiwanese folk elements with the metal, Battlefields of Asura‘s heavy tracks are not as varied. With that said, it’s still a strong inclusion in the the band’s canon.
Essential Tracks: “Flames Upon the Weeping Winds”, “Souls of the Revolution”, “Masked Faith”, “Carved in Bloodstone,” “Millennia’s Faith Undone”