Monday, August 20, 2007

Cthonic: A Decade on the Throne review

A Decade on the Throne
Deathlight Records
Available now

A few years ago, I remember seeing an ad in a metal magazine for this Taiwanese black metal band, whose name sounded like something out of a Lovecraft rip-off story. They were all done up in shiny black leather, looking like the finalists of a Peter Criss look-a-like contest. I took note of what I judged as novelty, and promptly stored the information in the couldn’t-give-less-of-a-damn section of my brain, wherein still resides Scott Stapp and the entire E Network.

Well, I recently received a copy of Chthonic’s new concert double CD/DVD set A Decade on the Throne…and judging by the fashion in which the band steamrolled from the depths of my psyche and blew an erhu-shaped hole out the front of my cranium, I must say I was a little hasty in my initial reception.

First, the trivial stuff: cosmetics. Hands down, this is the best packaging I’ve ever seen. The three-disc set comes in an ornately inscribed faux-book, with photos of the band melding into one another, creating what amounts to a still-life montage. Each disc has its own “page,” and slides neatly into a sturdy sleeve. To top it all off, there is an elaborately designed one-page insert with all of the track listings.

Second, the band. It would be an understatement of tragic proportions to say that Chthonic could very well be Taiwan’s answer to Cradle of Filth…hell, they’re probably better, if anything. The group is six members strong, with a keyboardist and erhu (traditional Taiwanese bowed instrument) player rounding out the core of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums.

Frontman Freddy Lim and company have got melodic black metal DOWN. Everything is here, from the keyboard-based atmospheric crashes, to Lim’s demonized shrieks, to the inspired fret-blazing of Jesse “The Infernal.” Did I mention the drummer wears a spiked Hannibal Lecter mask, and the bass player is a brutally attractive young woman? She had me at “AIEEEEEE!”

Speaking of Jesse, I do NOT exaggerate when I say that the man is shred’s best-kept secret. While the solos are somewhat low-key on the band’s studio output, “The Infernal” is given free reign live to let fly with nimble jugular-ravaging riffs and face-slicing solos. Check out his (literal) time in the spotlight, aptly titled “Guitar Solo.”

The sound quality of the recording is superb, and the cinematography is decent enough, though a little more communication between producers, directors, and cameramen would have been appreciated. Not often, but a few times, the shot would cut to something like a blank wall of the venue, when it was painfully obvious that something unforgivably awesome was happening off-screen.

I’m sure we all remember being 12 years old and getting pissed off when the camera would cut away from the sex scene in a PG-13 flick.

At the end of the day, Chthonic have gone under the radar and cemented their legacy as one of history’s top black metal acts. With spine-compressing riffs, respectable political activity, and production values that would make Alice Cooper drop his nine-iron in awe, this is a group that you NEED to know. End of discussion, no excuses.

Also check out Chthonic’s latest studio release Seediq Bale.

Catch the band on tour late this summer with Cradle of Filth.

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