Whilst newer bands such as Alien Weaponry and Tengger Cavalry have drawn attention to so-called ‘world metal’ in recent years, genre veterans Chthonic have been combining heavy music with the traditional folk instruments of their native Taiwan since 1995, and their latest release, ‘Battlefields Of Asura’, is their ninth studio effort thus far.
Previous works have dabbled in both black and death metal, but this release serves as an amalgamation of what has come before – black metal screeches and death metal growls feature alongside instrumentation more reminiscent of power metal.
The omnipresence of the orchestral elements and the liberal use of fast, shreddy lead guitar with an emphasis on melody means that the overall sound is evocative of Blind Guardian, particularly on later track ‘Carved In Bloodstone’. Despite this, the album is raw, earthy, and much more guttural than stereotypical power metal, due in the most part to the avoidance of layered clean vocals.
Opening and closing with somewhat superfluous instrumental pieces means that the album begins proper with ‘The Silent One’s Torch’. This track sets the template for much of what’s to come, with a crunching stomper of a riff alongside all of the aforementioned characteristics. The Taiwanese folk elements that appear here (and often elsewhere on the record) are much more than a mere novelty too, their distinctive sound and melodies lend a lot of character and mood to the compositions, and save them from falling into the realms of more generic power metal.
The vocal interplay between Freddy Lim, Doris Yeh, and Jesse Liu is a definite highlight throughout, and manages to keep things interesting in spots where having only one style of vocalist would become tedious. This is particularly evident on standout track, ‘Taste The Black Tears’.
These solid foundations mean that the album is an enjoyable listen from start-to-finish, but is somewhat lacking in variety. Although the riffs and melodies are fresh and exciting throughout and the musicianship is excellent, the songs mostly stick to the same format, and few are truly distinct from one another.
‘Battlefields Of Asura’ is the well-honed product of a band that seem to have mastered their particular niche, but it falls short of greatness on account of its lack of sonic diversity. Its tremendous consistency means that whilst it lacks any low points to speak of, it fails to deliver anything truly groundbreaking. Although certain to delight those who enjoy both power metal and more extreme sub-genres, it’s unlikely to convert anyone else.