Album Review – Chthonic / Battlefields of Asura (2018)

Embark on an adventurous journey with Taiwanese immortals to the sound of the new opus by the Taiwanese masters of Orient Metal.

It might have taken five years for one-of-a-kind Taiwanese Melodic Black/Death/Folk Metal icons Chthonic to strike again with their high-end fusion of a captivating storytelling and their unique and exotic music that several people like to call “Orient Metal”, but the excruciating wait was definitely worth it. Over those past years, since the release of their 2013 masterpiece Bú-Tik the five members of the band have turned new pages of their lives, with lead vocalist Freddy Lim (林昶佐) having organized a new political party and being successfully elected to a seat in the Taiwanese parliament. Nonetheless, they never forgot their promise to their fans to deliver a new album, culminating with the release of Battlefields of Asura (政治) now in 2018, the prequel of their four albums with related story including Seediq Bale (2005), Mirror of Retribution (2009), Takasago Army (2011) and the already mentioned Bú-Tik, all combined with the acoustic album from another dimension Timeless Sentence (2014), the expanded novel Day 578 After the War (2014), and the movie Tshiong (2017).

And the story told in Battlefields of Asura by Freddy and his bandmates Jesse Liu (劉笙彙) on the guitars, Doris Yeh (葉湘怡) on bass and backing vocals, CJ Kao (高嘉嶸) on keyboards, synths and piano, and Dani Wang (汪子驤) on drums throughout the album’s 11 tracks is an adventurous journey with Taiwanese immortals, as explained in detail in the band’s “Souls Resposed” series. What lies ahead is full hostility, murderous emotions, walls of iron that are difficult to conquer, and lusts and desires that are not easy to bid farewell to, but there is also courage that inspires infinity. At the end of the adventure, it turns out to be a quest for the perpetual prajna. When you feel tears on your face, that’s when you will finally realize this is where all the stories told in Chthonic’s past albums come from, always embraced by the band’s harmonious, thunderous and unparalleled metal music.

Drawing Omnipotence Nigh, featuring Fang-Yun Chen on dizi (a Chinese transverse flute), is an insurgent battle-like intro only Chthonic can offer us, setting the stage for  the melodic and imposing The Silent One’s Torch, the perfect opening for their upcoming live concerts with Dani dictating the rhythm with his piercing beats while Freddy’s roars grow in intensity and rage as the music progresses, not to mention CJ’s always inspiring keys. Even more harmonious and thrilling, Flames upon the Weeping Winds has all it takes to become a fan favorite, with Doris not only shaking the foundations of earth with her bass punches, but her backing vocals also sound superb; followed by A Crimson Sky’s Command, another inspiring creation by Chthonic where CJ’s keys and synths sound and feel the most “Taiwanese” of the entire album (if we can say so), with highlights to the passionate growls by Freddy and the cutting riffs by Jesse.

Featuring Lamb Of God’s own frontman Randy Blythe on additional vocals, Souls of the Revolution is a flammable and rebellious anthem thoroughly crafted by our beloved Taiwanese horde where Jesse and Dani are on absolute fire and in perfect sync, elevating the song’s impact to a whole new level (not to mention it’s perfect for singing along with the band), whereas Taste the Black Tears carries a beautiful name for a crushing and epic tune, with Doris and Dani spearheading the band into the battlefield. Furthermore, the keyboards and synths by CJ bring an extra dosage of epicness to the overall result, with the music flowing powerfully form start to finish. And in One Thousand Eyes a dense and bold intro evolves into classic Chthonic, with Freddy gnarling like a demonic entity while CJ brings balance to the sonic havoc blasted by the band with his smooth keys, all boosted by the song’s extremely effective and exciting backing vocals and Jesse’s gripping guitar solo.

Chthonic Battlefields of Asura Box Set

Then we have Masked Faith, a whimsical and at the same time fierce bridge to Carved in Bloodstone, bringing elements form Epic Metal to their core Orient Metal. However, what starts in a promising way loses its strength after a while despite its imposing backing vocals and pounding drums, but that doesn’t last long as Chthonic are back on track with the fulminating Millennia’s Faith Undone, featuring Denise Ho (also known as HOCC) on vocals and Su-nung Chao on erhu (or hiân-á violin). This is undoubtedly the closest song to their previous installments Bú-Tik and Takasago Army, sounding epic, dense and electrifying, with highlights to the slashing work done by the band’s stringed duo Jesse and Doris, resulting in a true battle hymn by those unrelenting Taiwanese metallers, flowing into the ominous and stylish outro Autopoiesis. In addition, don’t forget to check the song’s acoustic version called Millennia’s Faith Undone (The Aeon’s Wraith Version), just as epic as the regular one.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a longtime fan of Chthonic or a newcomer to their sonic realm of rebellion and war, you’ll certainly have a blast listening to the top-of-the-line music found in Battlefields of Asura, proving why they’re perhaps the best metal band the East has ever provided the world. Needless to say, this is a must-have album in your metal collection, available at several locations such as IndieMerch, but if I were you I would go for the Battlefields of Asura Box Set available from the Ciong Zo webstore, including a long-sleeve shirt reflecting the song “Flames upon the Weeping Winds”, a cap reflecting the song “A Crimson Sky’s Command”, prayer beads reflecting the song “One Thousand Eyes”, a badge of honor reflecting the song “Taste the Black Tears”, a candle cup reflecting the song “The Silent One’s Torch”, the Taiwanese version of the album in CD format,  a special “Millennia’s Faith Undone (The Aeon’s Wraith Version)” 7″ vinyl single, and a treasure box reflecting the song “Carved in Bloodstone”. Then, and only then, you’ll be properly (and fully) armed to join Freddy, Jesse, Doris, CJ and Dani into the Battlefields of Asura.

Best moments of the album: Flames upon the Weeping Winds, Souls of the Revolution, Taste the Black Tears and Millennia’s Faith Undone.

Worst moments of the album: Carved in Bloodstone.

Released in 2018 Ciong Zo

Track listing
1. Drawing Omnipotence Nigh (feat. Fang-Yun Chen) 2:07
2. The Silent One’s Torch 4:02
3. Flames upon the Weeping Winds 3:10
4. A Crimson Sky’s Command 3:31
5. Souls of the Revolution (feat. Randy Blythe) 4:39
6. Taste the Black Tears 4:49
7. One Thousand Eyes 5:15
8. Masked Faith 2:18
9. Carved in Bloodstone 2:57
10. Millennia’s Faith Undone (feat. Denise Ho & Su-nung Chao) 5:05
11. Autopoiesis 2:04

English Version bonus track
12. “Battlefields of Asura” Album Concept Description by Freddy Lim 1:55

Limited Edition Box Set Disc 2 (Vinyl) bonus track
12. Millennia’s Faith Undone (The Aeon’s Wraith Version) 6:15

Band members
Freddy Lim (林昶佐) – vocals, erhu
Jesse Liu (劉笙彙) – guitars
Doris Yeh (葉湘怡) – bass, backing vocals
CJ Kao (高嘉嶸) – keyboards, synths, piano
Dani Wang (汪子驤) – drums

Guest musicians
Randy Blythe – additional vocals on “Souls of the Revolution”
Denise Ho – female vocals on “Millennia’s Faith Undone”
Fang-Yun Chen – dizi on “Drawing Omnipotence Nigh”
Su-nung Chao – erhu on “Millennia’s Faith Undone”
Chi-Jen Chen, Ching-Lan Hsu, Chun-Yu Yang, Hsiang-yi Wei, Hsuan-Yi Chen, Joey Kuo, Po-Jen Liao & Wei-Shun Liu – backing vocals, choirs

Metal Chick of the Month – Tina Guo

A true metal cello Wonder Woman!

She might not be a pure Heavy Metal woman, but her superior skills and her passion for music truly make her unique. Armed with her flammable cello or with her whimsical erhu (the same two-stringed bowed musical instrument used by Taiwanese metallers Chthonic), she has been embellishing stages, movies, television and video game scores with her refined technique and stunning looks since around 1994, when her unparalleled career kicked off. Born on October 28, 1985 in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, a global financial centre and transport hub and one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of more than 24 million as of 2017, but currently residing in Los Angeles, California, United States, here comes the internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Chinese-American cellist, erhuist, recording artist and composer Tina Guo (or 郭婷娜 in Chinese), a woman with a multi-faceted career and mastery in a wide range of genres, showcasing a deep and strong passion for musical exploration, artistic expression and technology. And of course, among all that, there’s still time for her to demonstrate her appreciation for our good old heavy music.

Tina Guo was born in Shanghai to father Lu-Yan Guo, a concert cellist, and mother Fei-Fei Soong, a concert violinist, both artistic directors of the California International Music and Art Festival, an annual event held in San Diego, California. She began playing piano at the age of 3 in China, but once she moved to America at the age of 5 with her family, she began violin lessons with her mother. At the age of 7, she began studying the cello under the instruction of her father, with both her parents forcing her to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. She then continued her professional cello studies with Slovenian cellist Eleonore Schoenfeld (1925–2007), one of the most influential cellists of the 20th century (who also taught Guo’s father), at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on full scholarship.

During her freshman year, Guo started dating a guitar player of an 80’s-style classic Heavy Metal band, and after attending one of their shows one night at The Whiskey in Hollywood, she started to think about how she could incorporate the cello into the metal style, experimenting with pedals and different techniques while trying to figure out how to play the cello and sound like a guitar player. While the fingering for both instruments were virtually the same, it took her three years and many YouTube videos to figure out what she was doing. She eventually left USC in her junior year, despite having a full scholarship to attend, after she found it increasingly difficult to balance performing and going to classes. Her parents were very angry and didn’t understand her decision at the time, getting used to the idea after a while. As a matter of fact, she claims to hold a Bachelors in Metaphysical Theology with a focus on Eastern Philosphy from the International College of Metaphysical Theology, but this is an unaccredited distance learning degree mill.

Her career has reached such a complex and diverse level I’m pretty sure you’ve listened to the cello by our Asian virtuoso at least once in your lifetime in a movie score, in a video game, or in a multitude of other media platforms. Known for her distinct videos showcasing her talent against theatrical backdrops and elaborate costumes, she has already appeared in her career as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, the Petrobras Symphony in Brazil, and the Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia, not to mention her participation in the Civic Youth Orchestra at the age of 10, her performance with violinist Midori Goto in Dvorak’s American String Quartet at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and her four national tours of Mexico and Italy performing the Shostakovich, Dvorak, Haydn, and Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos. Tina endorses Larsen Strings, Yamaha, Line 6, Sennheiser, Focusrite, ENGL Amps, Voodoo Lab Pedals, Coffin Case, Samson, Reunion Blues, Analysis Plus Cables and Apogee Electronics.

Among her countless other projects and appearances as a special guest musician, some of the most interesting ones are her performance with the Tenerife Symphony and Choir in the Canary Islands performing Batman: The Dark Knight; her 2017 Australian tour with an all-girl crossover band named Metaphor; her 2008 Grammy Awards performance with the Foo Fighters; her 2011-2013 tour as the featured electric cellist with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour; her performance for the League of Legends World Championship to a sold out arena at Staples Center in Los Angeles and an audience of 33 million streaming online; playing the electric cello in a super-band with The Crystal Method, Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Danny Lohner (NIN), Joe Letz (Combichrist) and the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra; playing with Brazilian guitarist Victor Biglione in a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro; performing as soloist on music from Vikings, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Chicago Fire with the Krakow Symphony and Polish Radio Choir at the Krakow Film Music Festival; and completing an acoustic tour and two sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in 2016 with Blues Legend Joe Bonamassa, as you can see in the song Black Lung Heartache.

Furthermore, Tina has already shared the stage in her career with The Tenors, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, John Legend, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Isaak, Il Divo, Ariana Grande, Lupe Fiasco, and Michael McDonald, among others, and has been featured as a soloist on the scores of several movies such as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Inception, Clash of the Titans, Olympus Has Fallen, Escape Plan, Sleepy Hollow, Hancock, Battle: Los Angeles, Predators and X-Men: First Class, as well as TV shows like  The Mentalist, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, commercials for Apple, Under Armour, and countless video games. As a solo artist, Tina has already released 8 albums, those being Autumn Winds and The Journey (both in 2011), Eternity (2013), Ray of Light and A Cello Christmas (both in 2014), Inner Passion (with Peter Kater) and Cello Metal (both in 2015), and more recently Game On! (2017). Furthermore, you can enjoy some very interesting videos on YouTube where Tina shows all her skills with her erhu, such as “Tina Guo plays music from Uncharted 2 on the Erhu with the GSPO”, and “Tina Guo and Michael Barry Random Jam: Danny Boy on Erhu and Piano”, or simply enjoy some of her official videos and songs like World of Warcraft, Dragonborn, Forrest Gump: Feather Theme and Genesis Rising.

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In regards to Tina’s contributions to the metal scene, she has been featured as a guest cellist in numerous distinguished bands and projects since 2009. For instance, in 2009 she played the cello in the songs The Lone Spaniard and So Far Gone, from the album Molecular Heinosity by American Progressive Metal/Rock keyboardist Derek Sherinian; in the song I Am the Nothing, from the 2014 album The Beauty of Destruction by  American Metalcore act Devil You Know (now called Light The Torch); in the 2017 album Störtebeker, by German Heavy/Power/Progressive Metal band FB1964; in the single Let Down, from the 2011 album Secret Passion by Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal group Imperia; in the song Duet for Electric Guitar and Electric Cello in A Minor, from the 2010 album Speed Force by American shredder Maxxxwell Carlisle; and in the 2015 album The Life I Remember, by American Groove Metal act Once Human.

Among her main influences in music, we’ll find the most diverse range of bands and artist like Rammstein, Jacqueline du Pre, System of a Down, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Lady Gaga, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Sevendust, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, just to give you an idea of how eclectic our stunning cellist is. Moreover, when asked about what music means for her, Tina said that playing music requires an intense emotional connection, and that she didn’t always have such level of creative freedom in her life due to her strict childhood with her parents, who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution and who consequently didn’t allow her to listen to any other types of music at home besides classical music. However, it was through a critically acclaimed album by one of the aforementioned influences, the classic Antichrist Superstar by the iconic American rockstar Marilyn Manson, that she got her first taste of Industrial Metal and heavy music in general, getting to know the rebellious music by bands like Daft Punk and Guns N’ Roses from then on.

The indomitable Tina Guo is not our metal chick of the month in vain, having released in 2015 a majestic album of heavy music titled CELLO METAL, with Tina obviously on the electric cello and featuring Wes Borland and John Huldt on the guitars, Marty O’Brien (We Are The Fallen) on bass, and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper, Alcatrazz) on drums, as well as guitarists Al Di Meola, John 5 (Marilyn Manson) and Nita Strauss (The Iron Maidens). Tina and her henchmen delivered ass-kicking cello-infused cover songs for some of the biggest metal classics with this album, which by the way took around three years to be ready, those being Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, Slayer’s Raining Blood, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, and Metallica’s Sanitarium, together with five original songs (Child of Genesis, The God Particle, Eternal Night, Forbidden City and Queen Bee). By the way, Tina spent her entire life savings (a little under US$ 6,000) on the official video for Queen Bee, a metal-inspired take on the orchestral interlude “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and that risk paid off as what’s probably her “most extreme” music video to date (it got an 18+ restriction on YouTube) caught the attention of Hans Zimmer, who at that time was searching for a cellist to play on the score of Sherlock Holmes. “I wasn’t trying to get into the soundtrack world. Actually, I was hoping that Rammstein would see the video and invite me to play with them”, said our skillful cellist in one of her interviews. Anyway, you can have a very detailed listen at Cello Metal on Spotify, and see why this Asian bombshell is respected and admired by the entire world of music, including the always-demanding metal scene.

And Tina is not only an accomplished cellist, but she’s also a writer, a philanthropist and a very successful businesswoman. As a writer, her first published work was called “Event Horizons of Yin and Yang”, a collection of philosophical prose and poetry. As a philanthropist, Guo is a passionate supporter of the Academy of Music for the Blind, Partners in Health, Animal Welfare Institute, Homes for our Troops and Child Find of America. For instance, in 2015, she released a Charity album with 13 composer friends called Tina Guo & Composers for Charity, with 100% of the proceeds from the album going directly to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in support of music education. And last but not least, as a businesswoman, she runs a Los Angeles-based venture named Tina Guo Contracting, which provides exclusive musicians and entertainment for live performances, recording and corporate events; she has a sample library that composers and producers can purchase and use; and above all that, she started her own music instrument line, named Tina Guo Strings, selling custom acoustic cellos, carbon fiber cases, and colourful “unicorn hair” bows for the violin, viola, and cello, with her first products available being the Tina Guo Model 300 cello, the Tina Guo Elite Master Art Model 600 cello, and a full line of custom Tina Guo bows. As a matter of fact, she has been self-managing her career since the beginning, having only signed an exclusive recording contact with Sony Music in 2016, as she thinks it’s very important to understand the business aspect and see everything that’s going on, especially because managers are always going to have other clients they’re dealing with.

However, despite being a successful musician and entrepreneur, she hasn’t been immune to sexism yet, noting that image sells in the performing world, and as a young Asian-American woman she’s more than familiar with the challenges that come with working in these two very white male-dominated spheres. “As a performing artist, we don’t only listen with our ears”, she said in one of her interviews. “If I look different or wasn’t as young, I might have a very different experience.” You can get a sense of all the awesomeness surrounding Tina as a musician and as a woman by watching several videos on YouTube where she’s either playing her cello or talking about her career and skills, such as “Tina Guo and her troublesome cello”, an interview with Tina Guo on classical and electric cello, or a mini-tutorial on playing fast, proving she’s more-than-ready to conquer the entire world of music and arts no matter how sexist that world might be.

Equipment
Gand & Bernardel Cello (Paris, France, 1878)
Custom Tina Guo Model Yamaha SVC-210
Erhu (Shangai, China)

Tina Guo’s Official Facebook page
Tina Guo’s Official Twitter
Tina Guo’s Official Instagram
Tina Guo’s Official YouTube channel

“When I make music, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn’t involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied.” – Tina Guo

Album Review – Chthonic / Bú-Tik (2013)

Chthonic prove one more time why they are currently the best Heavy Metal band of the East.

Rating3

Chthonic-Bu-TikWhen a band reaches a very high standard like Chthonic with Takasago Army, the expectations for their future albums become so high that even if they launch something really cool, many people will still think they are not a good band anymore. I’m pretty sure lots of fans are complaining everywhere in the world about Bú-Tik because it’s not a “Takasago Army”, but always remember it isn’t supposed to be so.

Bú-Tik is an evolution, it is fresh music for people who love speed, strength and awesome lyrics, without being just a copy of the band’s old material. Of course many elements are still there like the erhu (a Chinese two-stringed violin), which is a crucial part of the band’s soul, and the lyrics focused on all the war and revolution that happened in Taiwan, but each song is different and has its own meaning and intensity.

Regarding the album art, the band tried to represent “the idea of an armed body and mind” in the front cover, which looks a lot sexier and less brutal than what they used to do in the past, but it’s great anyway. About the music itself, Freddy Lim does an amazing job with his screaming, the beautiful Doris Yeh seems to be even more important to the band with her intense bass lines, and the drummer Dani Wang is a beast as usual in all album tracks! I just think there should be more guitar solos in some of the songs, because although I love the sound of the erhu and the keyboards together, a good guitar solo always adds a lot of energy to heavy music. And let’s not forget the Intro and the Outro of the album, which together do a great job getting us pumped for what’s coming next and then showing us that the “war” is over.

Chthonic+BuTik++Album+Promo+2013+PNGThe lyrics are also an essential part of the whole album, either when they’re entirely based on historical facts such as the 228 Massacre in 1947, or with simple but strong lines such as “Let me stand up like a Taiwanese / Only justice will bring you peace”. Chthonic doesn’t usually write generic lyrics, an issue that happens with most of the Metal bands nowadays.

To sum up, a very good album that deserves the attention of all heavy music lovers. Going back to my initial idea, unless the music is a complete piece of junk like Metallica’s St. Anger, I always believe we should embrace the evolution of our favorite bands. And Chthonic is far from producing something so bad as St. Anger.

Best moments of the album: Supreme Pain for the Tyrant and Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace, especially if you watch the superb videos they shot for both songs. Those are two of the most creative music videos I’ve seen in many years.

Worst moments of the album: Sail Into the Sunset’s Fire and Resurrection Pyre just fall flat in my opinion. Maybe it’s the English version of the album that does that to those songs, because I’ve listened to the Taiwanese versions and they sound a lot more powerful.

Released in 2013 Spinefarm Records / Universal Music

Track listing
1. Arising Armament (Intro) 2:27
2. Supreme Pain for the Tyrant 4:45
3. Sail into the Sunset’s Fire 4:00
4. Next Republic 4:12
5. Rage of my Sword 4:37
6. Between Silence and Death 4:38
7. Resurrection Pyre 4:59
8. Set Fire to the Island 3:47
9. Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace 5:22
10. Undying Rearmament (Outro) 1:49

Band members
Freddy Lim, “Left Face of Maradou” – lead vocals, erhu
Doris Yeh, “Thunder Tears” – bass, backing vocals
Jesse Liu, “The Infernal” – guitars, backing vocals
Dani Wang, “Azathothian Hands” – drums
CJ Kao, “Dispersed Fingers” – keyboards, synthesizer