Chthonic – Bu-tik (2013)
Fans of heavy metal music are often priveleged to hear music about subjects that we would never have delved into otherwise. Where else (unless you’re a historian or a scholar) would one discover such topics as the Takasago Volunteer Army, the Wushe Uprising, the 228 Massacre, or the mythology of the Seediq tribe of the mountains?
The answer, of course, is by being a fan of Chthonic.
It had been a busy and successful time for Chthonic during the run-up to Bu-Tik’s release. Their prior album, “Takasago Army,” took home a number of well-deserved awards; they were energized and inspired by a long-hoped-for tour with Arch Enemy, and they were invited to perform at Taiwan’s national Baseball Opening Day (a feat which no metal band has a chance of achieving in the USA). The intensity of fans’ devotion to Chthonic increased (as shown by the competition for tickets to a special gig at historic Sing-Ling Temple).
Chthonic was a busy band indeed, and Bu-Tik is a very “busy” record, busier in some ways than its predecessor.
1. Arising Armament
2. Supreme Pain for the Tyrant
3. Sail Into the Sunset’s Fire
4. Next Republic
5. Rage of My Sword
6. Between Silence and Death
7. Resurrection Pyre
8. Set Fire to the Island
9. Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace
10. Undying Rearmament
As an example of Bu-Tik’s “busy-ness,” take “Supreme Pain For the Tyrant,” which is about a failed 1970 assassination attempt on the Vice Premier of the Republic of China in New York. In the elaborate accompanying music video, the setting is switched to the World War Two era, while the band members themselves take on the role of the assassins (and of course, they succeed).
Sonically, the song features a floating erhu that provides a counterweight to the furious grinding guitars of the chorus and tasteful solos by both electric guitar and the moon lute (the latter of which provides a mournful outro as the assassins have their bloody way with their tyrannical targets). “Let me stand up like a Taiwanese!” echoes the actual words of the real-life assassin in New York, given new weight by this re-imagining of what might have been.
And that’s all in just one song.
Chthonic has added a bit more orchestration and choir to Bu-Tik, saving its most complete performances for the first and last songs on the album: “Supreme Pain for the Tyrant” and “Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace.” Again featuring a complex, martial arts-themed music video, “Bu-Tik Palace” lets us return to the “Mirror of Retribution” mystique from past Chthonic releases–once again, a hopelessly outnumbered band stands against a horde of Kuomintang forces. The original 1947 defense failed, but in Chthonic’s world, supernatural aid is never far away…
“Bu-Tik” can be seen as a more fleshed-out take on the “oriental metal” style that Chthonic is creating–and they’ve used different parts of their expanded musical toolkit. “Sail Into the Sunset’s Fire” and “Set Fire to the Island” are more stripped-down, traditional melodic death metal pieces with a military feel. “Rage of My Sword” features the discordant strains of erhu and oboe, and “Resurrection Pyre” makes use of a choir to channel the spirit of a Taiwanese activist who self-immolated in protest after Taipei kept shutting down his magazine (Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine would be proud).
“Bu-Tik” is a dense learning experience, and listeners who choose to explore the album booklet will walk away knowing a bit more about Qing-era exploration and piracy, 1980s pro-democracy activism in Taiwan, prison breaks gone horribly wrong, and of course, the bloody events at Bu-Tik Palace.
Chthonic is becoming the voice of Taiwan to the metal world, but listeners should be aware: this is not a voice that speaks softly.
Written by Matt P