By Andrew Bansal
Taiwanese extreme metal band Chthonic have been known to blend metal with oriental sounds, and throughout the lyrical concepts behind their previous six studio albums, they’ve strived to enlighten people with the Taiwanese history. They’re talented musicians and without knowing any of the lyrical stories, their music and live performance alone got my attention in a positive way when I first heard this band in 2009, but digging into the lyrics and the concepts adds further to the experience and almost makes it a history lesson. Recently, the band put out their seventh studio album ‘Bu´-Tik’, and not only have they experiemented with the musical arrangements on this album, but have also expressed the story visually through a series of music videos. A few weeks after the release of the album, I spoke to bassist Doris Yeh about the new album, the music videos and more in this very informative yet entertaining chat. Read below as Doris delves into the massive amounts of effort the band put into this album.
Your new album came out recently. How would you explain the sound? I think it’s more oriental. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, the procedure or writing songs for the new album was different than our former albums. In the former albums, we were writing songs in heavy metal music, of course, but we were thinking about how to put the traditional melody into the music. In the new album, we did it the opposite way. We wrote the Taiwanese traditional melodies first and then used the heavy metal way to express it. So the new album has more traditional melody in it, and the concept behind the story is different from our former albums. It’s more aggressive. The tempo, the riffs and the structures of the songs are more aggressive, so that’s the difference in this album.
Your lyrics and the concept is still based on Taiwanese history, but I guess the music kind of suits the story more because its aggressive and the story is also about massacre and violence.
Definitely, because this album is talking about different violent scenes which happened in our history in the past 200 years. Each song is about a violent scene, so that’s why the music is aggressive and more powerful.
And as you said, you’ve expressed it in a heavy metal way, so your fans would still receive it as a metal album. In the end, you’re still a metal band.
Yeah, actually we came up with the traditional melody in the chorus part, not the whole song of course (laughs). And then we tried to extend the whole structure of the songs, and the guitarist put more mellow riffs and tempo into the music. So, there’s no conflicts and for us it’s very natural to do this because I think while we’re getting older and older year by year, we feel that we’re closer to our roots and to our own culture. So it’s natural for us to come out with this kind of a traditional melody, but we still love heavy metal a lot, so how to combine them and maintain the balance, that’s the difficult job for us. I think in this new album we made a new achievement and combined those two different things perfectly, in our opinion at least.
You’ve also been doing a series of music videos to tell the story in a visual way along with the music. Can we expect videos for all the songs on the album?
So far we’ve released three music videos already (at the time of doing this interview), and one of them is for the song ‘Defenders Of Bu-Tik Palace’, and for that we’re not just playing music but playing Kung-Fu as well (laughs). We did martial arts training for two months and in the video we are the defenders trying to fight against the intruder from outside. It kind of symbolizes the history of our country. The second video is ‘Sail Into The Sunset’s Fire’, and that video is interesting because we shot it in a swimming pool and that song was talking about the parent generation 200 years ago. We were suffering from a rain storm during the shooting of the video, but the outcome was good (laughs). And the third video is for ‘Supreme Pain For The Tyrant’, and that was directed by a movie director, and we act like five assassins who want to kill the leader of the KMT party, which is the party who rules Taiwan now and also escaped from China 60 years ago. So we kind of recreated this part of the true history. In this video, we combine not only martial arts because we have to fight the enemy and the securities around the leader of the party, but we also have a lot of dancing. We worked with a very well-known international dancing choreographer and that’s the first time we worked with those martial arts and dance groups. So those three music videos took so much time, energy and budget (laughs), I hope all the people and fans will check it out.
What was the martial arts training like?
When we tour the Western countries, sometimes interviewers would ask us, ‘Oh you Oriental and Asian people are comfortable with martial arts right?’ And we would all say no, of course not (laughs). Before we shot the video, we thought that the music fits the martial arts very well, so why not we just learn how to do martial arts so that next time when the interviewer asks us if we’re comfortable with it, we can say yes. It would be so cool! (laughs) But after the first week of training, we were all regretting about this stupid idea because it’s so difficult. It’s really difficult and even the simple moves will easily make you hurt your spine or your bones. I was almost broken in my spine, in one training when they used a wire to pull me up in the air and then drop me down suddenly. I didn’t catch the right position, so my spine was like U-shaped when I touched the ground, and that really hurt (laughs). But we took the training for two months and I think it’s worth it because in the video we look like we really know how to do the spinning kicks or use the Japanese swords to kill the enemies. We all did that by ourselves. We didn’t know any replacement people. We’re kind of proud of it!
That’s very cool. So, in the past you wrote a song about the Sing Ling temple and you even played a show at that temple. That must have been quite special because you pretty much told the story of the place where you played at.
Yeah! The stories we’ve written for the past few albums, they are all based around the main place that is Sing Ling temple. That is a very important place for us because that’s the last battleground, and the main character we wrote in that story was the psychic in that temple. So that temple for us is really meaningful, but it’s hard to find. It’s in the forest and it’s in the middle of Taiwan, so it’s not easy to get there. We had this crazy idea of trying to build a stage in that temple. And the temple never ever had this kind of concert. They only have a small festival to thank God, something like that. So for them to decide if they should rent the place to us for a rock concert, they have to ask God (laughs). So they had a traditional ritual to ask God in the temple if he would allow us to have a concert in the temple. And then the God said yes, and we were able to rent the place for our concert (laughs).
That’s really funny! So, the new album is based on the Bu-Tik palace. Do you think you’ll play a show there too? Does that place exist anymore?
Actually, nearby the Sing Ling temple, Bu-Tik palace was a martial arts practicing place that’s located in many cities all over Taiwan, built by the Japanese empire when they ruled Taiwan. But when KMT came to Taiwan, they tore them down and all the Bu-Tik palaces were destroyed. There was a Bu-Tik palace in the city in which Sing-Ling temple is located. When the massacre happened, that Bu-Tik palace was the connection place for the citizens to gather and fight against the soldiers from KMT. So that’s an important place for our album, and it’s also the place where the Japanese empire had the battle with the aboriginal Taiwanese people. Our former album Seediq Bale talks about that generation. At that time, Bu-Tik palace was also the connection place for the Seediq tribe to gather people to fight against the Japanese army. So it’s a very meaningful place for us.