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Chthonic, a Taiwanese melodic black metal band many may be familiar with the band if they follow the Asian metal scene. Also featuring on the OST of Samm Dunn's global metal documentary is a track from their earlier amazing work “Seediq Bale” gives a good idea about the band's caliber. And their music is basically pretty solid melodic black with usage of Er-Hu (two stringed violin like instrument), I'm a sucker for usage of unconventional instruments and Er-Hu is one of my favourites now thanks to this band.
I've only listened to their previous album, “Seediq Bale”, and after listening to that album they became one of my favourites and news of them releasing a new album made me very excited as to see if they will be able to live up to the previous work or even surpass if that's possible. And I was not disappointed in anyway, starting with a creepy intro to set the mood of what's in store for the listener, a twisted and melodic assault to the ears. Without wasting much time the opening track kicks in with amazing riff with drums filling in perfectly for the maddening vocals by Lim, then we are introduced to the Er-Hu within the first half minute of the song, the addition and usage of this particular instrument is what makes Chthonic unique in their sound without hampering the metal's brutality and feel, it flows in with the music and creates a maddening atmosphere for example on “Rise of shadows”, and melancholic atmosphere for example in the instrumental track “1947” and “Forty-Nine Theurgy Chains”. Thats about the uniqueness of Chthonic for including this beautiful instrument.
The overall sound of this album is pretty much the same as previous release which is a good thing but production of the instruments is much clearer maybe Rob Caggiano has a role to play as he has mixed and produced this album, every instrument can be heard clearly without overriding or suppressing the other. Guitar Riffs play an important role in the overall sound of the album, the rhythm section is basically the well known usual melodic black metal tremolo picking but overall guitar sound is not just limited to this, various progression in the riffs can be found on this album without sounding too much out of the way or disturbing the atmosphere, some tend to be aggressive progression and some mellow down the pace from the rhythm section. Solos are rarely found, the tracks “Blooming Blades” and “Hearts Condemned” have solos of very short duration, so those who are keen on solos in their metal this might be a little off putting, but the variety and progression of riffs from the main and rhythm section pretty much covers for lack of solos. Drumming is as solid as previous album, it has balanced mix of crushing blast beats and some interesting rolls one of the best examples would be on the track “Blooming Blades” as the music progresses with different tempo the drumming compliments it really well without ruining the the song. And the addition of keyboards is inevitable Chthonic being a melodic black metal band, but the keys are used in moderation and balanced perfectly with the other instruments without sounding too much drowned in the keyboards which majority of melodic bands tend to do in attempt to create an atmosphere. Vocals are handled by Lim and his vocal abilities certainly needs to mentioned as they are varied throughout the album, they can go as low as death metal type of growling to the high pitch howling which are much better and powerful than what Dani Filth tries to achieve these days which can be heard in song “Sing-Ling Temple”. The bass are just present to complement the overall sound, they don't shine as much as the other instruments.
“Mirror of retribution” is truly very enjoyable and twisted at the same time, some might find similarities to sound of the band everyone loves to hate Cradle of Filth. Be not afraid this album is better than many of Cradle's releases (I'm a fan of earlier albums and their latest effort is not half bad), So those who always loved the music of Cradle of Filth but were put off by Dani Filth's voice, this is your chance to enjoy that sound only with much more variety and better vocal performance of course.
I recommend this to any Melodic Black metal fan, and also for those who stay away from this sub genre for albums being too much keyboard driven, this certainly is not. Give it a try and you'll see the sub genre with different mind set. I can rarely sit throughout a melodic black album, but Chthonic successfully kept my interest rate high with their twisted,beautiful and brutal sound. I'll certainly look out for forth coming releases, as this band never cease to amaze me.
Standout Tracks: Blooming Blades, Hearts Condemned,Sing-Ling Temple,1947 (Instrumental), Forty-Nine Theurgy Chains