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Chthonic on the surface seem to be a fairly run-of-the-mill melodic/symphonic black metal band, albeit they are from Taiwan rather than Northern Europe. However, Chthonic not only do what they do very well, there are some interesting and unique facets to their sound, most notably the Er-hu, that permits them to stand out from the pack. This is again an album from a genre I normally don't have much interest in that absolutely blew me away.
Chthonic have all the standard symphonic black metal elements in place - orchestral keyboards, at times almost Gothenburg-y guitars, lots of double bass, raspy vocals, etc. However, while the metal element of their sound is pretty good, it is actually the other aspects of Chthonic's sound that takes them to the next level. First and foremost, the female vocals are excellent. Whether wordlessly providing backing vocals or singing in Mandarin (if I have my dialects correct), Doris' voice is enchanting and fits perfectly within the framework of the band's sound. She, along with the Er-hu, are truly what makes Seediq Bale a great album. She is the perfect opposite of Freddy's standard black rasps, and her voice is, simply put, beautiful.
Much has been said of the use of the Er-hu in Chthonic's music, and for good reason: not only is it unique, but it's mournful sound provides a solid counterpoint to the blasting occurring throughout the album. Sounding almost like a weeping woman, the capabilities of the Er-hu are fully explored on this album, accentuating the melodic moments while not being used so much as to be a gimmick. Witness "Bloody Gaia Fulfilled" for perhaps the best use of the Er-hu on the album, as well as the best female vocals.
There is not a single bad song on this album, although the metalcorish "Indigenous Laceration" was initially off-putting. Chthonic know when to blast and when to be melodic; rare is a symphonic black metal band that does not lean too heavily on either the blasting or the keyboards, but Chthonic have found a comfortable region to operate in without letting any one aspect dominate the sound. Lyrics are excellent and quite different from your standard Satanic fare, and the fact that this album has been banned in parts of China for its lyrical content should make it obvious that what this band is saying is unique to say the least.
The only real gripe of the album is that the production could be clearer; everything tends to blend together in the blasting parts. This is a minor gripe, but with an album as good as this, a reviewer must resort to nitpicking to find a serious flaw in the music. An excellent album from an excellent band.