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Since I wrote my review for Seediq Bale nearly 3 years ago, quite a lot has happened in the world of ChthoniC. Not long after I wrote the review, Seediq Bale was released in Europe (in a wonderful digipack at that). Also in 2007, Relentless Recurrence and Decade on the Throne were reissued in the West, and the retrospective Pandemonium featuring re-recorded versions of old songs came out on SPV.
And In 2008, the DPP lost the election.
For a metal band to be affected by politics is quite a rare thing (unless it's in a country where metal is outlawed), but as ChthoniC are more politically motivated and involved than most of their peers, this is probably the event that inspired the basis of this album. The party that won the Taiwanese elections, Kuomintang, are the same party that lost the Chinese Civil War, retreated to Taiwan, and after the 228 incident (which is what the lyrics of this album concern themselves with), implemented the White Terror and a martial law which lasted from 1947 until 1987.
The last few albums, released under DPP leadership, were strong. They primarily concerned themselves with mythology though. 9th Empyrean is about a war between Han Chinese and Taiwanese gods, Relentless Recurrence is about a vengeful spirit, and Seediq Bale was about the Seediq tribe's rebellion against Imperial Japan. This time though, they've got properly political. In focusing on the 228 incident, which is the basis of much of Taiwanese life today, they have the rage and ability to produce an album which is terrifying in its conviction.
From the opening moments of Autoscopy, you feel something going wrong. It's as if they want you to be present at the scene of the story, rather than just listening to the music. This effect recurs throughout, such as at the end of 1947 and the beginning of Rise of the Shadows. These sound effects add to the movie-like feel of the album, which is more than can be said of Seediq Bale (which actually did have an accompanying movie, which you can see clips of in the video for Quasi Putrefaction). Despite this, the keys are slightly scaled back on this album, leaving the aggressive guitars forefront and centre. The erhu is now used more for emphasis than as a predominant instrument, which is probably the best route to take with the "heavier" nature of this album.
However, despite all this, I have to give it a lower score overall than Seediq Bale. I love the album, but it still seems to lack something. Maybe I'm still wanting another "signature" song, one that jumps out and assaults you. Relentless Recurrence was a great album mostly because it could keep grabbing you and pulling you back in, despite the worse production and tacky drumming. Seediq Bale was brilliant, despite lacking the "hit" factor, because it didn't let up. From beginning to end it didn't stop.
Mirror of Retribution does slow. It nearly stops. It gets you hooked and then goes along a completely different path. Don't get me wrong, I like left-field stuff, but this is a slight complaint in what is a brilliant album.
The production is excellent, the instruments are performed expertly. It just doesn't quite top Seediq Bale.
The inclusion of UNlimited Taiwan is a big bonus though.
Standout tracks: "The Aroused", "1947", "49 Theurgy Chains", "Spell of Setting Sun", "UNlimited Taiwan".