Many things have happened to the band from Taipei over these last few years, especially concerning their frontman Freddy Lim: personally speaking, the first child he and bassist Doris Yeh had was quite a relevant event; work-wise, his successful political career with the New Power Party is yet another proof of his engagement for the country. This is actually one of the main sources of inspiration for the band, already with the beginning of the “Souls Reposed” series marked by Seediq Bale; Battlefields Of Asura is no exception, and in fact it is the prologue of the whole story.
The eleven songs of this record are the natural evolution of what was included in Bú-Tik, highlighting the epic nature and going back to the folk elements already visible in Takasago Army. It’s quite clear that CJ Kao’s keyboards here acquired an even bigger role, at times going close to some sort of proud and fierce soundtrack for battle, as shown in the intro “Drawing Omnipotence Nigh”; in addition, there are lots of powerful choirs, such as in “One Thousand Eyes” or the vaguely ensiferum-ish “Carved In Bloodstone”.
Apart from the orchestral elements, keyboards also take care of the sections connected to the Eastern musical traditions, with the help of other actual instruments, such as dizi 笛子 or erhu 二胡 (respectively, the Chinese flute and two-stringed violin) — the main stars in “A Crimson Sky’s Command” — played by Freddy Lim and his former colleague Su-nung Chao.
As for the strictly metal side, the band here offered one of their best performances, focusing on melodic death metal with almost imperceptible black metal veins, at times borrowing elements from power metal. Jesse Liu’s six strings breeze through power, groove, melodies without any trouble, adding dynamic solos and even taking some Pink Floyd colors during the intermission “Masked Faith”; despite the overwhelming position taken by keyboards, the guitars still managed to take some room. The synergy with the rhythms provided by Dani Wang and Doris Yeh is as solid as ever, and the three musicians know each other perfectly, with a notable mention to the drummer, who has improved in terms of choices, reaching an apex on this album. Freddy Lim, on his part, once again proved to be a great singer: perfectly able to alternate his characteristic scream to the vigorous growl that has gradually appeared in the band’s works, all the while adding rare pathos and expressiveness.
Battlefields Of Asura also features some interesting guests, specifically on two of the best tracks. “Souls Of The Revolution” — accompanying the movie produced and interpreted by the band, Tshiong — hosts Lamb Of God’s vocalist Randy Blythe, singing together with Freddy Lim. In “Millennia’s Faith Undone” it is Hong Kong-based singer Denise Ho Wan-see, aka HOCC, who sings with him; the idea to feature a pop singer in an extreme metal context is not new for Chthonic — they did something similar in “Kaoru” — but in this case the final result is even better.
I would lie if I said that I am not a fan, but this time Chthonic have even gone beyond my expectations: they have jumped over the hurdle of moving from an approach closer to black metal to what they have finally done with Bú-Tik; at this point, in Battlefields Of Asura they proved extremely confident about their music. As far as I’m concerned, this record is quite a valid alternative to Seediq Bale as the band’s best work.