Keep this as a reminder: never trust previews of upcoming albums. Not necessarily because bands pick the worst tracks: the actual reason is that an album often needs to be experienced from the beginning to the end, since all its parts have to fall in their right place in order to make sense. That's the lesson I've learned from "Bú-Tik", the seventh LP by Chthonic. The album is based on one of the darkest pages in Taiwan history, known as the 228 Incident. Are you wondering what makes this work so special, to the point that it has even taught me something? The answer will come soon, but let's give this some order and start from the preview tracks.
More than a month has passed since, on Spinefarm Records' Soundcloud page, a track called "Next Republic" appeared. After listening to it, my hopes about this work started to tremble: I'm not exaggerating in saying that for a couple of days I had insistently asked myself why in the world they decided to get close to the sound of bands like Children Of Bodom or Wintersun (I haven't gone past the pain caused by "Time I" yet), that sort of melodic death mixed with power metal getting more and more tedious and obvious in recent years. Not long after that, it was time for the first video – "Defenders Of Bú-Tik Palace" – which distances itself from the power-ish sound of "Next Republic", having somewhat of a relieving effect on my morale, despite it not being totally convincing. The third and last preview was "Sail Into The Sunset's Fire", following in the path of the second one, and actually contributing to get me even more worried.
And then there came the album release. After reading the above paragraphs you might expect me to suggest you ignore all I've written up to now: well, no. The whole "Bú-Tik" is actually built on this style, not introducing anything new on the path the Taiwanese band has been treading in the last few years (with "Mirror Of Retribution" and "Takasago Army"). Now it is time to ask what it is that makes this album so special. I don't want to keep you waiting any longer for the answer, or rather the three answers.
The first reason why "Bú-Tik" works is its atmosphere: if we stripped this work down of its oriental vibe, we would find ourselves with ten harmless tracks. On the contrary, the folk instruments have been integrated more into their sound: the erhu (an instrument similar to a violin, one of the band's trademarks) is the prominent part as usual, but you can't fail to notice the koto at the beginning of "Supreme Pain For The Tyrant" or the flute placed both at the beginning and the end. CJ Kao's keyboards contribute to creating even more epic and exotic atmospheres, this time feeling more genuine and becoming one of Chthonic's strong points once again. In addition, I suggest listening to the Taiwanese language version of this album: of course the lyrics might be less comprehensible this way, but this is one of those cases in which the effect conveyed by language may be more intense.
The second reason is variety, as I needed more than a couple of spins to get through it. Although it is not much more than a melodic death album, we can find some small detours here and there: not shifting towards a definite style, but taking the sound to different directions according to the band's needs. One of the main features is Jesse Liu's guitar, showcasing a vast array of influences, from power in "Next Republic" to groovy passages and even more classical metal in the solos. In "Between Silence And Death", the band's recognizable riffage alternates with the lead guitar which seems to be coming straight out of a romantic semi-ballad, definitely one of the top moments in the album. The performance on drums is very diverse as well, featuring many changes in rhythm, always suited to the atmosphere.
The third and final reason is the one that ultimately answers to the question posed at the beginning: the tracklist. After several listens I realized how much the track order contributes to the final effect: the fast-paced opener "Supreme Pain For The Tyrant", the epic choirs in the two following tracks, the alternation between aggressive and atmospheric sections after that, leading to "Defenders Of Bú-Tik Palace" finale — thus highlighting it the way it deserves — in my opinion one of the band's best tracks ever, which has now become a daily listen for me.
In conclusion, the album flows extremely well and this is also due to the musicians' individual performances: apart from the already-mentioned members, the vocals trio with Freddy as the leading and Jesse and Doris as backing is remarkable. This is perhaps the most mature Chthonic release since "Seediq Bale", although it would be a risk for them to just settle for this sound in the future. Nevertheless, let us just enjoy "Bú-Tik" for the time being and not complain about what's to come, as there is no reason to do that.