Veteran Taiwanese metal legends Chthonic (閃靈) returns with their new album ‘Battlefields of Asura’ (政治) after five long but eventful years for the band. From vocalist Freddy Lim (林昶佐) taking Taiwanese office representing the New Power Party (NPP) that he helped found and the band filmed their very own movie Tshiong, the band did not release much more music aside from some minor releases and a cool acoustic album. Being one of the biggest, oldest, and most successful metal bands of East Asia, Chthonic is integral to the East Asian scene for not only their influence but also for their status as a band that prompts listeners to explore more East Asian metal. Here’s our conversation with frontman Freddy Lim.
It’s been five years since the band’s last album and a lot has happened in that time for the band. You guys made a movie, released an acoustic album, and you were even elected into office to name a few. How have these events impacted the band and the writing process? Were there any difficulties or challenges?
Yes, we have been through a lot of things and that has made the song-writing process paused.
After the 2013 album “Bu-Tik”, we’ve been accumulating inspirations and stories. But song-writing was once paused when I was involved in organising a new political party in 2015 and was elected to the Parliament in the next year. But during the Lunar New Year holidays in 2017, I started looking at what I’ve accumulated so far. I was pleasantly surprised to find that what I’ve been through in these past few years have given me a lot of emotions–joy, anger, sorrow, and happiness–and these accumulated emotions made writing songs smooth like never before. So after the Lunar New Year holidays last year, I’ve finished the basics and the framework of the songs.
There are not many people in this world who is both an elected politician and successful musician, especially a metal musician. How has being a metal musician impacted your political career and how has being a politician affected your musical career and more specifically, your music?
My political career requires me to improve my abilities in different areas, and learn to face more difficult situations. So, like my answer for the first question, all I have been through in the politics have driven me to express my emotions via music smoothly and naturally. The songs in the new album carry a lot of complicated and multiple emotions.
And as a metal musician, how does it impact my political career, it could be good or bad. It’s something that people would talk about, but during the campaign, my rival attacked me on my hairdo, my tattoo, my music, and the way I perform on stage. My victory in the end I think was decided by my ideas, issues, and their trust.
Many of the lyrical themes in the band’s music is related to Taiwanese culture and history. From the new album Battlefields of Asura’s title and album artwork, Asuras are divine beings or deities from Hindu and Buddhist origins who wage war with the gods. How does the new album fit in with the lyrical themes of your previous albums and what were your inspirations for the new album’s lyrics? What’s the central idea of the new album?
Every single song in the album represents a deity in Taiwanese folk belief, and the spirit. But just like some of our past albums, the entire album itself is a conceptual story.
A series of stories told in our albums started with Seediq Bale in 2005. One of the main characters is a psychic who has the power to travel through hell and change history named Tsing-guan. Our new album is a prelude to this series of stories. It tells you from which deities did Tsing-guan get his divine power, and his birth.
On the other hand, “Battlefields of Asura” is written in Kanji characters as “修羅場”, and it means harsh battlefields. We think in the modern world, many fields of the society are all like Battlefields of Asura. Such as political field, financial field….etc..
With the success of Bu-Tik, Chthonic has achieved even more international recognition. After that album, fans have been eagerly waiting for new material. In the making of Battlefields of Asura, did you or the band feel any pressure or had any fears? What were the band’s musical inspirations for the new album and were there any musical changes?
Although there have been fans asking about new material in the past few years, we have always tried to stay easy with it. I think it might be because we have explored some new journeys in these years and had a lot of things to worry about, so the messages from the fans have always been encouraging us to be optimistic.
And how we composed songs for the new album was same with the way we started since the album “Takasago Army(2011)”, which is starting with Taiwanese melodies and arrangements as basic blueprints and then making them heavier. And this way has been improved and developed in the album “Bú-Tik(2013)”. Then after the past five years of development, I think the new album is the most mature and natural.
As a fan with a Chinese ethnic background, I noticed that the English translations do not always match the native language. Can you tell us more about the native language and the translation process of the lyrics and song titles?
I always write Taiwanese lyrics first, and then explain to my good friend, Joe Henley, who is a Canadian metal singer living in Taiwan. After multiple discussions, we develop the final version of the English lyrics.
Like Bu-Tik’s Defenders of Bu-Tik Palace, Battlefields of Asura also features an album closer with a female vocal guest appearance. On the new album, HOCC (Denise Ho) lends her vocals on the song Millennia’s Faith Undone. How did this collaboration come about? What was it like to work with her in studio and on set? What’s the story behind the music video?
We knew Denise when she came to Taiwan to play Megaport Festival in 2015. She’s quite outspoken about social issues, so after our initial meeting we exchanged some ideas every once in a while. When we were preparing our new album, the idea of having her guesting on one of our songs just naturally come up.
Although she couldn’t speak Taiwanese, she is very talented singer, so her recording session was very efficient! The song is filled with the emotion of righteousness with her vocals, we love them very much.
The story behind the video is about the documents and letters left by the people who were executed by the authoritarian government, and have been covered up. Their families still can’t find them to this day.
When it was announced that you were elected into office, fans were anxiously curious about what will happen next. Now with the new album, many international fans are wondering about the band touring outside of Taiwan. Are there currently plans for a tour outside of Taiwan?
It’s almost impossible for us to do long tours as we did before, but we will still take part in festivals hopefully.
With my review, I discussed my thoughts about the album, how it sounded to me, and what an accomplishment it was. What are yours and the band’s thoughts of the album? What can fans expect from Battlefields of Asura? Lastly, where do you think the band is going to from here?
We all agree that this album is the one we like most! And so many different aspects of the composing and arrangement are all very fascinating that even ourselves we listen to them again and again and not feel bored. So I hope the fans feel the same way!
And since members are in new chapters of their lives, I believe that it will lead us to create more exciting music.
Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.