TAKASAGO ARMY Chthonic CD

Taipeian nerds show their folk roots. Again. The only problem: they are a speed metal band. Make that a comic book-pop-speed-metal band, Borg-ishly absorbing Taiwan's most obscure folk elements into its "enterprising" sound.

The title "Takasago Army" refers to volunteer Taiwanese (specifically the "Seediq" indigenous group) within the Imperial Japanese Army during World War 2—"Takasago" being the ancient Japanese term for Taiwan. Chthonic uses this era as a backdrop to illustrate Taiwan's struggle for and toward its own cultural self-identity. It's the final chapter in the trilogy concerning po' lil' Taiwan's (owner of the 5th largest foreign reserve in the world) almost always receiving the East Asian shaft, identity-wise. Which, should make for good rock and roll, right? Well…

Their grand experiment, a (con)fusion of speed-metal and ancient Taiwanese folk is, at its worst, a ham-fisted superimposition. The Hena/Erhu tracks and folk vocalizations run parallel and over the speed metal riffs but, big surprise, never really mesh. The effect is often like listening to two records at once. And not surprising, this record feels less like something lived as something manufactured (yes, "Made in Taiwan")—for pathos; like a semi-sincere shout-out. Like Rage Against the Machine—East. Like an adult-sanctioned cultural revolution, with a touch of nationalism just to be safe. It probably doesn't help the ham-fisted-ness that they dress like Nike-sponsored superheroes. Hi, adolescents!

"Propaganda" aside, they do have some positive notes:  they are ambitious after all (which could also be the problem): as silly as it sounds to my Western years, they HAVE tried something new. The songs are extraordinarily complex too which I would attribute mostly to drummer Dani (or "Azathothian Hands"—yes, more Lovecraft)—for their riffs really aren't anything special (and news flash: speed metal bands with keyboards are usually lame). And the production, like the drummer (does one beget the other?), is smooth, powerful and slick.

But, well, now that I think about it, this last element sort of underscores the problem here. We've heard this sound before after all. Do not be deceived dear children. The inimitable sound of rebellion could be as subtle as a breeze, after all.

Takasago Army sounds more like commerce to me. [Candlelight, US]

-Jeff Mooridian

AMAZON

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