The day following their live in Tokyo, Chthonic organizes an autograph session, which allows us to interview the whole band (Freddy, Doris, Jesse, Dani and CJ), despite their tight schedule in Japan.
It is the opportunity to talk about their brand new album, Takasago Army, their history and lyrical inspiration, but also their link to Japan and China, and the nuclear fear that floats around Japan.
Freddy : The right pronunciation is (cf video), but most of the western fans say [thon-ick], and we’re fine with that.
Metalship : And you Taïwanese name ?
Freddy : 閃靈 (pronounced “Shan Ling”)
Doris : We came out with this name because it sounds cool, then we used 閃靈 because the pronunciation sounds like Chthonic.
Metalship : Can you introduce the band ?
Doris : We formed the band in 1996, the original member was only Freddy, and after 2000 Jesse and I joined the band, and afterwards Dani and CJ. We released recently the latest 6th album. All the stories of our texts are about the history and mythology about Eastern Asia. We often use a lot of Oriental elements of melodies into the music, which defines our style.
Metalship : What are your lyrical theme ?
Freddy : We just like local Taiwanese stories, that inspire us. It’s just like the Scandinavians that talk about Scandinavian stories. Or maybe next time we can write some Scandinavian stories, we can try … (laughs).
Metalship : Until 2000, lots of members joined and left the band. Is your line-up now stabilized ?
Freddy : Before 2000, the metal scene in Taiwan was not really structured. In the beginning the friends that played with me played jazz, punk, different kind of music, but not metal at all. Because I couldn’t find any other metalheads I just had to ask my friends to play. But after 2000, when Doris and Jesse joined the band, they were the first band members that really appreciate metal, like Dani and CJ. So we all are settled right now because we all like metal. About all the other members in the beginning, I think when they had the chance to leave the band, they felt relieved by Freddy, “I can play punk now !” (laughs).
Metalship : What do you think about Taiwanese metal scene ?
Freddy : I think it’s pretty developed right now. We can see lots of foreign band members that come to Taiwan to play, and there are band members in schools, universities, so there is metal everywhere. It’s quite developed but there still are some things to develop, we need an industry, not just bands.
Doris : I think there are more and more girls that play metal in Taiwan nowadays.
Freddy : It’s like this in all the world, right ?
Doris : Not that much that want to be, in percentage.
Metalship : Do you know why ?
Freddy : Because Metal has got Jesse, so lots of girls want to play metal too (laughs)
Doris : I don’t know. Maybe in other kind of music like post-rock or pop music, there also lots of Taiwanese girls that want to come up on the stage and play an instrument and don’t want to stay in the crowd. It’s a phenomenon.
Metalship : How has your music or texts evolved during these 15 years ?
Freddy : In the early years, we played a kind of metal like the western kind. And the more we played, the more we put Taiwanese elements into the music. All particularly in the new album Takasago Army, the whole “writing” philosophy has been changed. We used to write metal, and then add some Taiwanese feelings and emotions, but this time I write Taiwanese songs. Basically they all are Taiwanese songs, Taiwanese folk songs or Taiwanese pop songs, I don’t know how to define them, and then Jesse and I made them heavier. Now, we start to have another writing process, that is more natural.
Metalship : How would you define Takasago Army ?
Freddy : I’m very satisfied with it. You definitely have to listen to it ! It’s our best one.
Doris : I think it’s our best album so far. We all are very confident about this album.
Freddy : Concerning the previous album, you will think “this is very qualified metal, with some very cool oriental elements in there”, but if you listen to Takasago Army, you will think “wow, that’s completely different”. It’s totally unique, not just metal with oriental elements, it’s some new metal.
Doris : New metal ? (laughs)
Freddy : A new style of metal !
Metalship : Do you wear masks and make-up since the beginning, what do they mean to you ?
Freddy : In the very beginning (1996 to 1998) we just followed the Scandinavian Black Metal bands, trying to add the same kind of corpse paints. And since then we started to use more Taiwanese make-up, like the 8 generals or the aboriginal Taiwanese. The most updated ones are totally based on the Taiwanese ideas.
Doris : The 8 generals is a very traditional mark of Taiwanese temple culture. So Freddy put that symbol on his face.
Freddy : All of us tried to take some part of Taiwanese culture to input on our masks.
Metalship : What is your relation to Japan (especially as Takasago is linked to Japan, and as you come to play here in Japan).
Freddy : Actually, Seediq Bale, which is our 4th album, is our first album about the relationship between Taiwan and Japan, about the story of the 1930’s, when Taiwan was a colony of Japan. Seediq Bale was talking about the Seediq people, in Taiwan, fighting against the Japanese government. And in the new album, Takasago Army, the people we talk about are the children, the legacy of these people that fought against the Japanese government. And they then became Japanese soldiers, as time going by they became more educated and the Japanese government forced them to recognize themselves as Japanese, and were sent to South Pacific to fight along the Japanese soldiers. So they struggled inside between their different identities, and fought themselves.
Metalship : Also, what is your relation with China ?
Freddy : If we are talking about political views, then now Taiwan and Japan are good friends. But Taiwan and China is not. Because China has thousands of missiles aiming at Taiwan, but Japan does not, so apparently we are good friends. We also have lots of military rehearsals in Taiwan and China, and our aim is to fight each other, all the time. I think that the mistake is mostly because of the Chinese government, not the Chinese citizens, that are controlled by their government. I would say that the enemy of the modern world is Chinese government.
Metalship : Have you already played in China ?
Doris : We only played in special districts of China, like Hong-Kong [Ed.: former colony of UK] or Macao [Ed.: former Portugese colony]. But we are on a black list. If one day they allowed us to go to China, then it would be really weird ! (laugh).
Freddy : But in the early years we had some promoters asking us to play there, but in the end said we were banned by their cultural bureau. Now there are some promoters trying to get us there, but there always suffer pressures from different groups saying they can’t do that. So our Chinese fans sometimes go from China to Hong-Kong to see our concerts.
Metalship : What was your best experience on tour ?
Doris : I think we all agree that the show yesterday in Tokyo is the best show we had outside of Taiwan. It’s among our first lives in Japan, and as soon as we got on stage then fans were already shouting. Also a lot of people came.
Freddy : Yes, I think when we tour in Northern America or Europe, the crowd there is crazy, they’re fantastic. But not from the beginning to the end. Some time they need to rest, like us, so we plan to have easier songs. But yesterday, nobody wanted some rest, they just stayed so highly energized. We have been to Japan so many times, not just for playing, but also to go to some other band shows, for example Slayer or Megadeth shows, and we got used to the fact that the Japanese fans are so polite. When we were at Slayer show, the front rows were really crazy, but people surrounding me were really calm and didn’t give a shit, they were just listening to Music. So I thought Japanese fans must be like that, but yesterday was totally different. I don’t know what happened, it was like a zoo (laughs). Non- stop body surfing !
Metalship : Are there other differences between Western and Eastern metal scenes and fans ?
Freddy : I think that in America, people enjoy music by their own, they have their own way to express their feelings, they don’t shout together. It’s a mass, everybody doing their own thing. But in Europe, they shout, hail together. For example in Germany you feel a united force. But yesterday was a kind of mix I think, with somebody getting crazy on their own, some other people shouting together.
Canada is like Europe, they shout together. In America you will some shoes in the air here, some legs there, hands in the air, glasses.
Doris : Yesterday the crowd kept circling.
Freddy : Yes, a friend who didn’t really know about metal culture said to me they kept running and circling, and doing exercise.
Metalship : What did the experience of the Ozzfest bring you ?
Doris : That was the first official North American tour, so that was quite new to us. We did some stupid things (laughs). It was a kind of big show, and as Freddy said the crowd was really crazy. Sometimes they were drunk, sometimes they took drugs. At that time we didn’t have that much experience to play in front of western people, and it was a 2-month tour while we played every day. So we got to know the habits of US and Canadian fans, how they will react. We also started to learn from the other bands we played with, how to improve our performance on stage. So that was a very good experience for us to learn and to enjoy.
Metalship : Lots of foreigner bands cancelled their shows in Japan, because of nuclear fear (related to the nuclear crisis in Fukushima after the giant earthquake). Not you ?
Doris : People still need to live, live their normal life. So of course we have to solve this problem and to help each other about the consequences of the earthquake or the nuclear problem. Everyone should work together to solve this problem. But still, other people should live their normal life, to keep everything as usual. So we didn’t that “oh, because there are lots of earthquakes we don’t want to play in Japan”. Especially as Taiwan is so close to Japan, we are in the same seismic zone, we have earthquakes and typhoons. And we also have nuclear plants, built on the sea side.
Freddy : as many as Japan, in percentage.
Doris : So we understand that this situation happens. And when the earthquake happened, we had our fans to donate to Japanese red cross. Then we keep watching and care about how things are going on, but we do our normal life as usual and hope people and the country will recover very soon.
Freddy : I think cancelling the show was never an option, so I really don’t understand why other bands cancelled. Sometimes even America is dangerous, you have terrorists. So many bands want to play in China right now, but the Chinese government is the biggest terrorist in the world. Yet they play there, they are not afraid of being arrested.
Metalship : Your last message to metalheads ?
In the next few months, we will tour in North America and in Europe, so come to our shows, get the new album Takasago Army, and you will have a new experience, discover a new world of metal !