Chthonic Comes to America
By Dave Schwartz
This business, the music business that is, has a way
of jading a person. Itís always, "Go Big or Go Home." The mega-spectacle that
is created on a Monday better be surpassed by Tuesday or youíre in danger of
being left behind. So naturally when an honest to goodness, true musical
anomaly comes marching past your desk with little or no fanfare; no pomp and
circumstance or baton twirlers, you almost donít even notice. Well, almost.
Chthonic is a death metal band from Taiwan. For most Americans, that simple
sentence has little meaning beyond the literal definitions of the eight words
that comprise the statement. Jumbled together it means that they are a death
metal band from Taiwan. But the sentence fails to inform the casual reader
that there are no death metal bands in Taiwan. Well, OK, there werenít any.
They are a musical anomaly something akin to a T-Rex driving a pink Ď57 Caddy
backwards through a stoplight. Unless you live in Hollywood, you just donít
see something like this everyday.
So when I was given the chance to raise my hand and ask, "Just where in the
hell did you guys come from?" I leapt at the assignment. OK, itís time for me
to come clean. Iím not so smart. I had inside info as to just how unusual
Chthonic truly is. You see, a few years back I spent three months in Taiwan.
Three months bombarded by every form of pop artist you can think of-- pop
punk, power pop, pop goes the weasel! Admittedly I grew sick of the sugary
sweet diet of aural poison way to quickly and just turned off the radio. I
never gave the music the chance to get me deep-down-to-the-bone sick of the
genre. Perhaps my impatience is indefensible, yet I wouldnít have changed a
So apart from monologuing too long, where was I? Ahh yes, the T-Rex in the
CaddyÖ Chthonic is five-parts musician, one-part Greek moniker paying tribute
to mother earth and one-part fucking death metal band from Taiwan! Have I
beaten that into your skull yet?
Recently I climbed aboard Chthonicís tour RV during Ozzfest and hung with
vocalist Freddy Lim. Before I go on-- yes, I did say touring RV, not bus. That
is the economics of coming to America. Itís not about ego and rarely about
comfort. Itís all about strapping your guitar on and kicking some fucking ass.
Period. If they donít, then you wonít. And when I say wonít, I mean buy their
I sat in the front of the RV with Lim. He was soft spoken and kind. For the
sake of documentation I asked him to say his name into my recorder. "I am
Freddy," he replied with a smile. In the background several other members of
the band were manning the stove and cooking up a wicked stir-fry.
I began by asking the obvious, Just where in the hell did you guys come
"Yes, everything in Taiwan is pop music," Lim acknowledged with another
smile. "We just play what we like. Iíve liked this kind of music since I was
in high school. I donít want to play anything that I donít like. If I had to
play music I didnít like I would rather be an accountant or doctor."
I think that is a sentiment that most musicians would echo. Still, some
bands would pull a Robert Johnson and sell their souls to get a deal. Go
I confessed to Lim that, prior to the interview, I didnít have much time to
review Chthonicís music. This interview was offered to me on very short
notice. So perhaps the best listen Iíve had to the music was while they were
on stage. I have to admit that I was very impressed. They really got the
Ozzfest crowd moving. And I enjoyed the addition of the Erhu, a traditional
Chinese form of violin or two-string fiddle. Chthonic has found a way to make
traditional and contemporary instruments work well together. I asked if it was
difficult to incorporate the Erhu into death metal.
"It was not difficult for me but it is difficult playing live," Lim
confessed. "Recording was OK, but this instrument was not designed for this
style of music. We have to play it louder than it was meant to be and on stage
that causes feedback. We tried dozens of microphones, regular microphones and
wireless. We tried an awful lot of gear until we finally found the right way.
Now it finally works good! I think it took us more than five years."
I asked about the early days of Chthonic and Lim was quite candid about the
struggle they endured to find a promoter who would book them.
"In the beginning, some nights we had three fans, some nights ten. It was
really hard to find a venue that would promote us. So we decided to do it our
own way. I believe in metal, especially metal that deals with mythology and
tells stories with deep meanings and I wanted people to enjoy this type of
music," Lim explained.
Lim knew that he wouldnít have much of a music scene in Taipei to help
develop his interests in death metal. So he searched abroad until he found a
thriving Scandinavian scene. He not only listened, but also researched and
analyzed his favorite genre of music. He fell in love with the conceptual
storytelling, as he recognized that the mythological epics were akin to that
of his own culture. From there it was only a small leap to where Chthonic is
today. The results speak for themselves-- before embarking on Chthonicís first
United States tour they headlined several stadium-sized music festivals.
Lim writes songs which encompass Chinese mythology as well as express his
political viewpoints. Lim is notably active in the Taiwan political scene and
stands for negations, Taiwanese independence and is against China's constant
threats of using military force to conquer Taiwan. Earlier this year, he and
other artists organized an international music festival to commemorate the
60th anniversary of the 228 Incident, entitled "Spirit of Taiwan: With justice
we cure this nation." The 228 Incident was a 1947 Taiwanese uprising that was
suppressed by the government resulting in the loss of more than 10,000 lives.
With this U.S. tour, Lim hopes to bring attention to his homeland's struggle
to be recognized as an independent nation.
I asked Lim what the differences were between touring in America and Asia.
Lim grins, "We enjoy playing in America a lot. Itís amazing because, like
the show we just played in Devore, California. There were some female fans who
showed their titties! Iím not trying to say that I like titties, itís just
that itís not like that in Taiwan! We tour Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and no fans
do things like that! So we are getting used to the fans banging their heads
and some of the fans stand in the back of the crowd and stare at you to
analyze your technique. So the crowds are really different between America and
Asia. We enjoy this crowd very much."
After this tour, Chthonic boards the plane for the long flight home.
Waiting for them are 10 shows and a little rest before heading out for a
European tour in November and December. Europe promises to be another
adventure for the band, as they havenít toured there before either. After the
New Year, Chthonic plans to return to the recording studio and begin work on
their next record.
With that, our time together was quickly coming to an end. The stir-fry was
done and there was a hungry band waiting to eat. I asked Lim if he had any
"I hope all the fans that enjoy our music can pay more attention to our
nation, Taiwan. This is why I write this kind of music," Lim explained. "And
we hope they pay attention to Asian metal bands. There are more and more Asian
metal bands. They are worth your interest."
I want to thank Freddy Lim and the rest of Chthonic for taking time out of
their busy lives and granting this interview. Check them out on the remaining
dates of the Ozzfest tour and at several headline dates across the nation. And
donít forget to checkout their Web site at