Black metal and two-number disasters

by October 3, 2010

Chthonic's Doris Yeh in a messy, apolitical mood

The genre of rock music known as “metal” has gone through some interesting evolutionary changes over the past forty years; the original “heavy metal” of Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest now sounding positively tuneful and, well, almost light in comparison to the more recent sub-genres of “death metal”, “thrash metal”, “extreme metal”, and “black metal” (I’ve been hoping for the appearance of “metal metal”, but no such luck yet).

In the “black metal” sub-genre thrives a Taiwanese band by the name of Chthonic, which is headed up by singer Doris Yeh (for those who find this detail important, Yeh was named one of Revolver magazine’s “Hottest Chicks in Metal” for 2010). As a band, they are interesting not just for their success but also for their political activism: last year Chthonic opposed the loan to Taipei’s zoo of a panda from China (pandas come from Tibet and are therefore not China’s to loan, the band argues) by handing out fliers to zoo visitors while dressed in Tibetan-flag-covered panda suits. And Chthonic’s latest album, “Mirror of Retribution”, is explicitly inspired by the most important date in modern Taiwanese history: “2.28“. Japanese magazine Metropolis profiles the band, its politics, and its relationship to that date:

I’m just as curious about the album’s lyrical messages as I am about its music. You see, in Taiwan, Chthonic is more than a band—it’s practically a political movement.

As we make our way out of the station in the gloomy weather, Yeh describes the concept behind the dark-themed album. “Chthonic’s music is always talking about mythology and history in East Asia, and we use many elements from Taiwan’s past,” she says. For Mirror of Retribution (produced by Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano), the group was inspired by the so-called 2.28 Massacre, when Chiang Kai-shek slaughtered tens of thousands of Taiwanese after being routed by Mao Tse-tung’s forces on the mainland in 1947.

“There are 18 layers of hell, and after you die, you will go to the first layer,” she says. “That’s called the ‘Mirror of Retribution.’ It’s a mirror that will show you what you have done in your life.” As Yeh talks, I can’t help but wonder what Chiang saw when he looked into it.