While there have been well-known rock/metal bands from Asia such as LOUDNESS and X JAPAN, as well as cult underground bands such as SABBAT, SIGH, and SAD LEGEND, no Asian band has taken the underground by storm quite like Taiwan’s CHTHONIC. With just three stateside releases, CHTHONIC has grown quickly to be the first Asian band to play Ozzfest, play on several high profile U.S. and European tours, and grace the pages of many a metal magazine.
The one characteristic that distinguishes CHTHONIC from virtually every other metal band is their dedication to promoting the independence of their country through social and political activism inside and outside the band. As we found out from our conversation with CHTHONIC bassist, model, and actress Doris, they are on a mission to not only raise awareness about the independence movement of Taiwan but to also dispell myths and educate fans about the rocky and complicated relationship between Taiwan and China.
APESHIT: How’s the tour going so far?
Doris: It’s hard to say because this is our second time to tour in North America. We toured for just two weeks and there are already a lot of things happened; like the day before yesterday, the band that share the bus with, BLEEDING THROUGH, they decided to leave the tour. That’s an unexpected situation that happened but not because of us. Now we try to find another van and trailer and start to find some crew like driver and merch guy. So for the last two days we are very tired and exhausted. But we got a lot of good reaction from fans. We play in Tulsa, and it’s a small town and it’s beautiful. The fans are crazy. We did a lot of great sales in merch than the other bands. I think we did a good job on tour but some unexpected things happened that make us very exhausted.
APESHIT: So is everything straightened out now?
Doris: Yes…we’ll see. [Laughs] After the show, we still have some things to deal with.
APESHIT: How has it been to tour with SATYRICON, these gods of Norwegian black metal? Have you guys gotten to know them at all?
Doris: We know them from many years ago. We know their music. We don’t know them as people. Their music is amazing. Because we don’t have too much time to hang out, and the tour just started, we’re not that familiar with them. I think they’re professional musicians on the stage.
APESHIT: Congrats on the new album, Mirror of Retribution! I think it’s your best album.
APESHIT: How do you guys feel about how it turned out?
Doris: It’s a long process for this album to come out. We are very happy that we found a great label, Spinefarm. They helped us a lot in promotion. We are very happy to find a great producer, Rob Caggiano from ANTHRAX. We learned a lot from him. He gives a lot of different elements in our music. You can hear that our new album is more straight and powerful than before. We are very satisfied with this album. So far the reaction is our best reaction.
APESHIT: How did you hook up with Rob?
Doris: He is a good friend of our manager. When we recorded our album in Denmark before but this time our manager thought we should try to introduce different sounds so he introduced us to his friend, Rob.
APESHIT: You guys recorded here in LA, right?
APESHIT: Was it cool to live in LA for a little bit?
Doris: Yes. LA is more interesting to record in than Denmark. [Laughs] Denmark is peaceful and beautiful and if you walk for 10 minutes you will see nobody, except for dog. We love the weather here because it’s sunny all the time. It’s very full of energy. So when we were recording, we were all very excited about recording everyday. I think the city give us more energy to produce this album.
APESHIT: The concept and the story about Mirror of Retribution is very interesting, especially if you are not Taiwanese. You get to learn about religion, history, and modern events coming together. Can you tell us quickly about the general story behind the album?
Doris: We try to describe and elaborate the philosophy of Oriental hell. There are 18 hells in Oriental hell philosophy. We found a real history in Taiwan that is called the “228 Massacre” that happened 60 years ago on February 28th. The Chinese army lost their civil war and they retreated to Taiwan and they stole all our property and killed a thousand people. It’s a tragedy at that time. We put the real history and philosophy of Oriental hell into a new story. We created a character. His name is Jiwan. He is a medium, a psychic of a temple. So when the Chinese army started to kill people in Taiwan and march to the center of Taiwan. When they invaded Taiwan, some people in Taiwan formed militias to fight back. But most of them were felled. Jiwan’s friend joined the central militia to fight the Chinese army but they felled. Jiwan wants to use his ability. He has the special ability to go through the earth and hell. So he wants to use his ability to go to through hell to steal the book of life and death. It’s a very important thing in Oriental hell philosophy. It’s the book where the Ghost King will write down the name of who he wants to die. Then the people will die. Jiwan wants to steal that book and write down the name of the tyrant of the Chinese army. So he went into hell and he saw many brutal and severe things in hell.
APESHIT: I think it’s a more complex concept than a typical metal album.
Doris: Yes. We spent a lot of time to put the real history and the Oriental philosophy into a new story.
APESHIT: One interesting dimension of the band is the fact that you mix mythology, history, and different cultures and languages of Taiwan. How did you guys shape this characteristic of the band?
Doris: Actually, we do everything very natural. We don’t define ourselves as a “black metal band” or a “folk metal band.” Basically, we think we are an “extreme metal band.” We’re not “black metal” because black metal has its origins in something like Satanism. With CHTHONIC, we use our history and culture. We just do what we want to do because some of the members are very interested in the history, political, and cultural issues. I’m good in mythology and he’s [Freddy (vocals)] good in politics so we create a new concept of the story and make it as an album. I think this characteristic is very unique than any other band. I think every band should do it like this [not be generic].
APESHIT: In extreme music, be it metal, punk, hardcore, rock, talk about what they don’t like about the government, society, or the economy. But few bands even do anything about it. Most bands just express themselves and that’s it. But you guys just don’t talk, you guys actually do things like put on concerts or meet the Dalai Lama. When and how did you guys get really involved in social and political things? Did it start at a young age?
Doris: Yeah, it started at the same time the band was started by Freddy [vocals] in 1996. At the time, he was very interested in history stuff, and he cares about political issues. After me and Jesse [guitars] joined the band in 2000, because my major in university was political science. When I joined the band, I started to listen to more heavy metal like extreme stuff like black metal and also I got into issues about society, the environment, human rights.
When we rehearse in Taiwan or when we get together, we talk about politics, history, a lot of things. We change our opinions when we all talk to each other, so it’s quite interesting for us to learn more about political issues. At the end of 1999, we started the concerts, “Anti-China Invasion,” “Say ‘Yes’ to Taiwan,” and we started to care about human rights in 2003. We put on a Tibetan freedom concert.
APESHIT: It’s interesting that most extreme metal bands are anti-government, anti-Christian, anti-life, anti-whatever. But you guys are more positive in that you’re trying to promote political and social issues and want to help Taiwan. I think that’s really different.
Doris: I think that most bands use the negative to express their emotions but we use the opposite to face the situation even though we have more tragedy and unfair matters in our country. We won’t just sit and watch those things happen. We’re going to try what we can do to change the country, the society.
APESHIT: Having studied a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese history, it’s safe to say that the Chinese government doesn’t like your message. [Laughs]
Doris: Yeah! [Laughs]
APESHIT: You probably can never go there.
Doris: Yes, we’ve already been blacklisted.
APESHIT: What’s your following in China like?
Doris: That’s very interesting. Actually, I think there are a lot of CHTHONIC fans in China. There are some [Chinese] patriots who are metal fans that go on forums and say, “Don’t like them. They are pro-[Taiwanese] independence.” Independence is something that not everyone can touch. In the past few years, we’ve found that young people in China can get on the internet more easily so they know about CHTHONIC. When are new video, “49 Theurgy Chains,” came out, the video came out on the Chinese version of youtube [youku.com]. Within seven days, over 100,000 views!
APESHIT: Wow! [Laughs]
Doris: [Laughs] That’s even faster than our reviews in Taiwan…60,000. Most of the comments below the video [on youku.com] were good. “So what if they’re pro-[Taiwanese] independence? Their music is good.” It’s very interesting to learn about the fans in China.
APESHIT: I don’t think most people in the U.S. or people around the world truly understand what life in China is like. You have the right to live your everyday life but you have no political or legal rights. And there is a very visible difference between the very rich, made up of members of the Communist Party, factory owners, etc., and the very poor.
Doris: There’s a band in China called “PUNK GOD.” They flew to Taiwan to play our concert, Say Yes to Taiwan. They were forbidden to return to China. They had to live in Sweden. They are from Central China. Their village is so poor. People cannot afford new clothes. That’s ridiculous!
All the things you see on TV about China show that people are really rich and it’s not true. Like you said, the gap between the rich and poor are getting bigger and bigger. There must be an uprising or a change in China sooner or later.
APESHIT: Given China’s growing economic power and political influence around the world, and if you go into any store in America, everything is made in China. The economic power of China is amazing. So given that, what do you think about the chances of Taiwan getting membership into the U.N. and Tibet gaining independence?
Doris: When we met the Dalai Lama in Taipei, Taiwan two months ago, we talked about this issue. He said, “Justice shall prevail.” This are the words are put on my tattoo over here [shows her new tattoo].
We don’t know when but the day will come some day. So who knows. Maybe the Chinese government will chancge some day…the percentage may be very small.
In Taiwan, the situation is getting more and more dangerous because now our new government who won the presidential election is pro-China. That made us very angry. They just tell people, “Our hope is in China. Our future is in China. We will develop ourselves to make a lot of money in that country.” But that’s not true. The truth is a lot of people lose money in China. They use the money they earned in Taiwan and spend it or lose it in China. So Taiwan’s economy is getting worse and worse because of this.
Factories are moved to China because of the lower salaries for the laborers. So Taiwan’s laborers lose their jobs. The [Taiwanese] government has been pro-China for the past 60 years. They always teach the people that they are “Chinese” and that their hometown is in China, and they hope for a reunion with China. So some people have been brainwashed.
APESHIT: CHTHONIC went on Ozzfest and were the first band from Asia on the tour, and the whole point of going on the tour was to promote Taiwan’s membership into the United Nations. How successful do you think you were in spreading that message to fans?
Doris: Actually, we were invited to join Ozzfest first. It was a chance to bring the sounds of Taiwan to the kids in America. We cooperated with the [pro-independence] Taiwanese government at that time. It is a dream of Taiwanese people for Taiwan to be able to join the U.N.
When were on stage, we should talk about Taiwan’s situation but not [for] long. People would be like, “What are you talking about?” Then they would start to search about it online, and start to find the history in Taiwan. More and more fans get to know the situation and I think that’s a good thing.
APESHIT: This band has come a long way from being just a band that’s known in Taiwan to being a band that people around the world know about. You guys have toured Europe and the U.S. numerous times now. What do you think is the reason for your success?
Doris: I don’t know. Maybe we’re workaholics. When we’re touring with BLEEDING THROUGH and other bands, we always say that we don’t like to hang out with other bands. We just want to hang out with our computers. [laughs]
We always work. I don’t know why we’re such workaholics. Maybe this is our destiny. We have a lot of things we want to accomplish. I don’t know if it’s called “success” for us up to now. I want more time to accomplish my idea of success.
APESHIT: When I was driving over here, I was listening to SEPULTURA and it got me thinking. They are from a third world country that not many people here even know about or think about. Once they got known here, people started learning that they were from Brazil and an album like Roots is very Brazilian.
You guys are very Taiwanese – the look, the lyrics, everything. You guys don’t make it a secret. I think you guys have a great opportunity to put Taiwan on the map in the minds of many fans. Most people here don’t know the difference between Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea, etc. It’s all the same shit to them. [Laughs]
I think a lot of Asian fans, particularly ones that live outside Asia, easily identify with you guys. Have you guys met a lot of Asian fans while on tour here?
Doris: Actually, I don’t think many Asian kids like metal music.
APESHIT: Yeah. [Laughs]
Doris: When we play at every venue, there are always some Taiwanese American fans. There are old guys, and elders. [laughs] We tell them that they can watch from the stage or else they’ll be crushed. [Laughs]
APESHIT: Are there any Taiwanese metal bands that we should look up and check out?
Doris: I think a band called ANTHELION. They are an amazing band. We’ve played together before several times. There’s another band called INFERNAL CHAOS. It’s a band with Jesse, our guitar player. It’s a metalcore band and it’s really good.
APESHIT: So is the metal scene is Taiwan starting to grow a lot?
Doris: Yeah, more and more. Ten years ago, there were probably only 20 or 30 metal bands in Taiwan. But now I think there are over 100. There are more and more metal bands coming out.
Check out pictures and a review from their show last October in Los Angeles: http://www.apeshit.org/live/chthonic-satyricon-the-key-club-hollywood-10809/