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Meet Chthonic, Taiwan's premier metal act. Don't expect to see them in China anytime soon.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The first time Taiwanese metal band Chthonic toured America, audiences didn't exactly give them a warm welcome.
"They stood there with open mouths, and some shouted that they wanted to see the headline band instead," recalled bassist Doris Yeh, in an interview early this month.
But Chthonic would typically silence the hecklers with their first tight, bone-crunching number. "I don't think they were prepared for seeing a band from the Orient," said Yeh. "They were shocked by our outfits and songs."
Freddy Lim, lead vocalist of Chthonic.
Chthonic has played Taiwan since the mid-1990s, mixing an "extreme metal" sound, derived from Scandinavian bands, with Asian flavors and a strong pro-Taiwan political stance.
Now, the band is starting to win converts abroad, too. They're recently back from a second tour of the U.S. and Europe, which featured songs from their latest album, "Mirror of Retribution," slickly produced by Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano in English and Chinese versions.
Chthonic was named second best band in Terrorizer magazine's 2009 reader poll, after Behemoth. Chad Bowar, the heavy metal editor at About.com, said in an email that when it comes to the best-known Asian metal band on the scene now, it's now a "toss-up" between Chthonic and two Japanese acts, Sigh and Dir En Grey.
"Their look is definitely unique, with the makeup, and using traditional Taiwanese instruments like the erhu (a mournful string instrument) also sets them apart," said Bowar, explaining Chthonic's appeal. "Their political activities help keep them in the spotlight."
"The music is also very good, and without that the other things wouldn't matter."
Bassist Yeh's sex appeal can't hurt, either. She's posed for FHM Taiwan and, to judge by fan websites, has already inspired more than a few metalhead crushes. "She's like three or four fetishes rolled into one," quipped one fan at Chthonic's recent show in Taipei.
Yeh's on a roll: She was voted the second most popular bassist in the Terrorizer reader poll, made Revolver magazine's "Hottest Chicks in Metal" calendar and was featured as GQ Taiwan's "GQ girl" for this January.
In Taiwan, the band — especially 33-year-old songwriter and vocalist Freddy Lim — is well known for their outspoken politics. "Freddy," as he's known here, was a regular on political talk shows in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, and rallied youth support for the pro-independence party.