Review: Galactic Empire (self-titled)

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As a concept, Galactic Empire could’ve gone wrong on a number of levels.

Metal and classical music have a lot in common, but that doesn’t mean the two genres mix easily. So called “metal opera” often sounds cheesy, and the metal versions of Mozart, Holst and others I’ve heard were not particularly impressive. It seems classical music often doesn’t translate well to metal — or, perhaps, the classical-metal crossovers I’ve heard were simply performed by musicians that weren’t up to the challenge.

So I was a little leery when I ran across Galactic Empire, a band that translates John Williams’ scores from the “Star Wars” movies to metal. Let’s face it, “Star Wars” also hasn’t fared well musically outside the classical realm. Do you remember the “Star Wars” disco medley? Or have you just tried desperately to forget it? I know I’ve tried because, frankly, disco sucks.

So what a relief it is to say Galactic Empire does Williams and the “Star Wars” scores right. It also manages to rock quite hard, with some pretty stellar muscianship.

The musicianship is strong because, frankly, it has to be — Williams’ “Star Wars” scores are hard, and would challenge the chops of any musician. Galactic Empire rises to Williams’ musical challenge.

The band (Boba Sett, Dark Vader, Shadow Ranger, Red Guard and Bass Commander, on drums, three guitars and bass, respectively) have done their home work with Williams scores. The band does an excellent job of recreating “The Imperial March” “The Asteroid Field,” “Across the Stars” and other themes from the first six “Star Wars” movies in a way that’s interesting yet faithful to the original music. That’s no small feat — Williams’s scores are full of undercurrents of melody, to the the band can often be heard performing three melodies at once.

Since the music was created for the films, the songs are already heavy on dramatic moments and opportunities to be heavy. In terms of “shred (and who doesn’t like shred?) the band members take those scores and run with them — there’s already a lot of shredding built into the music, and each band member has multiple opportunities to shine (drummer Boba Sett in particular continues to amaze me, so kudos to him).

 

Now, it would be easy for the Metal Police or the “trver than thou” to laugh off Galactic Empire as a joke, and say that sc-fi music performed by a band in full costume is not “serious” metal. But that attitude would be silly, and you don’t have to be a “Star Wars” fan to enjoy the wild musical ride here. Hell, Take “Star Wars” completely out of the picture, and what you have is fantastic, intricate instrumental music, played by a band in top form.

So if you’re thinking that you’re too cool for this, you seriously need to lighten up. This is fun, high energy metal. And we allow fun in metal (it doesn’t have to be all nuclear war, catastrophe and evil, you know). This is an album that deserves being checked out.

Review: Body Count, “Bloodlust”

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What do you do with an otherwise great album you don’t enjoy?

Rapper/actor/metal frontman Ice-T and Body Count released their first album in the early 1990s, and despite the “Cop Killer” controversy, the album was pretty wacky, in a Cannibal Corpse house of horrors sort of way. Sure, it had some serious moments (the title track and interlude “A Statistic” stand out in my mind). But songs like “Evil Dick,” “Voodoo,” “There Goes The Neighborhood,” “Momma’s Gotta Die Tonight” and “KKK Bitch” were crazy metal larks. That album contained quite a lot of very dark humor, set to some pretty serious thrash. I can’t say Ice-T invented rap-metal, but he’d certainly perfected it by that point. Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit didn’t add anything to that mix.

Body Count didn’t go away after the first self-titled album, the band released at least one other full-length disc, “Born Dead,” which apparently went nowhere commercially. But it’s clear Ice-T and Body Count are experiencing a resurgence this year, with the release of “Bloodlust,” which very well might be the angriest album we’ll hear in 2017. Anyway, I hope it’s the angriest — if there’s anything more brutal than “Bloodlust” coming this year, I don’t know if I wanna hear it.

Do I have to tell you these songs are extremely explicit? Fair warning.

In terms of timing, Ice-T is certainly striking at the right cultural moment. The Ferguson, Missouri demonstrations and riots, the death of Eric Garner by NYC cops, the execution-style shooting death of Walter Scott by a North Charleston, S.C. police officer , the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, in 2012 by a vigilante and other incidents have brought the issues of racism and violence against African-Americans, predominately black men, into sharp national focus. Throw in the 2016 presidential election, where the current occupant of the White House ran on a campaign of catering to the nationalist, racist “alt right,” and obviously it’s a time to give the topic of racism and violence in America a hard look.

With that, tracks like “No Lives Matter,” “Civil War” and “Black Hoodie,” are definitely timely and touch a cultural nerve. Songs like “No Lives Matter” and “Black Hoodie” pull no punches into their scathing indictment of how America disregards black men, harassing, arresting, incarcerating or simply killing them. Is there any doubt that happens? Look at the prison statistics, which show that African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than whites (you can find that study here).

So yes, I I know everything Ice-T and Body Count are saying in the political tracks on “Bloodlust” is absolutely true. Further, as a reporter who covers crime daily, I know there’s a certain element of truth to “The Ski Mask Way” (a brutal track told from the perspective people who rob drug dealers and anyone living large and ostentatiously — “flash cash, we might come to visit you/nice furs, we might come to visit you/sell drugs, we might come to visit you/brag a lot, we might come to visit you/pray to god we don’t come to visit you”).

Crazy as it might be for most people to believe, there’s also quite a lot of truth in “This is Why We Ride,” a song about getting revenge after street shootings and attacks. Not to portray myself as an expert, but it’s not at all uncommon for people to report robberies and assaults, to only later tell the cops to forget it — and that they’ll take care of the situation themselves. I wouldn’t say I hear stories like that weekly covering the police beat, but I’ve heard those stories often enough to not be shocked by them.

The album is not all political beginning to end — the band does a very strong cover of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and a decent cover of “Postmortem,” “Here I Go Again” is a serial killer horror tale with a bit of a surprise ending, and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe joins Ice-T for the strong “Walk With Me” (Dave Mustaine appears on “Civil War” and Max Cavalera does a cameo on “All Love Is Lost”, but Blythe is the most memorable guest star, IMO).

Musically, “Bloodlust” is about as solid as you like, Ice-T is a compelling vocalist and best songs are driving and full of energy. But oh my god, this album is a hard listen. I think there’s a lot here to respect, but I gotta tell you the truth — listening to “Bloodlust” stresses me the hell out.

Metal has always been confrontational, angry and willing to embrace hard truths. This music isn’t supposed to be “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is it? No, it’s not. So, again, I can respect what Body Count is doing on “Bloodlust,” and I’d even go so say as to say as Ice-T’s perspective on racism and violence is important, and ought to be heard.

And I’ve heard it. I just don’t think I wanna hear it again. Is this a negative review, then? I don’t know. Maybe you just gotta hear it for yourself.

 

Essential Albums: Bruce Dickinson, “The Chemical Wedding”

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After 1988, Iron Maiden took a creative nose dive.

Perhaps the years of extended touring took a toll on the band. Or, perhaps, after the classic 1988 album, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” the band’s well had run temporarily dry. Perhaps the band members were just sick of each other and needed a break.

Whatever the reason, “No Prayer for the Dying” and “Fear of the Dark” were very much hit-and-miss albums. It’s also true that, around 1989, the metal scene began changing dramatically; compared to metal albums like Soundgarden’s “Louder Than Love,” Pantera’s “Vulgar Display of Power,” and Alice in Chain’s “Facelift,” those post “Seventh Son” Iron Maiden albums sounded like an unwelcome time capsule from 1982. Although the song “Fear of the Dark” is a classic, the majority of the early 1990s Maiden output is uninspiring. When guitarist Adrian Smith left during work on “No Prayer” and frontman Bruce Dickinson departed after “Fear of the Dark,” it seemed like the band’s time in the sun was over.

In Jeff Wagner’s biography on progressive metal, Mean Deviation, Dickinson says he was frustrated by Maiden’s desire to stay on the well-trod NWOBHM path. Shortly before and then after leaving Maiden, Dickinson’s made several well-received solo albums — “Tattooed Millionaire,” “Balls to Picasso,” “Skunkworks” and “Accident of Birth” — which certainly had some shades of Maiden, while showing Dickinson wasn’t afraid to go his own way.

All of those albums have high points and bright moments, but Dickinson’s solo masterpiece was 1998’s “The Chemical Wedding.”

Darker and heavier than anything Dickinson had done with Maiden, “The Chemical Wedding” paired Dickinson with guitarist/producer Roy Z, Adrian Smith on second guitar and the searing rhythm section of Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums). Dickinson and Z co-wrote the album (with a couple assists from others in the band), and the two had a musical connection that really shines here. The album was far better than anything Maiden had done without Dickinson in the 1990s, and can stand toe-to-toe with Maiden’s best work in the 1980s. It’s an album that shouldn’t be missed.

“The King in Crimson” opens the album with a downtuned, minor-key roar that is more Black Sabbath than Iron Maiden. But even the Sabbath reference lasts only for the first 30 seconds, before kicking into a driving rhythm. Dickinson spits out the lyrics with venom in his voice, and solos are hard-hitting. It makes for a compelling start.

A word about the solos. Anyone familiar with Maiden will recognize Smith’s guitar style, which fits well here. Roy Z’s style is very different — Z often hits with a blizzard of notes in his solos. It’s not the Smith/Dave Murray combination familiar to Maiden fans, but it works. Smith and Z also shine while playing in unison, like on the solo for “The Tower.”

“Chemical Wedding” is one of the standout tracks on the album — it’s big, grand, operatic and pounding, with a superb performance by Dickinson. “The Tower” also impresses, with a sinewy guitar line, a pulse-pounding rhythm and another one of those great Dickinson choruses he nails so often on the album.

“Killing Floor” is not at all bad, but not quite up to the power of the first tracks. But all memory of “Killing Floor” is wiped away immediately by the rage of “Book of Thel,” which displays Dickinson at the angriest he’s ever sounded in his career. It’s a stunning, blazing roar, one hundred times darker than anything Maiden achieved on “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (the darkest of the band’s ’80s albums). Midway through, the tempo shifts upward for a pair of fiery solos, particularly by Roy Z. Somehow, the band manages to wind the tempest down to a piano coda and a bit of poetry.

“Gates of Urizen” is slower in tempo (but not quite a ballad), that nicely showcases Dickinson’s ability to sing softly when he wants (although he does soar on the choruses). It’s a solid track, but it gets eclipsed by “Jerusalem,” a reworking of a classic English song that gives Dickinson a chance to indulge his inner Medieval bard. I suppose it jars a bit, compared to the angry outbursts of “King in Crimson,” “Killing Floor” and “Book of Thel.” But, it’s a great work, lovely, even. The twin guitars of Smith and Z also shine again.

“Trumpets of Jericho” is a rousing blast of anger and angst, with one of Dickinson’s best vocal performances on the album. It’s a fast, dirty, heavy track, with quite a lot of power. It’s a powerhouse, the first of a powerhouse triple-play that ends the disc.

While comparisons to previous Maiden songs are easy (and lazy), “Machine Men” is another examination of the themes of “Two Minutes of Midnight” — but it’s sung from a place of such hate that it’s mind-blowing. “Turn the lights down in your soul/Cut the power to your heart,” Dickinson bites out, with a bile so fierce Dickinson sounds ready to kill. It’s chilling and hair-raising. Which, of course, makes it a standout.

“The Alchemist” closes the album on a somber note. It’s musically a bit more subdued than what came immediately before, but Dickinson’s operatic delivery is stellar. It’s perhaps the most Maidenesque song on the album (this song would have fit well on “Seventh Son,” and would’ve closed that disc better than “Only The Good Die Young”). In a nice bit of symmetry, Dickinson circles back to “Chemical Wedding” to close out the song.

I spend too much time debating whether certain albums or bands are “progressive” or not, but I think a good argument can be made that Dickinson really stretched his creative wings on “The Chemical Wedding.” It’s bold in it’s dark moments, while also containing a beauty on songs like “Jerusalem” that likely would have been ruled out place on a Maiden album. Dickinson’s skills as a songwriter are really on display here. After the power of “The Chemical Wedding,” Dickinson was able to rejoin Maiden not as a man needing a career boost (since he was actually in a stronger position than Maiden at the time, I’d say), but as a songwriter and performer at the absolute top of his game.

As a postscript, I’d  say the influence of “The Chemical Wedding” has been felt on some of Maiden’s 21st Century work. Maiden’s disturbing and powerful “A Matter of Life and Death” has a “Chemical Wedding” vibe particularly on tracks like “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and “For The Greater Good of God.”

I don’t know if every Maiden fan will love it, because it’s way darker (there’s that word again) and bleaker than the traditional Maiden album. But listeners wanting to hear one the best vocalists in metal (if not the best vocalist in metal) grapple with a titanic metal monster, and win, should track down “The Chemical Wedding.” I don’t get the feeling it did much business in the U.S., which is too bad. It’s an album that deserves to be heard.

Review: Be’Lakor, “Vessels” (2016)

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Australia’s Be’Lakor does not make great party music. That’s actually a compliment.

Now, I have nothing at all against party music — I have enough classic AC/DC and Aerosmith albums that fall into that category — but, generally, I like music that has a bit more heft to it. I like a song that draws my attention away from whatever I’m doing and forces me to listen.

Be’Lakor have been making music that demands concentration for years, but here in the States, they’ve been an under-the-radar band. Although the band’s excellent 2012 release “Of Breath and Bone” received a rave review from Blabbermouth.net, I’m not sure the album generated much U.S. interest, and the band has never toured the States. When people here think of Australian metal, the names that mostly come to mind are AC/DC — and to a much lesser extent, Portal and Sanzu.

Which is too bad, because Be’Lakor’s latest release “Vessels,” is a great album, full of atmosphere, intricate melodies and power. It’s heavy enough to be death metal, but melodic enough to not grate against my nerves like grind (sorry, grind fans). The band blends both exceeding heaviness with melody and the occasional acoustic interlude in a very appealing way.

I find myself wanting to write, “Be’Lakor make the best Opeth albums Opeth never made,” but that’s neither fair nor accurate. Yes, there are similarities between “Vessels” and older Opeth classics (particularly “My Arms, Your Hearse”), but Be’Lakor are not an Opeth clone. The band is making dark, melodic death metal, sure — but with their own style. Be’Lakor sound like Be’Lakor. They’re performing in the same arena as Opeth, but they’re not attempting to walk in Opeth’s shoes.

With the exception of the 90-second intro, “Luma,” and the three-minute interlude “A Thread Dissolves,” the tracks on “Vessels” are long. The shortest, “Grasping Light,” is just under seven minutes, and “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many Fires” all break the nine-minute mark.

A lot of bands write songs that are long, but the songs are “Vessels” are not lengthy for the sake of length. Instead, the songs are stuffed full of ideas, that are woven together with surprising seamlessness. So many parts shouldn’t fit together so well, but here they do.

The songs seem to rush at moments, before dwindling to soft acoustic spaces. Yes, patience is required, but the band is not deliberately taxing your patience or wasting your time. The tracks are journeys, and the trip is as important as the destination. As someone once told me about a Dimmu Borgir album (which I admittedly didn’t grasp, and still don’t particularly like), “you just have to breathe the songs in.” With “Vessels,” the breathing works.

There’s not a bad track on”Vessels,” although a few stand above the rest — particularly “An Ember’s Arc,” “Whelm,” “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many fires.”

With the band making the move from indie labels to the slightly larger and better financed Napalm Records, I hope Be’Lakor will be able to find a larger following. I hope so. While they’re certainly building on the melodic death metal template, Be’Lakor are strikingly original, and there are mind-blowing moments on almost every track of “Vessels.” There’s definitely an audience for this kind of music — if only the audience can find it.

Highly recommended.

Here’s one you missed: The Great Old Ones “Al Azif”

Today, I’ll be starting a new (hopefully regular) column, where I’ll highlight obscure, underground or just plain weird albums that probably haven’t received the serious listen they deserve. I want to get this new feature off right, so let’s talk about a recent indie weirdie from recent years, 2012’s “Al Azif” by France’s blackened death metal outsiders, The Great Old Ones.

Early 20th Century pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft has gone from fringe figure to being a major influence in literature, art, film and music. He died in obscurity, but, today, stories like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Shadow Out of Time” are considered horror classics — and many of his stories have been turned into feature films.

Now, Lovecraft’s work has popped up on music before — the two most obvious examples are Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “The Call of Ktulu” of course, but Australia’s Portal also seems to have a strong Lovecraft connection. Other bands drop references here and there, and non-signed guitarist Brett Miller released an instrumental album last year entirely of Lovecratian-inspired material.

But The Great Old Ones might be the only signed band for whom Lovecraft’s universe of unimaginable, sanity-ripping monster deities inspire every single one of their songs. The band’s excellent “Tekeli-Li” was a concept album based on the novella “At The Mountains of Madness,” and some special orders of the disc even shipped with a copy of the story.

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“Al Azif,” which came before, is not a concept album exactly, but it each song is based on a Lovecraft story, such as “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” But anyone can take a song and stick a Lovecraft title on it — more than one artist has tried. It’s a lot tougher to craft a song that actually sounds like a Lovecraft story should sound, in all his unimaginable, chaotic, cosmic horror.

I wouldn’t call the Great Old Ones “black metal,” but the band uses some of the conventions of black metal throughout “Al Azif.” But there’s more melody here than in, say, your traditional Mayhem or Emperor classic, and the songs often switch from black metal to melodic passages more reminiscent of Opeth than  Burzum.

The songs, for lack of a better term, sound vast. The band is not interested — and does not attempt — to shred. No one band member stands out, and even the vocals blend into the mix instead of taking center stage. The melodies are big — yet also off-kilter and off-key.  There’s certainly a beauty here, particularly on songs like “Visions of R’lyeh” and the  “Rue D’auseil,”but it’s an odd beauty, like green clouds in a maelstrom. The album has the feeling of being wind swept, or ocean tossed.

 

Since the band is so devoted to themes and concepts of Lovecraft, it’s fair to ask: Can people not familiar with Lovecraft’s work find value in “Al Azif?” I can’t answer for certain — I ran into Lovecraft’s work when I was 14 and have been a fan of what is generally called “The Cthulhu Mythos” ever since.

(Side Note: Yes, I’m familiar with Lovecraft’s racism — how could I not be, considering some of the more shocking descriptions of African-Americans and other racial groups, particularly in stories like “Herbert West: Re-Animator”? I’d say people can still find value in Lovecraft, while certainly acknowledging and being distressed by his examples of racism. I’d also say you can find an excellent rebuttal or reexamination of Lovecraft’s racial views in Victor LaValle’s recent novella, “The Ballad of Black Tom,” which revisits Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” through the perspective of a African-American musician/hustler who gets caught up in the chaos of the original story).

But I digress. I think overall, a person doesn’t have to appreciate Lovecraft works, or even know them, to enjoy the atmospherics and the bludgeoning metal — of “Al Azif.” The album stands solidly on its own — it’s dark and doomy, with a hint of the progressive and more than a bit of groove. It has a heavy vibe that I enjoy, whether I’m reading “The Colour Out of Space” for the 20th time, or washing my car. (Who am I kidding? I never wash my car…)

The band signed to Season of Mist earlier this year, and were scheduled to begin recording their third album in May. I’m looking foward to hearing where the band goes next.

Review: Ahab, “The Giant”

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Doom metal isn’t the most innovative genre. I admit I have not immersed myself in the genre as I have in other styles of metal, but I’ve heard enough funeral dirge metal to know I’d mostly rather get doom from the original masters — Black Sabbath.

The one exception to my “no new doom” rule, however, is Germany’s Ahab. Ever since the band’s first release — the suffocating yet oddly beautiful “The Call of the Wretched Sea” — I have been a fan and have always eagerly await news of new Ahab albums.

The band’s 2012 release, “The Giant,” is not a disappointment. In fact, “The Giant” is a great leap forward for Ahab, as the band moves away from their already-hybridized version of “doom” and more into progressive metal. Not every fan will like the band’s musical direction — but if fans look back on the band’s previous two albums, “The Call of the Wretched Sea” and “The Divinity of Oceans,” it should be clear that “The Giant” was Ahab’s next logical step.

Like album’s past, “The Giant” is a concept album, this time based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” But you don’t need to know your Poe to enjoy “The Giant.”

Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Droste still employs his dead-man’s sludge-filled grunt throughout the album — but Droste sings much of the album with “clean vocals.” Now, singing clean isn’t new to the band; there were moments of clean vocals in “The Divinity of Oceans,” and what I’d guess you call “clean chanting” on songs like “The Sermon” and “The Hunt” from “Call of the Wretched Sea.” But Droste does something new here, singing almost entire songs (“Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and “Time’s Like Molten Lead”) entirely with clean voice.

Droste’s “regular” voice isn’t Bruce Dickinson’s, to be sure — but the vocals fit the melancholy feel of the disc. How much the “clean” vocals bother you will like depend on how much of death metal purist you are — certainly, some older bands of the band have not loved the new style. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of clean and doom vocals gives the band a much broader musical range and depth.

Speaking of “depth,” Ahab has always been about the impossibly heavy depths of the sea (all three concept albums are based on sea epics or history of shipwrecks). While the vocals are often clearer, there has been so softening musically; the beautiful parts are steeped in sadness, or are eerie and full of foreboding — while the metal still crashes down and obliterates. A prime example is “Fathoms Deep,” a deceptively lulling song for the first few minutes, until the doom crashes in like a tidal wave and overwhelms everything in its path.

There are a lot of standout tracks here — almost everything works, really, although “Antarctica the Polymorphess” is not quite as interesting as everything that comes before and after. While all the rest are great, my personal faves are “Further South,” Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and the brilliant “Time’s Like Molten Lead” — which, I’ve read, is actually a bonus track.

Ahab continues to grow on “The Giant” and is moving in directions I can’t quite predict. While I love the band’s doom metal approach, it’s good to see the band member’s setting sail for different musical shores. I’ll be looking forward to their next musical voyage. Who knows where they’ll go?

Review: Chthonic: “Takasago Army”

The problem with the age of buying albums online is that we’ve lost the joy of browsing the record store.

To buy an album online, of course, you have to know exactly what you want. While record labels and zines do everything they can to publicize bands, only a small percentage of the bands are likely to get through your filter.

That wasn’t true back when we had record stores; in those halcyon days, I would spend a good hour or two just browsing through the aisles, checking out album covers, reading lyrics and song titles and bugging the clerks for info about particularly interesting bands. Part of the fun was taking home an album by a completely unknown (to me) band — yes, I got some stinkers that way, but I also ended up with great albums by bands like Type O Negative, Megadeth, Manowar and The Dead Milkmen.

I had a new “hoooley shee-it” moment recently, when I stumbled across the new Chthonic album, “Takasago Army” at record store in a nearby city. While I think I had heard of Chthonic before, I knew absolutely nothing about them … so my ears perked up and my eyes popped out when the Taiwan-based band hit me with an original blend of traditional Taiwanese melodies and instrumentation and roaring symphonic black metal.

A concept album based on Taiwanese history, “Takasako Army” is a blistering disc and surprises again and again with the inclusion of Chinese and Taiwanese melodies.

I’m not talking about just samples here and there, either; the music of Taiwan is inextricably woven into the songs. Metal is a western creation — but Chthonic doesn’t attempt to imitate western metal. Instead, they make the genre their own. To the uninitiated, it’s an incredibly refreshing.

But, thankfully, injecting Taiwanese culture into the music doesn’t stop Chthonic from being incredibly heavy. With the exception of two brief instrumentals, “Takasago Army” roars from beginning to end.

“Takasago Army” tells the story of Taiwanese aboriginals who were recruited to fight for Japan during World War II. After the war, the men returned home, only to be recruited again when Chinese nationalists invaded Taiwan after the nationalists lost the Chinese civil war. The Taiwanese defenders lost the battle — thereby losing any chance the island nation had for independence after the defeat of Japan.

You don’t have to know all of that to appreciate “Takasago Army,” however. This is symphonic black metal — and the Taiwanese musical references make this as innovative and surprising as Emperor must have been when they first burst onto the Norwegian metal scene in the early 1990s.

Fans of black metal — and metal fans tired of the countless bands that seem to be working overtime to sound as generic as possible — will find much to enjoy here. “Takasago Army” is highly recommended.