As I stood among the sea of sweaty tweens and aging Ozzy fans clutching their beer, all I could think of is how hot my organs had become. I was boiling in the heat of another midsummer metal festival with my brother by my side. We were both exhausted from the combination of heat, pounding amplifiers, and spending a good portion of our time punishing the emo kids in the moshpit. That day we had seen men and women both young and old passed over the throng like ships on an ocean of angst. We saw young men pummel one another only to stop and help each person up who fell and tend to their wounds with bandages, high fives, and bro-hugs. There was blood, sweat, tears, smiles, and a giant U.S. Vet who quite literally threw people through the air when they tried to mosh with him. But none of these sights prepared us for the moment we were about to witness.
The crowd, taking a much needed breather between sets, began to grow anxious as the crew started to set up the stage for the next act. They checked the drums, rap rap thud thud rap rap crash. Guitars rang out chords and notes according to scale as the techs tuned them into submission with a squeal and hum. Soon the microphones buzzed and filled the air above and around us “check check checka check one check one.” Two banners on stands moved to each side of the stage and a large black tapestry soon unfolded behind the drum kit with words in an Asian language that none of us could decipher with an odd English word printed in the middle; Chthonic.
What did that word mean? It wasn’t like any of the other black metal band names from Norway or the blasphemous group names of the Western metal world. There were no inverted crosses or anti Christian symbols nor were there any of the opposite symbolic references often made by the Christian metal acts in retaliation. It was nothing that we could comprehend. It was entirely foreign.
From behind the stage a small man in full black head to toe with leather and corpse paint emerged to check the equipment. He was obviously Asian and the crowd deduced that for themselves rather quickly. What was once an electric energy of anticipation became an anxiety of the unknown that lay before us on stage. Few of the audience members had heard of this group before today and even fewer had seen them. As the band slowly emerged to take their places on stage the apprehension and curiosity of the crowd became palpable. What were we about to see? What was it we were seeing in the first place? Can an Asian band even play heavy metal?
A strange instrument appeared in front of us. It looked like a giant gourd on a stick with a string and a silent and solitary man in black began to play it with a giant bow. I latter learned that this was called an erhu, a traditional Chinese fiddle with two strings. The build up was like a storm front moving in overhead ominously foreshadowing the coming chaos. And then it erupted. The sound was familiar but distant somehow like a loved one returning home after years away. Our metal had changed, but it was still alive.
The crowd was immediately blown away and took the chance to explode into a frenzied mosh-pit as a sign of respect to the band who had just blown their minds. My brother personally knocked out the tooth of a young man cutting his hand in the process. While my brother apologized the boy insisted that it “awesome” because he earned it and thanked my brother for knocking the snot out of him. That physical exchange of paradoxically peaceful violence made it official. The band had won over the crowd who would now gladly bleed for them.
Chthonic played a set that blistered hotter than the sun we were drenched in that morning. And they did it in full dress playing at lightning speed. The bass player was a young woman who looked almost phantasmal as she drove the songs’ undercurrent with determination. Jesse the guitarist had a mad look to him that gave him the quality of an animal as he gnashed his sharp false teeth while shredding through each song. Behind the massive drum kit, a masked man flailed like a demonic spider as he blasted thunderous percussive beats off into the air knocking us back to the beat. Their tribal rhythm possessed the crowd. His mask covered his mouth giving the impression that the drums must now speak for the unspeakable. The show was overwhelming to witness.
The songs were played with the usual precision of the masters of the extreme metal genre and were paced in a tempo typical of their lightning fast contemporaries. If mistakes were made, I certainly didn’t notice them. I was too caught up it the newness of what I was witnessing, enjoying myself in a way that other groups often hadn’t matched that day. After the set ended and the crowd cheered, I remember saying something to my brother along the lines of “DUDE. That was fuckin’ insane.” To which he said something close to “I know.” We had never witnessed anything like it before and he and I are known for having diverse tastes in music. Many of our friends consider us connoisseurs of all things musical, but we had no information in our mental database to handle the processing of such an aurally bombastic performance by such a visually intriguing group.
A Chthonic concert is an experience, an event you participate in for sure, but more-so something you witness. It is a well rounded carnivalesque rhetorical presentation that fills your person. That set at Ozzfest 2007 will never leave my memory. I have been a fan of their work since that day and I challenge any metal fan of the genre to watch them perform and not feel the same way. Their performance moves you on a deeper level than the typical act because there is nothing typical about them. I felt an energy that day that I can’t describe. If anything, I would have to say that it must have been the result of their performance stirring me internally as it attempted to emulate the feeling and energy of the Seediq spirit which they carried in the music of their set. Chthonic is a band that changes you. And I am forever grateful that they have changed me.