Written By: Happy Metal Guy!

Crescent Lament_Elegy for the Blossoms2Geisha metal could very well be a legitimate label in future, if Elegy for the Blossoms gains more exposure to the international metal community. As the second full-length studio album by indie Taiwanese symphonic gothic metal band Crescent Lament, this record successfully captures the helplessness felt by Taiwanese women of convenience who had little to no choice but to walk the geisha’s path.

The protagonist of this conceptual album is Taiwanese geisha A-hiong, a fictional character who—like actual Taiwanese geishas who lived in Taiwan when it was still under Japanese rule—has no control over her fate, mainly due to gender inequality and the life-disrupting consequences of World War II. Let’s back up here a bit: Isn’t “geisha” a Japanese term, you ask? Yes, it refers to Japanese female social escorts who can typically dance, sing, and provide sexual services to paying men. But because Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule for half a century (from 1895 to 1945), there was obviously Japanese demand for local women of convenience during those days, which inevitably resulted in the grooming of local Taiwanese women in the ways of the geisha – hence the Taiwanese geisha.

Lyrically speaking, Elegy for the Blossoms is essentially a soap opera with WWII as the socio-political backdrop framing the ups and downs of A-hiong’s love story (prefaced as a brief biography in the lyrics booklet). That love story, by the way, is Class A cheesiness: helpless woman meets possibly helpful man. Both fall in love before the war. Man goes to Japan for business during the war, promising to marry woman when he returns. Man gets stuck in Japan due to war stuff; does not return to Taiwan as promised. Woman cannot wait forever; gets into arranged marriage to some rich bloke. Man returns on eve of woman’s arranged marriage, explaining his lateness. Woman does not forgive him and clichéd cries of “it’s too late  let’s marry in the next life” ensue. If it were the narrative of some Asian TV drama today, it would be the equivalent of cheesy power metal. But when used as the narrative of an Asian conceptual metal album prominently featuring Chinese folk musical instruments, it becomes memorable. The result: a quasi-audiobook in which the sappy love story unfolds to befittingly melancholic music. By the time the tenth track and final chapter rolls around, A-hiong’s yearning for her MIA lover has morphed into fatalistic resignation, which is perhaps a stark reminder of how platitudes often fall flat in the face of brute reality.

Crescent Lament_2015

Aurally speaking, Elegy for the Blossoms is a despondent tapestry woven from the threads of a female soprano, harsh male vocals, electric guitar, drums, a piano/synths, an erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle), and a pipa (Chinese four-stringed lute). The latter two instruments conjure an oriental atmosphere conducive to imagining one to be sipping freshly brewed green tea under a cloudless night sky, staring at the full moon (“Lullaby of Sanctuary” and “A Mental Escape” are two examples). The erhu (played by Jedi Yeh), in particular, features prominently on almost every track, having more solos than the electric guitar. Hence, you could say the electric guitar… wait for it… plays second fiddle to the erhu [Don’t quit your day job, kid.Steel Druhm]. This subversion of traditional metal roles is a sonic breath of fresh air, which I hope will swell into a hurricane in the near future and take the East Asian metal scene by storm. Because while Chthonic was arguably the archetypal “erhu metal band,” its music these days is mostly driven by electric guitars. It’s a pity, though, that the erhu’s cousin, the pipa, might not be a permanent fixture of Crescent Lament’s musical instrument line-up; it’s stated in the lyric booklet that the pipa (played by Pitufa Lin) only appeared on this record as a guest instrument. Pitufa’s refined, plucked melodies fit the geisha concept so well because geishas often learned to play instruments like the pipa in order to better entertain their clients. Thus, it would be disappointing to catch Crescent Lament performing this record live if they simply used studio recordings of Pitufa’s playing as a stand-in for Pitufa.

On the keyboard side of the musical spectrum, the piano and synths (both played by Warose Chen) do their jobs well, too. When not providing melancholic accompaniment to the main musical instruments, the piano injects bouts of calmness that foreshadow imminent aural sorrow, as heard in the introductions of “Last Embrace”, “Flavor of Emptiness”, and “Masked Doll.” And as though its presence is not ubiquitous enough, the piano shows off its potential for expressing great emotional depth in the aptly titled piano-and-erhu instrumental track, “Autumn Rustle.”

Crescent Lament_2015aLast but certainly not least, the soprano heard on this record— Muer Chou —is the driving musical force of Elegy for the Blossoms, steering listeners in the intended emotional directions along the course of their aural journey through A-hiong’s dramatic story. Not every syllable is cleanly sung, though. Harsh vocals are occasionally utilized to create the beauty-and-the-beast effect with Muer’s soul-stirring singing, perhaps as a representation of A-hiong’s suppressed anger at her inability to alter her fate.

As an overlooked gem of 2015, Elegy for the Blossoms proves that cross-cultural metal can be more original than derivative (of the Western side of metal music). And as its name suggests, this record is more than just a music album – it is first and foremost a serious poetic reflection on the fleetingness of human existence, and the inevitable burden that comes with it: having to continually make the best of what little free will one has to move on in life from past events that were set into motion by what turned out to be bad choices in hindsight. This is an excellent work of art to add to your unconventional metal collection, to say the least.

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  • El_Cuervo

    wuuuuuuuuuuuuuut

  • This is like the Taiwanese Nightwish. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

    • Is it? Symphonic metal just swaps the thunder of the symphony for the electric guitar, the instruments here, while occasionally soaring, don’t have the same power. The metal part of this music just sort of flows like an undercurrent that at times is a little jarring. Might be a production issue, can’t say I like the way the drums sound. Can’t say I’m much interested in what the guitars are doing. Yet without them this would bore me to the point that I wouldn’t listen at all.

      What does it mean???

      • Check out 風月場 / A Mental Escape, 繁花落盡 / Last Embrace, 殘香 / Flavor of Emptiness, 尪仔面 / Masked Doll, and 煙花易寒 / Once Blossomy. The electric guitar has more of a presence in the aforementioned songs than in the music video of that song embedded in this album review.

    • Dethjesta

      Good, but controlled by a man who wears stovepipe hats partly to hide how much shorter he is than the new vocalist?

  • madhare

    Woooot… ummm…. wooot… hey, I actually don’t mind this at all. At least I want to hear the whole album before I judge them.

    Might have to give it some time though. It’s simply so different to most of the stuff I listen. Usually I’ve kept Chinese music and Western music completely separate. I’ve never thought of combining them like this.

    Nice to see Asian elements incorporated into Western popular music this way. Instead of the exotising-fetishising-rip-off-method that Westerners have been doing since Beatles.

    And I think this shows well that metal has still many places to go. Proving false the whiny claims made by *cough*certain*cough*websites*cough* about how all metal has become generic and how metal isn’t what is used to be in the days gone by. ;)

    EDIT: Ps. thanks for this! Wouldn’t have any idea about them if it weren’t for you. So you just expanded my world/cultural sphere by leagues.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    What even is Happy Metal Guy

    • André Snyde Lopes

      He is the true chosen one.

    • Kronos

      You kids are too young to remember the days of Happy Metal Guy…

      • Holy shit, AngryMetalGuy.com had a golden age, and we’ve lived through it and come out on the other side!

        • Now I REALLY feel old.

        • Kronos

          Hard to believe that Steel Druhm was involved in any sort of age that wasn’t ‘silver’.

        • El_Cuervo

          > implying I’m not a part of the golden age

      • Zadion

        I remember the days when AMG, in his absolute tyranny, refused to acknowledge Ne Obliviscaris in the ROTM despite HMG’s glowing review. Good times.

        • Kronos

          And well he should have.

    • This.

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    Surprisingly, it’s not that bad. Very strong “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” soundtrack vibes here. If only the drummer didn’t have shovel for hands…

    • madhare

      Totally agree about the Crouching Tiger vibe.

      Although that might just signal that we don’t listen to enough Chinese style music. (In other words, that’s the only piece of music in the genre that we recognise.)

      So it’s kind of the musical equivalent of the “all [enter skin colour] people look the same to me” comment.

      • Thatguy

        It sounds sameish because it is pentatonic noodling.

        Pentatonic noodling – whether bagpipes or erhu – is the most pointless noodling there is. Pick your instrument – any instrument – and learn 5 notes and you can go all day. It never resolves and it never gets interesting.

        Well, that’s my opinion and like most of us who post on this site – although only a few have admitted it in writing – I believe that since it is my opinion it must be correct.

        • You can even do it on the piano. Are you a classical music buff or teacher?

          • Thatguy

            Amateur (was professional for 2 years but never made enough money to survive) musician and voracious consumer of many styles of music – including some classical and more ‘contemporary classical’ – but mainly metal.

        • madhare

          :D I do believe there are lot of “Norms” out there (you know, the non-metal people) who might have similar things to say about metal riffing.

          But I get your point. There’s interesting folkish noodling and less interesting. Like I totally agree with AMG’s (I think it was his) opinion on Eluveitie. Their flutist knows exactly one melody and it’s on every one of their damned songs. Annoys the hell out of me.

    • The drums do sound mediocre. Lacking in impact. I wonder if it’s on purpose.

      • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

        I’m baffled. How can a shovel handed drummer lack impact? It’s pretty much the only thing he has…

        Joking aside, I hate bad drumming and awful sounding drums. The song comes out flat and lifeless because of it

        • Let’s try to see it from their perspective: is there a way to reconcile this kind of “weak” drumming with what they wanted to achieve on this album? Maybe hard-hitting drums would sound too forceful for the emo-geisha theme?

        • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

          Methinks a more eclectic approach to drumming would’ve worked wonders. I mean, he doesn’t have to go all jazzy on us, just inject a little life in what he plays, and maybe try to give some semblance of punch to the heavy sections. It stands to sense to underscore the tempo changes and mood variations in the music (which incidentally is the bread and butter of the genre)

          • Ah yes, perhaps having forceful/lifely drumming at those beauty-and-the-beast vocal moments would be appropriate. Also, since symphonic goth is mostly about the atmosphere than a riff or groove, perhaps the drummer could have utilised the cymbals in an atmospheric manner.

  • Nice review.

    • Thanks Max. I hope this band was an interesting find to you.

      it’s a pity this band doesn’t have a Bandcamp page, though.

  • Dethjesta

    I could really get into erhu Metal – gonna need to listen to Chthonic too.

    Nice review.

    • Chthonic’s more recent music doesn’t feature the erhu as much as their older music. You can hear more of the erhu in the music they released before they got signed to Spinefarm.

      • Dethjesta

        Good to know. Thanks for the advice.

        • “Indigenous Laceration” from Seediq Bale, and “Onset Of Tragedy / 悲命格” from Relentless Recurrence / 永劫輪迴 are two examples.

        • One more thing: the Symphonic Goth was strong with early Chthonic.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    HMG freaking hyyyyyyyyyyype! The hero we truly deserve!

    Great review! I think you were scaling it from the more abstract and eclectic writing of years past but it was a fun read backed by some actually pretty entertaining music. Not very fond of the spoken word bits but otherwise, I actually like it a lot.

  • Kronos

    How many masks does this guitarist own?

    • Not as many as the Slipknot dudes, that’s for sure.

      • Kronos

        He’s got a third as many just in pics from this review…

  • METAL OTTER

    Taiwan metal has a strong folk element. You’ve probably seen Chthonic reviewed here. Here are 2 more good Taiwanese bands:

    Anthelion: http://youtu.be/9CBczLy2Vp8
    Bloody Tyrant: http://youtu.be/kZePkOqXlew

    • Chthonic and Anthelion are among my favorites when it comes to mixing Asian folk with extreme metal, but Bloody Tyrant was new to me. Sounds very good!

    • Don’t forget about Animanick, Nocturne Moonrise, Blair Witch, Solemn, and Emerging from the Cocoon!

    • The Bloody Tyrant song embedded in your comment has some nice moments, but overall, it is too repetitive. The pipa basically plays the same motif over and over again in the second-half of the song!

  • WTF is going on in this video? And who approved this!?

    Also, better than White Wizzard, HMG?

    • Umm, I blame Kronos.

      • Kronos

        This is obviously too unbrutal to be my doing.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Who DID approve this? Give them a raise!

    • A TV-dramaesque love story: Geisha falls in love with a man who left for Japan just before WWII, and when WWII broke out, he couldn’t leave Japan for Taiwan. The wait was too long, and when WWII ended, she was arranged for a marriage to some random guy. AND THEN that man returns from Japan to try and reconnect with the geisha, with the geisha telling him it’s too late.

      Better than White Wizzard in terms of novelty. But in terms of guitar wizardry, White Wizzard (as they were on The Devil’s Cut) still rules!!

      • strychnin

        Some fresh air calling for the rain… and such music, I guess, does not necesarilly needs the more and the less could be more, although “How can less be more?” is still a valid question :) Thanks for bringing this!

    • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

      I give this video:
      -Four Rorschach Test points
      -Two Taiwanese Django Unchained points
      -One Clover Studios point
      -Three Oni masks points.

      Result: Mmmmm… Cheddar/10

  • Diego Molero

    Serious question: why isn’t HMG writting in AngryMetalGuy.com anymore?

    • El_Cuervo

      It’s hard to write when chained in Steel Druhm’s sex lair.

      He managed it here though to be fair.

      • Diego Molero

        That is what happen to Noctus as well?

      • I’ve told you repeatedly, it’s not a sex lair. It’s a old fashioned pimpery house. BIG difference.

  • The Stormin Mormon

    I’ve heard legends of a Happy Metal Guy… I just thought it was AMG’s alter ego that his angry side strangled to death years ago. Turns out I was wrong!

    • Siege Bantayan

      Or AMG is in relapse and his HMG alter ego is resurfacing.

      • This is an old joke by now, but nonetheless one that would likely still get AMG living up to his name!

  • Mikko Ojanen

    Those erhu solos are pretty nice, but otherwise this sounds aggressively mediocre.

    Back to Chthonic, I guess.

    • Well, if you’re looking for aggression in a concept album involving a melodramatic love story…

      • Mikko Ojanen

        I’m not. “Aggressively mediocre” was just a silly way to say “quite boring”. Having or lacking aggression is not a factor here. This stuff just sounds cheap, weak and not really emotional at all, which doesn’t really serve the whole “melodramatic love story” angle.

        Of course that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

  • Innit Bartender

    Happy Steel Druhm is CONSISTENTLY scary…

  • Their website says a digital version should be available by 8/2015, but obviously not.

    • tomasjacobi

      It’s on iTunes. (Well, at least the Danish iTunes…)

    • It is available. Look at the hyperlink in a comment I made further down this comment thread.

  • One More Thing

    HMG out of exile! This was a nice surprise.

  • Stefunal

    The video gave me cancer. Strangely enough, I enjoyed it in some very odd way.

    • The better songs are not in MV form. Preview the album on iTunes or Indievox if you can.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    It might be because I’m not used to the sound of the instrument, but every time that erhu starts playing I could swear it´s a female voice choking while trying to hit a high note.

  • De2013

    WTF HMG WTF OMS!!

    • I dunno why you guys find it so amazing. Guest posts are pretty common on metal blogs in general.

  • Thatguy

    Folk metal – which is what this is in the end (at least the embedded track) – is always teetering on the edge of cliche and the erhu here tips it over to full blown cheese.

    Probably it has been done and I have just missed it, but I have never heard – whether in orchestral ‘serious’ music or popular music – the erhu used to play anything other than the same old pentatonic melodies. That gives the piece a ‘exotic oriental’ sound but it always sounds the same. There are no frets on those things and any note could be played.

    • Thatguy

      OMG

      HMG upvoted me. I am very confused as to what to make of this.

    • That means I agree with you. If I remember correctly, there was at least one 20th Century composer who was inspired by the prominence of pentatonic scales in Indian music, and then used pentatonic scales in at least one of his compositions for the exotic feel.

      • Thatguy

        I think that was Debussy and I didn’t like it any more than I like this.

        I knew what the up vote meant HMG. It’s just that you are such a legendary figure that I am not sure of the implications of your approval!

  • Meriyas

    I’ve always had trouble getting into music that isn’t sung in English. I can enjoy the instruments and melody, but if I have no fucking idea what they’re going on about I just can’t connect with it unfortunately. The exception being the 1 or 2 In Vain songs that are in what Google translate tells me is Norwegian. I really wish I could enjoy it though, I’m missing out on so much!

    • I’m sure you can find the English translation of the lyrics to this album online. You could try metal archives, for example.

  • RuySan

    I only have one word for you: Pitufa.

    Pitufa! Pitufa! Pitufa!!!!!!

  • TminusEight

    Things You Might Have Missed 2015: … Happy Metal Guy!

  • Wilhelm

    I dig it, sweet voice – not as annoyingly pompous as bands like Nightwish, still rooted in old school gothic metal.

    • Plus the fact that the vocalist sings in Taiwanese Hokkien gives it that folkish feel.

  • Dr. Scorpion

    Happy happy hapy!

    • You or me? Regardless, I hope you enjoyed discovering Crescent Lament!

  • Ivan Fernandes

    Is this supposed to be any good? OMG… Poppy… bad poppy

    • Having pop elements in metal does not entail bad metal.

      • Ivan Fernandes

        Agreed, even remember reviews noting pop elements in Burzum’s Filosofem, a record I love (although I can’t really see them)… I just think this is too much sugar for me, but it’s just my opinion

        • Muer’s soprano style is possibly influenced/inspired by retro Taiwanese pop music, so I think you would find retro Taiwanese pop music too sugary then!

        • I assume the pop element you’re referring to is Crescent Lament’s soprano? I think Muer’s singing is influenced/inspired by Taiwanese operatic singing, so if you find it too sugary, you would likely find Taiwanese operatic singing too sugary.

          Or do you perhaps dislike hearing clean singing in metal music?

          • Ivan Fernandes

            Not really! Actually I like clean singing very much – Borknagar, Vintersorg, Soen, Alcest, etc.
            It’s the overall thing I dislike and the vocals a lot… There are few female fronted bands I can actually appreciate nowadays (Dominion was one of them – clean vocals, but no sugar on it!).

  • If anyone finds the fourth paragraph confusing in the least bit, don’t hesitate to pose me questions here.

  • BTW: Am I the only person who hears her going off? Like, she’s going sharp. I find the song in the video really difficult to listen to because of that.

    • At which part? Could be that this is just how the Taiwanese style of soprano is done.

      • So it’s meant to intentionally sound like poo?

        • That’s a leading question. I’m not sure if there’s a right way to do soprano.

          Also, no normal person actually knows how poo (assuming it’s not dropping from somewhere) sounds like! Only people with synesthesia would know.

          • I argue that the correct way is the way I find pleasing to listen to.

    • As my music teacher commented about one of my ‘cello performances back at school, “well it wasn’t flat…”

      I think it’s more her tone rather than the pitch of the notes though

  • Though this begs the question: what exactly is the right amount of repetition needed in any song?

    • Dr. Scorpion

      Exactly 1/∞ of the amt seen (heard?) on death magnetic

  • Zadion

    OH MY GOD! A NEW REVIEW FROM HMG?! I DIDN’T THINK I’D EVER LIVE TO SEE THE DAY

    Judging by the embedded track, the album itself doesn’t seem especially interesting to me. I like what they’re doing, but the production is kind of thin and sucks the life out of the music. But that’s okay, because a new HMG review makes me happy enough.

    • I’m not sure if the production on this album should be non-thin at all, considering that the concept is very non-metal. But if what you mean is that the electric guitar isn’t prominent in that embedded music video, then check out 風月場 / A Mental Escape, 繁花落盡 / Last Embrace, 殘香 / Flavor of Emptiness, 尪仔面 / Masked Doll, and 煙花易寒 / Once Blossomy if you can. (YouTube them or something.)

  • Here’s Johnny

    Steel Druhm has finally lost it.

    There’s already a great Taiwanese metal band called Chthonic, the singer has been elected to Parliament. Beat that.

    • I didn’t write this review.

      • Here’s Johnny

        Oh yeah, was HMG. You are saved.

  • Ben Harris

    I ordered this from them, and they were super nice about the whole thing. Even sent stickers and swag. Totally worth importing it if anybody is worried about it.