In their home country of Taiwan, Freddy Lim and his band Chthonic (pronounced Thon-ik) are nothing short of superstars. They’ve twice now won “Best Band” at the Golden Melody Awards (the Taiwanese Grammys), and have worked with some of their country’s most notable musicians. They’re also known for delving into Taiwanese history on their albums and their outspoken politics in the region, pushing for independence for both Taiwan and Tibet.
Freddy himself boasts a resume that would make Bono blush. He’s now in his second term as head-chair for Amnesty International Taiwan, he’s spoken at the UN, he’s met with the Dalai Lama, and he starred in a major dramatic film. Plus they teach his vocal technique in Taiwanese schools. When the band plays in North America, it’s not uncommon to see a group of middle-aged and elderly Taiwanese people burst towards the front of the stage when Freddy busts out the er-hu (that’s the two-string Oriental violin).
There’s just one thing I haven’t mentioned: Chthonic are an extreme black metal band. Like their Norwegian counterparts, Chthonic’s international recognition has garnered them a lot of mainstream attention at home. It is amusing at times to see the places that Chthonic turn up, say rocking a professional baseball game with a black metal version of “We Are The Champions”.
But as much as Chthonic have been inexplicably embraced by their country, they also take part in demonstrations against the Chinese government. Freddy had previously told me that he had received threats from some Chinese nationals on their last North American tour. Early last month as protesters in Taiwan were being blasted with water cannons, I spoke to Freddy at the Toronto stop of the “Paganfest North America Tour” about his impact at home, his relationship with mainstream culture, and why Chthonic even bothers to tour North America at all.