Towards the Emerald Empire: distinct blackened / Thai folk fusion telling dark stories of mythical serpent beings

Lotus of Darkness, Towards the Emerald Empire, China, Pest Productions, PEST-A08 limited edition CD digipak (2023)

Blending instantly catchy and distinctive Thai folk melodies with raw black metal is Bangkok-based trio Lotus of Darkness on recent EP “Towards the Emerald Empire” which has been picked up by Pest Productions for a limited edition CD release. As with previous recordings, Lotus of Darkness bring dark Siamese folk tales and mythical beings such as the Nagas (serpent creatures that stand guard at Buddhist temples) to vivid life in a context that is almost as much rock’n’roll as it is BM / Thai folk fusion.

After a sinister ambient instrumental introduction, in which the cries of those damned to eternal hell rage behind a cold droning ambience and heavy subterranean waters, the trio gets down to business with “Raging River”, a powerful song of rollicking folk melodies and rhythms going head-to-head with blast beats, fierce tremolo workouts on guitar and phin (a stringed lute-like instrument) and spine-chilling spider vocals from vocalist / guitarist Suriyakat. The track races up hill and down dale with a spirit and force coming from the surging melodies and angry vocals, and powered by the hard-working percussion. In spite of its length (it’s over 10 minutes), and even during quiet moments when only the melodies on the phin are holding everything together, the song maintains focus and energy. Hard rock elements like solo lead guitar and intensely emotional riffs help make “Raging River” an unforgettable song and a potential single, if the musicians were considering a commercial release, even with all the long instrumental passages.

Another watery ambient piece, with a religious chant in the background and a cold synth drone wash melody, passes us by and we’re into the second long track “Towards the Emerald Empire”, another raging song with speedy blastbeat percussion and more wobbling tremolo guitar and phin riffs going full-tilt fast and furious. This track is not quite so rock’n’roll as “Raging River” and its melodies are more workman-like with the thin craggy vocals becoming more important and prominent in the music as a result. Once most of the vocals are out of the way, the phin and guitar take up their alternating positions as lead solo instruments in their headlong rush into blackened folk metal euphoria. 

The entire EP really does play like a very long single with an equally long B-side even though it’s long enough to be an album in its own right. The short ambient pieces play like extended introductions to both long songs. The Thai folk music elements exert an emotional (mostly melancholy) pull that is hard to resist; they hint at tales of past suffering and hardship in times when the material world and the spiritual world were once closer and interacted much more often than they do now, with humans often being unwitting and unwilling victims of malevolent spirits. The best moments in the EP come when the phin and guitars are raging and racing together, matching raindrop note for raindrop note in long chains of fretboard riff scrabble. The long songs are so densely packed with such riffing, and all riffs saturated with heartfelt emotion, that listeners may end up having to replay them over and over even though the music sometimes can be repetitive.

If Lotus of Darkness were based in the West and released this EP as an extended single, it could have been their breakthrough release. As things are though, the trio may have to wait through another album or two before their distinctive style of blackened folk fusion is recognised outside Thailand.