Oh no, not a metal album! If you don’t enjoy the heaviest and most visceral of music, please stop reading, go listen to Hootie and the Blowfish.
If the most guttural and sonically devastating metal beckons your ears, relinquish your senses to So.-Cal. fusion-metalheads Xibalba. Even their name, the Mayan Underworld, translating to “Place of Fear”, can transfix even the most seasoned metalheads.
What’s different here from their contemporaries is their irreproachable combination of Doom. Death Metal, Hardcore and Sludge, their technical skill compliments their menacingly heavy output. The amelodic Drop-D punch in the face was fun when I was an angst-y teenager foraying into heavier shit, but it’s nice to have a little musicianship behind the vision. To veer away from the nomenclature metal fans take a little too seriously, the guys of Xibalba have some serious artistry but will make you want to do anything but sit idly.
If you have heard their 2012 album “Hasta La Muerte (To the Death)” , you will already know that. With the blast progressions homogeneous of Behemoth and breakdowns that recall Acacia Strain in their “Continent” days, this album is a non-stop fusillade of piercing guitar riffs, grimy breakdowns and glimpses of latin influence. Not to mention vocalist Nate Rebolledo’s adroit growl of both English and Spanish delivery is carrying brilliantly morose lyricism that chills as much as it burns.
A far offshoot from their debut “Madre Mia Gracias Por Los Dias (you can use Google translate)” which can be affixed with more banal Metal comparisons, “Hasta La Muerte” shows a band that had finally discovered and honed their musical stylings into a hermetic package. On the surface they sound like a Metal/Hardcore band with some mean breakdowns, but when you dig deeper, these guys present imagery and sheer intensity that their peers could only dream of matching.
It could be a contentious notion in saying that there is beauty to be found in such brutality, but with “Hasta La Muerte”, it was admirable to see this band saying “no way” to the settling in a spot most metal bands hit in their career, instead they push themselves further into the darker corners of their metal milieu and come out heavy as all fucking hell. Here with “Tierra Y Libertad”, they are becoming even darker, and you should be excited.
This new album is, to say the least, mind numbingly heavy. At first impressions it is clear that these guys must have been diving deeper into the death metal pool whereas in their past relationship with the death metal sound, it was merely dalliance. Where “Hasta La Muerte” danced with mortality, “Tierra Y Libertad” tackles on freedom and power.
In the album’s opener “Enemigo” , Robolledo’s starts the song, and the album really, with a bottom of the gut howl as if he had just emerged from Hades, it sets the precedent of brutality to come. The rest of the song is a rapid fire head banger, with thunderous double kick-drums and blast beats canonical to most metal in circulation, scoff all you want, blast beats rule, a feral guitar solo is harrowing as much as it wows, but what is really gnarly about “Enemigo”, like many of the songs on the album, has an incredible progression, like murderous creatures that are constantly evolving.
Immediately after is the aggressive call to arms “Guerrila”, which shows the hardcore is still very much present in their sound, opening with Robelledo delivering an oration of rising above, the song is giant “fuck you” to the ones who hold him down, as he literally proclaims “fuck you” throughout the song. The technical metal meets hardcore attitude allusions get many points here.
There is not a single dull moment on this album, each song is a five to six minute fight to the death, even the interlude minute of the albums calm after and before the storm “Pausa” is eerily disquieting with distortion and frosty guitar notes. My favorite portion of the album came after “Pausa,” the titular song of the album is a bilingual beatdown, even if you don’t speak Spanish, the words before the breakdown send shivers down your spine. Then the breakdown just rips the spine out, but hey you could’ve been listening to Hootie if that isn’t your thing.
The real stand out of the album is the 12 minute closer “El Vacio”, a lot slower in contrast to the other six songs of the album, but a deal more ominous than all the songs you just got through. With an intro anointed with chilling guitar notes and Rebolledo’s smooth vocals giving imprecations like sleepy time tea.
Then comes a burst of Sludgy chaos smothered with some of gnarliest low notes Rebolledo and his crew can muster. It returns to calm with haunting ease, yet the calm does not last long before the banging cymbal crashes and guitar stabs commence again meaner this time around. “El Vacio” at it’s beautiful end fades into dueling solo guitars with a bed of fuzz behind them catching up, as if they are at the song’s precipice ready to fall. This song is a great metal epic that hypnotizes and slaughters all at once.
Where this album really thrives is deep below the mire of bombastic metal fusion, it’s in the vivid imagery it gives. This album is a land of ancient pyramids, as beautifully illustrated on “Tierra Y Libertad”’s cover art, where the bases of these pyramids are riddled with death and war-riddled desolation. You marvel at the pyramids and the oppressive shadow it casts upon you, but your surroundings below them are hell, this album is about getting to the top of those relics. Despite the negativity that is prevalent throughout, sometimes there is some form of empowerment to be found in musical aggression, music does not make one aggressive, it is merely a channel for it. if that is not something you find while listening, this album may just be violent noise to you.
Any complaint to be found is that some tracks are a little too alike at times, and really this album is bold, but nowhere near overtly ambitious. Despite any cool new direction they take the songs it can all wax formulaic. “Tierra Y Libertad” feels like “Hasta La Muerte”’s twin at times, but here they take the latter’s sheer ferocity as foundation to something even more ferocious.
These guys are among the heaviest bands out there right now and that is verily a fixed point in their appeal, but these guys know much better that there is more to writing skull-crushing songs than open note strokes and hackneyed riffs, they draw the atavistic musings found commonplace in Death Metal and it’s riffs and gives it all a Hardcore approach. There is no doubt that this one of the best Metal albums to come out of recent, along with Behemoth’s “The Satanist,” this album has restored a lot of my faith in modern day metal.