A couple weeks ago, I was looking around for something new, something fresh. I went into post rock, which was nice and a combo of some of my favorite genres, but still I thirsted for something radically different. Then I heard “Stairway to Heaven.” Not the Led Zeppelin one, and certainly not the one you taught yourself when first learning to play guitar. This was a rapid, rhythmic and furious acoustic four minute version of the song by duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela. I had found what I was looking for.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela were diligent students of the metal school of music. They were metal heads, in metal bands, in the metal scene, in…Mexico. Neither was impressed. Like me, they wanted more. So they broke from their roots, left their bands and Mexico and headed for Europe. There, they tapped into their extensive classical flamenco guitar training and played all over until they came to Ireland. They have been there since, catching the attention of former Radiohead producer, John Leckie. The result was this album, their second studio effort, Rodrigo Y Gabriela.
“Tamacun” begins with the Gabriela punching out chords while Rodrigo picks notes at a rapid pace. There is no better rhythm guitarist that I know of than Gabriela Quintero. She turns her guitar into percussion, hitting the strings with force and making everything keep moving. Rodrigo keeps the songs interesting with his acoustic noodling, but Gabriela is like both guitarist and drummer. She employs the flamenco technique of hitting her guitar, which makes the drum sounds throughout the album. It adds an almost tribal feel to songs like “Diablo Rojo.”
I am finding it hard to go into specifics with this album. “Tamacun” is a great song to dance to, if you know how to dance…I just did an Irish jig to it, which didn’t truly fit.
“Vikingman” has two parts to it. The first part is a little more traditional flamenco. Then there is some static, courtesy of Mr. Leckie, and Rodrigo Y Gabriela go insane with a dangerous and fast riffage before going to the warm and tender end. The notes Rodrigo plays at the end are just so perfect, so slow.
“Satori” is not as exciting as the previous three, because they’ve done it before. Nothing new happens in the song aside from the decent theme that Rodrigo plays. There is a cool segment where he plays some low notes. It’s cool.
I think my favorite song, closely followed by “Stairway,” would have to be “Ixtapa.” It starts with some vamping, like we’ve heard before. Gabriela’s guitar keeps chugging along as Rodrigo does what he’s been doing. Then there is a major shift. Rodrigo plays this one line over and over as Gabriela creeps up the fretboard. This gradually crescendos, getting faster and louder. And then from out of the guitars comes a violin! They bring in Roby Lakatos to play a very sweet, if short solo. Then the duo continue at their quickened pace. Roby rejoins them for the song’s conclusion. The band called “Ixtapa” their “Stairway to Heaven” I’d have to agree.
Which brings me to their cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” For the beginning, they play it as we all know, with a few derivations, nothing big. It is once they hit the solo that this turns into a whole other monster. Gabriela is able to encompass all the other band members as Rodrigo takes on Mr. Page’s solo. Then Rodrigo lets Gabriela take over with that powerful riff. It is a magical song, please, please listen to it now. It was born from their concerts, and I would love to see them do it.
I cannot say how well they did on their cover of Metallica’s “Orion,” because I do not listen to very much Metallica. It is my least favorite song on the album, it’s too long in my opinion with too much vamping. I do not know how much of that comes from being faithful to the original. But when Tenacious D said they were acoustic metal, this is what I imagined. The song gets better as it gets more aggressive, due to Gabriela’s rough riffing. A decent song, probably better for the Metallica fans, but I like the rest of the album better, aside from maybe “Satori.”
“Juan Loco” begins at lightning speed, with Rodrigo somehow managing to keep up with Gabriela. This song strikes me as a more traditional Mexican song. At least, after listening to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Orion,” this seems more traditional. I love the speed here, keeps things interesting. The end seems to be a return to acoustic metal, with what I suppose are power chords.
The final song “PPA” is alright, but not very different from what we’ve heard before. However, there is one mini section where Gabriela takes over and makes you stomp your feet as she smacks those strings. It is the highlight of the song for me.
I tried hard to find things to criticize this album for, especially after giving some albums 5’s in reviews that looking back, probably didn’t deserve them (I won’t edit however), but this is a whole new thing for me. I'll give it a 4.5 because...uh...screw it. 5. I love this damned flamenco-metal-fusion. It gets a little repetitive at times, but I don’t mind that one bit. Get this CD. Now. Please?