Review Summary: absolutely and undeniably essential
Evoking the camaraderie of black metal collectives like France’s Les Legions Noires and Russia’s Blazebirth Hall, The Black Twilight Circle is a faction of like-minded individuals located in Southern California who practice black metal ethos with a proud emphasis on their Hispanic culture. Instead of focusing on Nordic traditions, their inspiration stems from a deep connection to their native Mexican and Aztec roots, pulling the genre away from frostbitten stereotypes, and generating their own form of esotericism far removed from the fjords of Europe and into sweltering heat of South America jungles. Early albums from the BTC, like Ashdautas’ Where The Sun Is Silent and Volahn’s Dimensiónes del Trance Kósmico, constructed an altar of eerie grandeur specific to the Black Twlight Circle; one that was noticeably as defined by its indigenous roots as it was black metal. Excellent debut records by Arizmenda and Axeman amongst others continued to build upon these blueprints, earning more recognition for the group of musicians in the process. By 2011 the Black Twilight Circle had established notoriety in the black metal underground, a reputation gained by both a purveying air of mystery and a growing catalog of exceptional records.
Translating to “Black Twilight”, Tliltic Tlapoyauak was designed to debut the Black Twilight Circle’s newest bands, and reveal the current state of its veteran groups. In a 2013 interview with Noisey, BTC founder Eduardo “Volahn” Ramirez stated, “Tliltic Tlapoyauak took a long time to record, we put immense time into all aspects of the release. I consider Tliltic Tlapoyauak to be our greatest accomplishment to date.” Without a doubt he is correct, and66 the compilation is easily the Black Twilight Circle’s most ambitious piece of work yet. Like its predecessor Worship Black Twilight, the record features one track by every band currently active within the BTC’s ranks, culminating in a two-hour long journey through the many minds that make up this enigmatic entity.
The most exciting feature of Tliltic aren't the tracks by its established artists - which are also excellent - but the exhilarating contributions of the collective's newer entries. All five bands either uphold or exceed the unnaturally high standards that has made the BTC an extreme metal staple. There is no respite in the bestial black/death of Acualli (who hold the honor of featuring the BTC's first female member). On the flip-side of that same token, the blackened death metal of Blood Play's "Screams Transcends" is impressively fleshed-out and dynamic despite its ragged wails and unwavering heaviness. It's Mayhem meets Blasphemy in unholy matrimony. Cempopoloah's "En El Ombligo De La Luna" is straightforward black metal draped in moonlight mysticism; it's atmospheric, hypnotic, and mesmerizing. The other two newcomers In Lakech Ala Kin and Kampilan are in a league of their own.
Taking a note from Arizmenda's tortured diary, In Lakech Ala Kin's "Ometeotl" is black metal at its most harrowing. A more youthful and energetic version of their forebears, the band's erratic tempo shifts coupled with their mixture of discordance and melody are unbalancing in the most exciting way; it feels unpredictable and dangerous, like good black metal should. The daunting blackened death/doom of Kampilan's "Battle of Mactan" is also unsettling, but in a much different way. Opening with filth-encrusted clean guitar strums, guttural whispers, and an unstable drum beat, the song VERY SLOWLY builds in anxiety-inducing atmosphere. It's just slightly off-kilter, and that minuscule crookedness is terrifying. Eventually the track explodes into a eruption of simplistic black/death metal, releasing all of the gaining tension in one satisfying burst. These two bands and their tracks are not only the best of the new bloods, but two of the best tracks on the album, period.
As to be expected, there are no weak tracks among the Black Twilight Circle veterans. At this point, it's almost astounding how effortlessly this group of bands produces fantastic material. Kuxan Suum's track "Tzolk'in" is a winding piece of psychedelic and progressive black metal that never strays away from its raw roots. In general psychedelic-influenced black metal has become a BTC standard and the other two resident purveyors of the style here - Dolorvotre and Shataan - deliver it in their own eccentric ways. Dolorvotre and "Upward Spiraling" sound like dropping acid with Satan in a bath of razors; the production cuts and slices while the music is nothing but intricately composed blackened chaos. Shataan's track "Born to the Earth, Return Through the Body" is an impressive juxtaposition of jangly surf-rock guitars, Aztec flute-playing and extreme metal vitriol. The more raucous Blue Hummingbird on the Left and their song "Storm" is easily their best composition to date. Though the vocals are still hit-or-miss, musically their war metal racket is blunt and sadistic. Tukaaria's "Nekroa" is an exercise in atmospheric yet brutal black metal rife with earworms in the form of wailing guitar lines and punk-y riffs.
Unsurprisingly, the long-time acts have their share of highlights as well. Kallathon's "Universe of Constant Ages and In The Mist of Eternity" is perhaps the most meticulously composed song on the whole of the compilation. Featuring a warmer production than their peers, the music burns with infectious melodies, beautiful keyboard driven atmospheres, and an enthralling display of dynamics. "Yaxche" is very trademark Volahn, which means surges of gorgeous acoustic guitar fiddling, phlegmy rasps, and songwriting that is somehow both mature and articulate without sacrificing the rebellious black metal spirit. Both Muknal and The Haunting Presence present killer blackened death metal hymns. The variety throughout the compilation is most welcome (especially considering its length) but it's so intriguing to see two bands play the same style of metal completely different from one another. The Haunting Presence's "Dead Soul Scream" is primitive and hideous reminiscent of the South American black/death scene, but with infectious, neck-snapping grooves that are impossible to ignore. Muknal's "Bringers of Filth" takes a cue from the cavernous Incantation-inspired breed of the genre that's grown popular within recent years. It's diabolically atmospheric, and instead of relying solely on unencumbered brutality allows the music to breathe from time to time.
Saving the best for last, the two spotlight stealers of Tliltic Tlapoyauak are Arizmenda and Axeman. Arizmenda has long been a BTC fan-favorite; Within the Vacuum of Infinity earned critical acclaim soon after its release, and its follow-up Without Circumference Nor Center was received in nearly equal measure. Those two releases cemented Arizmenda as one of the best modern black metal bands and their track here, "Rites of Deconsecration" doesn't betray the quality of their past material in the slightest. A more composed and less free-flowing piece than we've ever seen before, the track is surprisingly straightforward and melodic. It doesn't sound like average Arizmenda, but it still feels as tormented and painful as ever. Sole member Murdunbad is an undisputed master of his craft, surpassed only by Eduardo Ramirez himself. Featured on eleven of the sixteen tracks here, Ramirez is a jack-of-all trades; from playing guitar in Blood Play and drums in Kallathon, to being the one-man show behind Kuxan Suum, Dolorvotre, and Volahn, the man is talented beyond belief. However, his greatest contribution to Tliltic Tlapoyauak and to the genre of black metal as whole is without a doubt the Axeman track "Ride Into The Night". It is one of the best black metal based songs ever. It's an amazing journey to experience, traversing through crust punk, speed metal, early black and death metal, and others all while remaining convincingly cohesive. It's a track that defies description and needs to be heard to be believed.
Though there are a myriad of styles on display throughout Tliltic Tlapoyauak -black metal, death/doom, blackened death metal - the compilation always feels complete. Unified under the singular vision of creating high quality and original extreme metal while honoring their roots, each and every band throughout this monstrous release feels interconnected. That camaraderie is just as important as the music. Collectives like the Black Twilight Circle have existed since the genre's popularizing second wave and have been a staple since. It's humbling to not only see the tradition continue, but seeing that kinship elevate entities like the BTC to such inspiring creative heights. Tliltic Tlapoyauak is an ESSENTIAL black metal album; essential in sound, and more importantly, essential in spirit.