Review Summary: Into the pit
California sludge/death metal outfit Xibalba have crafted an absolute scorcher on their fourth outing. Electric guitars sear and then simmer, as if to simulate the rage of a blazing fire followed by the crackle of its glowing aftermath. Vocalist Nate Rebolledo sounds weathered, his death growls tortured and prolonged. The drumming is crazed and maniacal, but also distinctly patterned. Años en Infierno
– rather obviously translating to “years in hell” – feels akin to a systematic dismantling of one’s sanity. It’s the kind of hell we all find ourselves trapped in sometimes, and that’s what makes its anger, intensity, and confusion all the more relatable.
Some death metal bands aim to destroy everything in their path, striving for reckless abandon. This is not Xibalba: from the full stop and subsequent breakdown on opener ‘La Injusticia’ to the very elaborate and distinctive solo towards the back-end of ‘Santa Muerte’, the band makes it abundantly clear that in spite of the ferocity and mayhem on display, Años en Infierno
will not be totally devoid of order. ‘Saka’ brings the drums to the forefront of the mix in an emphatically tribalistic fashion, while ‘El Abismo I’ wades into calmer and more lucid waters, featuring rare clean vocals and melodic guitars during the verses. The entire experience is very structured and heterogeneous, which can be a rare find when the instrumentation is this dense and blistering.
Xibalba are at their best when they contrast the murkiness of their core sound with musical eclecticism. Whereas ‘Corredor de la Muerte’, for example, feels like a plodding trudge through the scorched, tarry mud and smoggy polluted air of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s kept to a rather brief two minutes to prevent the effect from stagnating. Immediately, they launch into ‘Santa Muerte’ – a clear highlight – which features straightforward, militaristic drumming and elaborately constructed, frantically-paced electric riffs to add a sense of complexity in light of other necessary but less exciting moments of bleak atmosphere-building. It's a balance Xibalba regularly achieves here, and it serves to keep things sounding both abysmal and exciting at all times.
Años en Infierno
's resultant sound is one of layered chaos. The album is superbly constructed and offers plenty to take away from repeated listens. At the same time, it’s also a bludgeoning force capable of sweeping you away upon first impression. Nate Rebolledo anchors the experience with his wide range of vocals, plunging the record into darkness in a way that isn’t overly abrasive yet still manages to convey hellish pain and isolation. From there, the band takes your headspace and rapidly dismantles it via an expertly curated blend of disorientingly bleak atmospheres and deceptively complex riffing/drumming. Años en Infierno
is a dive into mental instability, or the pit of hell itself – either way, it absolutely decimates.