Hot Damn, Xibalaba’s Tierra y Libertad Sounds Good!
Hot damn, this record sounds good! (Sorry for stooping to hickish exclamation right out the gate in a review of an ethnically charged hardcore-death warhead out of California, but it sums up an immediate reaction pretty well.) Revving into the first seconds of “Enemigo” with a wordless death grunt, Tierra y Libertad thrusts its listeners immediately into the roaring rhythmic fire. Here’s where the hyperbole-happy writer tells you that, once the carnage begins, there’s no respite until your tinnitus from the last track’s final chords fades away. Yeah, that’s all bullshit. The album keeps its audience’s attention for exactly the opposite reason: the band’s ability to change pace and intensity at all the right moments, to provide ears, minds and bodies with the highs and lows of a rich experience. Sure, it’s all loud, crusty, corroded and hateful, but the guitar lines have personality and the song structures bounce through dozens of brutal ideas.
Lots of bands balk at committing the mortal sin of “defining” themselves, even when they can be pretty plainly identified as throwback thrash or folk-imbued power metal. Xibalba really do shake off simple labeling, though, because they really do seem to pick up whatever seems comfortable and sounds good to them and mix it into their songs. Any hardcore outfit worth a spit is pissed to the gills, and this easily describes Xibalba’s rowdy delivery. Death metal should be tuned low enough to squeeze out rolled-eye frowny-faces on the most blissful Buddha, thunderously chuggy enough to move committed catatonics to fits of elbow throwing and pit stomping. Xibalba swings that particular club admirably. Doom should slow the pulse and demand that the listener gaze inward and mourn his own disgusting self. Incredibly, Xibalba excel at this as well, unleashing the burden of extreme doom in several places throughout the album.
Most satisfying, maybe, is the overall arc that makes Tierra y Libertad feel like a beginning-to-end journey in the classic sense. After three well-crafted smackdowns, “Pausa” evicts all rhythm and revels in chord textures. At album’s end, “El Vacio” weaves together all of Xibalba’s strongest threads for 12+ minutes of dark, passionate and demanding metal. Put this one in the 2015 win column; keep it in the playlist for quite a while.