While I’ve spent much of this time stuck at home listening to great new music, I’ve also spent some time watching complete trash TV. A recent favorite of mine is the ridiculously stupid yet ridiculously entertaining Ancient Aliens. I sort of knew what I was getting into when pressing play, but I didn’t know my listening and viewing habits would cross paths. Right off the bat I connected the dots between the first few episodes and the themes of Blood Incantation’s 2019 banger of an album Hidden History of the Human Race. My ears perked up yet again when some goober on screen mentioned the Mayan underworld Xibalba. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “I’m reviewing that band’s new album!”
Unlike Ancient Aliens, Xibalba’s new album Años en Infierno is unironically great. The record is a successfully brewed concoction of death metal, hardcore, and doom. This combination makes for a sound that pairs perfectly with the album art, which was created by longtime collaborator Dan Seagrave. It’s brutal, dark, and chock full of molten guitar riffs. For an album title that translates to “years in hell,” the fire and brimstone promised is certainly here.
Xibalba has that burly, modern death metal guitar tone you’d get from a band like Gatecreeper, but they distinguish themselves with their vocal approach. The vocals, while low and bellowed, are much more in-your-face and rightfully higher in the mix. And while I’m on mix, this album definitely marks a step up in production for the band. By bringing on producer Arthur Rizk (Cro-Mags, Power Trip, Inquisition), the band’s ferocity is more apparent than ever before. Of course I’ve mentioned how great the guitars and vocals sound, but it’s also important to note how organic Jason Brunes’ hulkish drumming sounds. The production does justice to his hard-hitting performance, and I can’t get enough of that reverbed snare in those doom-laden passages.
The riffs on Años en Infierno are almost too heavy to be contained in your go-to sound system. “Santa Muerte” has a killer riff for every twist in tempo the band throws at the song – and there are a ton. While pick scrapes in death metal are quickly becoming passè, they just work so damn well in the middle of this song. Whatever combination of death metal, doom, or hardcore the band employs at any given moment, Xibalba’s ability to conjure the most fitting riffs is uncanny. The title track and its follow-up “En la Oscuridad” are perfect examples of this. As if these combinations weren’t enough, the band successfully dabbles in other stylings too. The song “Saka” is a menacing instrumental that plays out like a war march. Its chilling intensity comes from a combination of tribal drumming and wonderfully jarring major key riffage. Also, the opener “La Injusticia” has an absolutely nasty crossover thrash mid-section.
As great as this album is, I do find the pacing a little odd. While I enjoy “Corredor De La Muerte” and “Saka”, I don’t understand the decision to have a transitional track and an instrumental within the album’s first four tracks. Later on, the band toys around a bit too much with the stylistic tone of “El Abismo I”. The funeral doom parts wirh clean vocals sounds excellent, but the heavier elements aren’t incorporated well within the song’s structure. Still though, Xibalba makes up for it with better showings elsewhere on this album.
An album like Años en Infierno shows the kind of progression that’s bound to both earn new admirers and make long-time fans proud. Overall, Xibalba’s combination of death metal, hardcore, and doom is a winner, and they’ve won a new fan in this trash TV viewer!
Xibalba’s new album Años en Infierno is out this Friday (5/29) via Southern Lord.
Best Tracks: Santa Muerte, Años en Infierno, Saka, En la Oscuridad
Weakest Tracks: El Abismo I
FFO: Gatecreeper, Fuming Mouth, Creeping Death
Overall Score: B+