Infierno es otras personas.
In the discussion surrounding my review for Xibalba’s 2017 EP ‘Diablo, Con Amor… Adios,’ I said the following: “It’s definitely a solid EP, but I wasn’t a massive fan of [2015’s] ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ and I want to hear them do some different shit on their next record. Still heavy, still angry, but mix it up a bit.”
Thankfully, with the arrival of their newest eight-track album, it appears that Xibalba have (perhaps unwittingly) fulfilled my wishes. Indeed, ‘Años en Infierno’ (meaning ‘Years of Hell’) is as heavy as a bag of bricks, suitably pissed off, and chock-full of the group’s essential anger and brutality. However, the record is also tempered with enough sonic variation and stylistic curve balls to keep things fresh and exciting.
Lead single ‘En la Oscuridad’ (‘In The Dark’) makes this evident from the outset. Guitarist Brian Ortiz lays down a hypnotic OSDM riff, recalling the galloping, grimy ferocity from the heyday of artists like Morbid Angel and Bolt Thrower, with Jason Brunes’ pummelling percussion and frontman Nate Rebolledo’s monstrous vocal bellows perfectly complementing the track’s serpentine passages. It’s also home to one of the album’s standout moments, where the band hit a rhythmic lock-step in the bridge, as Rebolledo barks out a fierce and dreary declaration over a death-thrash maelstrom (“In the darkness/ Where you shall live”), before his vocals shuffle off the mortal coil and disintegrate into the void.
With evocative album artwork handled by long-time collaborator Dan Seagrave and production overseen by the legendary Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Black Curse, Tomb Mold), ‘Años en Infierno’ is a complete rendering of Xibalba’s crushing musical style and incendiary aesthetic. The riffage on opener ‘La Justicia’ (‘The Injustice’) is hard-hitting, sharp, and precise, matching Rebolledo’s lyrical storytelling about the generational pain inflicted by state-backed death squads. ‘Corredor de la Muerte’ (‘Death Row’) takes this theme and slows it right down for a death-doom dirt nap, while ‘Santa Muerte’ (‘Holy Death’) incorporates blackened hardcore energy for one of the band’s best breakdowns since the indomitable fan-favourite of ‘Cold’.
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Xibalba then switches things up on the instrumental ‘Saka,’ which takes its namesake from a Mayan cosmic ritual offered to the thirteen levels and spheres of life, where all Heaven Gods and Underworld Gods exist. With lumbering grooves and towering crescendos, the track is anchored in place by Brunes’ concussive tribal drumming and Sepultura-esque soundscapes culminating in a sense of heightened tension moving into the record’s title track, which ostensibly functions as one mammoth beatdown.
Closing out ‘Años en Infierno’ are the most progressive moments on the record, with the two-part track ‘El Abismo’ (‘The Abyss’), both of which push well past the six-minute mark. ‘Pt. I’ drags the listener through the murk and muck of sludge riffs and pounding drums, before bursting in with bright, clean-guitar passages and the surprise inclusion of Rebolledo’s soft baritone croon. It’s a bold move for the group and it mostly pays off, especially when they bring back the doom, gloom, and gutturals. This dynamic contrast helps to make Xibalba even heavier (if such a thing were genuinely possible) and highlight the record’s thematic undertones of darkness and light. Sliding into ‘Pt. II’, the band mix it up again with a bizarre combination of upbeat almost pop-punk chords and Rebolledo’s grunting vocals, before falling back into another retread of the clean-guitar passages from ‘Pt. I’ for a slightly lack-lustre finish.
Overall, ‘Años en Infierno’ is a welcome addition to the Xibalba back catalogue. The album retains all of the band’s heavy sonic signifiers while also stretching their songwriting into some new territory for both the better and the worse (depending on where you fall in your own musical inclinations). Ultimately, it’s a marked improvement from the drudgery of ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ and should appease dedicated fans accordingly.
‘Años en Infierno’ is available now through Southern Lord. You can find physical and digital copies of the record here.