(In this May 2020 edition of THE SYNN REPORT Andy Synn combines reviews and streams of all the albums (and one EP) released to date by the California band Xibalba, including their latest album released just yesterday by Southern Lord.)
Recommended for fans of: Misery Index, Earth Crisis, Morbid Angel
Depending on who you ask, Death Metal and Hardcore are either mortal enemies or eternal blood brothers, divided or bound by a mutual love of pure heaviness and pulverising aggression.
Californian crushers Xibalba clearly see the two styles as different sides of the same coin, and have been paying their dues for over a decade now, producing, to date, four impressively intense albums of churning riffs, chunky breakdowns, and belligerent bellowing vocals.
But, for whatever reason, the band just haven’t had that major “break out” moment yet, which is pretty shocking when you consider how much crossover potential there is in their sound. After all, they’re pretty much the only band I could ever recommend equally and without reservations to fans of Earth Crisis or Entombed, Disembodied or Dismember, Misery Index or Machine Head or Morbid Angel.
Hopefully, however, the recent release of their fourth album, Años en infierno, should give their profile a major boost, meaning now is the time to jump onboard the hype train before you get left behind!
MADRE MÍA GRACIAS POR LOS DÍAS – 2010
Unsurprisingly the band’s debut album is their most overtly and purely Hardcore-inclined record, although the guitars definitely already have some serious metallic bite to them, augmenting the already impressive heaviness of the chunky, chug-heavy riffs and bludgeoning, brutally efficient rhythms.
Skull-cracking opener “Bright Sun” is a concise, crushing kerb-stomp of a track (think early Hatebreed only with more malevolent overtones) that quickly introduces the band’s core components – big, brutish riffs, punchy, pounding breakdowns, and burly, belligerent vocals – without wasting any time.
They then quickly expand upon this with the militant, mid-paced momentum and ragged dischords of “Madre Mia” – channelling classic Earth Crisis in the process – and the surprisingly atmospheric, slow-burn build up of anti-religious anthem “Never Kneel”, whose mix of churning chuggery, tribal, tom-heavy percussion, and viscerally intense vocals, recalls a more stripped-down and Hardcore-influenced Sepultura.
“Fallen” is just under three-and-a-half minutes of lumbering, down-tuned Doom-core which traps you in a chugging chokehold while occasionally laying down a series of breakdown-driven body blows right to your unprotected ribcage, while “Time’s Up” is somehow even heavier and even darker (both musically and lyrically), showcasing a truly gargantuan, doom-laden guitar tone that’s equal parts ominous, old-school Death Metal and heaving, hate-fuelled Hardcore.
“We Deserve to Die” is a surprisingly varied and versatile number – at least by Metallic Hardcore standards anyway – starting out in surprisingly melodic (albeit subtly menacing) fashion, before dropping into a seriously gut-rumbling groove, which then slowly but surely builds momentum until it reaches proto-thrash levels of intensity, at which point the band throw down even harder with some big, swinging hooks and staccato rhythmic beatdowns.
As you might expect, the end of the record is just as thickly corded with massive, meatheaded riffs as the start, and the climactic combo of Hardcore heavyweight “Red” (whose relentless ground ‘n’ pound attack and bellowing “rain blood” refrain makes it one of the most crushingly catchy tracks on the album) and the much more Death Metal sounding “Obituary” (which, like its namesake, combines slow-motion metallic riffing and swift, low-sting tremolo runs to stunning effect) ensures that, even after the music has faded out, the bruises it leaves behind will stay with you.
HASTA LA MUERTE – 2012
By the time the band’s second album hit the streets Xibalba had obviously started to incorporate even more Death Metal into their sound (as the gorgeously grim artwork from Dan Seagrave, who would from this point on become the band’s go-to cover artist, so clearly indicates).
Opener “No Serenity”, for example, is a cross between sludgy Hardcore and bone-grinding Death/Doom, coming across like a steroid-fuelled jam session between Crowbar and Celtic Frost, while “Soledad” picks up the pace and doubles down on the punishment like some sort of mosh-core Morbid Angel (right down to the even more guttural vocals and unexpectedly squalling solo).
Of course, not every song on Hasta la Muerte hits these same heights (at a little over fifty-four minutes in length it’s at least two or three songs too long), but when it does hit that sweet spot between hammering heaviness and hooky hellfire (such as on the aptly-named and suitably scorching “Burn”) the results are unquestionably devastating.
“Sentenced”, for example, is a down-and-dirty, doom-laden death march whose tempo only occasionally rises above an oppressively heavy, Obituary-esque crawl, and which only seems to get heavier and heavier as the song progresses, whereas the title track finds Xibalba morphing very briefly, but convincingly, into a Southern Californian version of Entombed, complete with buzzing, low-tuned tremolo riffs and some seriously grisly and guttural vocal hooks.
And while “Mala Mujer” feels like a series of clever ideas that never fully come together, it’s hard to argue with the closing triumvirate of “Stoneheart”, “Lujuria”, and “Cold”.
The former is a relentless riff-fest of boneheaded brutality akin to Nails at their dumbest and deadliest, while the latter is just under six minutes of menacing feedback and humongous Death-Sludge which ends the record in a manner so heavy you might need to get checked out by a chiropractor afterwards.
It’s “Lujuria”, however, which indicates that the band are already starting to think even further outside of the Metallic Hardcore ghetto, moving from suffocatingly slow Death Metal malevolence to a desolate and drawn-out atmospheric mid-section, and then to an ending that’s heftier than a concrete rhino, proving definitely that if “less is more”… then even MORE is even HEAVIER!
TIERRA Y LIBERTAD – 2015
Deathlier, thrashier, and arguably even angrier and even heavier than ever, Tierra y Libertad feels like a version of Xibalba that’s been mainlining nothing but a mix of broken glass and napalm (death) over the last few years, kicking off with the go-for-broke, go-for-the-throat, Sepultura-meets-Suicidal Tendencies assault of “Enemigo”, which demonstrates that no matter how deep into Death Metal the band may go, they’ll always have Hardcore blood running through their veins
Similarly, “Guerrilla” (which, with its in-your-face confrontation of race and discrimination, is one of the most royally pissed-off and righteously polemical tracks on the entire album), sounds a bit like Biohazard going ten rounds with Bolt Thrower in the middle of a riot, while the Hardcore-tinged Death/Thrash chuggery of “Invierno” finds a middle ground between Domination and Divine Intervention and claims it for its own.
“En Paz Descanse” is six and a half minutes of savage, sludge-stained Death Metal that’s crawled straight from the Floridian swamps into the Californian barrios, with the band fully embracing the darkest and doomiest aspects of their sound to stunning effect, after which the title-track, “Tierre y Libertad” (“Land and Liberty”, for those of you who don’t speak Spanish) picks up the pace and increases the intensity with a ferocious five-minute attack on corruption and oppression enacted by those in power.
Relentlessly driven by the bone-rattling drums of Jason Brunes, “Si Dos Quiere” mixes the abrasive urban assault of Burn My Eyes-era Machine Head with the barbaric, balls-to-the-wall attack of Malevolent Creation, delivering equal parts domineering groove and deathly intensity, after which mammoth closer, “El Vacio” drags the listener through just under thirteen monstrous minutes of staggeringly heavy Death/Doom and unexpectedly melancholy melody to end the album on a majorly depressing, but equally devastating, note.
DIABLO, CON AMOR… ADIOS – 2017
Bridging the gap between albums, the band’s 2017 EP feels like the moment where they finally, and fully, drew a line under their earlier, Hardcore incarnation, and fully embraced being the heavy-hitting, buzz-saw riffing, and totally uncompromising Death Metal band they’ve always been at heart.
“Diablo”, for example, could sit side-by-side with anything from Grave’s post-millennial comeback, showcasing a version of Xibalba whose vocals are gnarlier and more guttural (there are some seriously cavernous backing growls scattered here and there if you listen closely) and whose riff-driven swagger has now reached legendary proportions.
“Con Amor” is faster, more furious, and more Floridian in nature – imagine Cannibal Corpse consuming and spitting out bits of classic Earth Crisis and you’ll be in the right sort of brutal ballpark – while third and final track “Adios” is a sickeningly heavy blend of lurching sludgecore and nasty, Suffocation-esque Death Metal, equal parts blastbeats, breakdowns, and backbreaking groove.
AÑOS EN INFIERNO – 2020
If you’re at all familiar with the band’s evolution thus far, or if you’ve been paying at least a modicum of attention over the course of this article, you won’t be surprised to learn that Años en Infierno is by far the band’s most straight-up and stripped-down Death Metal album, one which leans even further into both Floridian filth and old-school Swedish savagery.
That’s not to say they’ve abandoned their Hardcore roots of course. Opener “La Injusticia”, for example, is equal parts grinding, Entombed-style grooves and hammering, Hatebreed-esque chuggery, atop which vocalist Nate Rebolledo lays down some of his most gruesome and gargantuan vocals yet
The slow-burn, slow-build of “Corredor De La Muerte”, which leads in turn into the buzz-saw bombardment of “Santa Muerte”, both have a serious Dismember feel to them, albeit with the melody turned down and the heaviness cranked all the way up to Morbid Angel levels, with the latter in particular constantly hammering its massive riffs and ragged rhythmic hooks into your brain with unforgiving force.
The sadistically slow riffs and tribal drums of instrumental “Saka” then see the band dipping their toes into the post-apocalyptic Death/Doom vibe of Disembowelment (and I know I’m not the only one to have made that comparison), after which the title-track goes even further, positively gnawing at your eardrums like some hideous hybrid of Incantation and Integrity at their nastiest and gnarliest.
“En La Oscuridad” keeps this low-and-slow flow going, albeit with a touch more Swedish evil and American grit – equal parts chainsaw and baseball bat if you’re keeping track of these things – leading into the suffocating heaviness of two-part closer “El Abismo”.
Of course, while the band have flirted with this sort of approach before, they’ve never gone as deep into the dark as they do here, diving into straight up Death/Doom territory in a manner which recalls prime Autopsy and/or Grave at their grimmest and grimiest, while also employing a dash of droning ambience and miserable melody that could only come from years spent absorbing the collective output of bands like Celtic Frost and Grief.
The first part is undoubtedly the scene-setter, built around a core of moody, simmering melody bookended by two colossal slabs of pure doomosity ™, while the second part brings everything together – Hardcore, Death Metal, Thrash, Sludge, Doom – in one climactic conflagration designed to leave nothing and no-one standing at the end.
It all goes to show you, there’s heavy, and then there’s Xibalba. So make sure you limber up and stretch out properly before listening to this one, otherwise you’re likely to do yourself a serious injury.