From the Iraca of Pisba to the Nutabe of el Valle de los Osos this latest work from Bogota, Colombia death/doom metal project Cóndor explores the natural history of their native lands as much as it does the defiant warrior within. Though the natural beauty of the unconquered Colombian spirit shines through all of this quintets four full-lengths, this ‘El Valle del Cóndor’ record in particular wears old scars upon conquered lands most proudly. These poetic renderings, achieved at points of natural and national inspiration, wear as cultural badges of experience and collective resistance. Through inspirationally raw heavy metal and independent death/doom sounds Cóndor refines their classicist approach to melody with brighter (yet still subdued) production sound and a ‘cleaner’ take on the lead techniques employed throughout their third album, ‘Sangreal’ (2016); This lends an inch more ‘professionalism’ to appease the dabbling masses but more importantly this gives Cóndor a clearer voice with which they can speak proudly to the ghosts of native Colombian cultural identity that walk, as the living dead, beside them.
There is little doubt for apt revisionists that the earliest efforts of this band were as resonant as their works of today but, the methods were too bare for the sort of ‘Peaceville three’ melodic death/doom influences that shone through brightest. To ‘simplify’ a movement that relies so heavily on embellishment for atmospherics was a daunting and messy listen for many; This unfortunately lead many listeners to overlook the pronounced epic heavy metal influences that continue to drive Cóndor today. The major remedy that ‘El Valle del Cóndor’ brings in 2018 is a focus on rhythmic interest and grand melodic lead guitar work. There are more fitting comparisons out in the wild but from my point of view this album almost resembles The Chasm‘s first two records of the mid-90’s, also heavily influenced by melodic death/doom of the time, in their shaping of doom metal riff into epics. Alternately, the far more melodramatic early works of Brazilians Mythological Cold Towers (‘Sphere of Nebaddon’) could exist in a similar plateau; Heavy nods to classic heavy metal melodicism will speak to fans of Arghoslent‘s occasional slower, less circular refrains into balladry. If Running Wild was a frame of reference for that band, then it would be Warlord or Solstice for Cóndor. I’m sure their influences are much more specific but nonetheless the deliberate, heroic marching pace of epic heavy metal is surely felt beyond any anxious torpor typical of doom metal.
I had not been mystified by this band since ‘Nadia’ (2013), as I felt the two records beyond (‘Duin’ and ‘Sangreal’) served as conceptual bridge to something bigger and more ‘complete’. ‘El Valle del Cóndor’ delivers upon the promising structural growth of the band without losing the loose, free movement of past releases. There is feeling and grandeur in tracks like “Gudrun” and especially “Santa Rosa des Osos” that lingers and continues developing in the mind beyond the act of listening that I find rare in this type of melodically focused death doom. It is a small additional layer of appeal for an already unique and well realized stylistic conception that the band have become further capable of writing wholly memorable compositions; Before this point I felt like much of ‘Sangreal’ centered around memorable parts rather then entire songs. This could be a function of my own modular appreciation of certain aspects of extreme metal’s musical qualities but in this case I believe Cóndor are simply improving and this latest record is a particularly inspired venture.
Through many listens I found myself appreciating the melodic lead guitars as much as the clangorous basslines. These elements combined would often cut through the rest of the mix as they guide the majority of the tracks on the album. This nearly contrapuntal performative layer, akin to late 90’s/early 00’s newer waves of epic heavy/doom metal, makes for several highly repeatable tracks for those of us prone to focus on guitar work above all else, at least upon initial listens. While I do find the minimal production a bit hazy and claustrophobic when I leave ‘El Valle del Cóndor’ on repeat, the record has help up well across a handful of months since release. The combination of melodic death/doom and epic heavy metal is surely common in other forms but I can recommend this particular album because it finds Cóndor at their best making music that could only come from their collective. Moderate recommendation, understanding that many will find this challenging for either sonic fidelity or unique rhythmic style. For preview I would recommend the triumphant “Raudo es el Cauca” and then “Santa Rosa des Osos” for the most memorable journeys on offer.
Spell of the aurora. 3.75/5.0
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