Landing headfirst and frozen waist deep in iced-over Cocytus, the inverted castaway Lucifer is gripped by the unstirring waters of lamentation whilst chewing screaming head-first bodies in each of this three mouths. Infinite grinding and ripping torture of those tantamount sinners in the eyes of Dante, the bodies themselves are irrelevant today but the symbolism there holds exactly the illness of the devoutly pious’ torturous imagination that’d persist through generations of perpetual mental slavery. Religion-sanctioned genocide demands an eternally shifting Judas, an enemy with an indeterminate face means the zealot and their murderous kin will never recognize death on a massive scale, nor avert their gaze from outside threats long enough to see their own internal daimon as any sort of scourge. Despite all banners of empathy and forgiveness being too caked with innocent blood to fly, modern man measures feigned symbolic empathy versus action and simply tilts his head to see straight. In denial of Hell and by purpose of thwarting an eternal enemy too many wander blindly seeking the strength of mind to act. Pomona, California metalllic hardcore trio Xibalba cannot find peace beneath the bombardment, a staccato burial by way of the lowest moments in life cast atop an internalized abysm in an effort to plug all meaning from descending. “When do I act on this overdue thought?” Therein lies the true plague today, the deep sorrow of helplessness in the face of forever mounting injustice and death, the paralysis of existential dread within chaos. ‘Años en Infierno’ offers neither notion of an afterlife nor any sort of false hope but lives through Hell, wears strife as armor, and never takes a step back from the core convictions Xibalba have persisted with from the outset.
Thirteen years in and now on their fourth full-length there is no great secret to the distinction and success of these southern California fellow’s exploits; The first album (‘Madre Mia Gracias Por Las Dias‘, 2010) wasn’t there yet in terms of sound design or stylistic mesh but no matter which record you grab you’ll recognize Xibalba for their blend of sludge and death metal influenced metallic hardcore. Undoubtedly children of the 90’s who’d picked up their performative angle from the rise of metalcore beyond the intensifying ‘tough guy’ and beatdown hardcore ante-uppers in the mid-to-late 90’s and early 00’s Xibalba more or less went as big as possible with what bands like Earth Crisis, Integrity, and to some degree All Out War had been pushing for years: Death metal sized hardcore. Today that notion sounds kinda “No duh” considering deathcore is a thing and all that but Xibalba pull from popular and distinct influences and not the minutiae of the underground when they are boiled down to basal elements. Starting with their third album (‘Tierra y Libertad‘, 2015) they’d cranked everything to ten by way of a ‘Gateways to Annihilation’ but, looking back at ‘Domination’ (see: “Santa Muerte”) sized production and writing songs that weren’t as “street” as say Madball or 25 Ta Life but still propped up by a beatdown hardcore delivery that never goes full chug-assed metalcore. It might not sound like their own thing considering all of the groove-heavy death metal and hardcore fusions abound today but once you’ve sat with Xibalba for a record or two they’ll prove unmistakable.
‘Años en Infierno’ is ultimately a personal 90’s hardcore record at its core, though it might read literally as sullen prose detailing massive death and injustice that features little to no encouragement or unity, and no doubt it’ll fit the worldview of an old Strife or Integrity record where suffering and atonement are pushed through performances and growing extremity. Without underplaying the catharses implanted into this fourth Xibalba LP, the reason folks will flock to it will be by virtue of the stylistic perfection they’ve achieved in terms of a strongest evolutionary expression of their death metal, death/doom metal, and hardcore punk influences. Sure bands like Disgrace, Skinfather, and to a lesser degree No Zodiac each have a similar sound to some degree but Xibalba have pushed the limits beyond ‘Tierra y Libertad’ without sounding too freakishly experimental. No doubt those heavier dips into death/doom territory and the “Planet Caravan”-esque “El Abismo I” stems from guitarist Brian Ortiz‘ restless hands in side projects Mortuary Punishment and Tzompantli which don’t directly indicate those influences but surely suggest he’s been veering towards darker stuff these last several years beyond ‘Diablo, Con Amor… Adios‘ (2017).
Though the proof is all over this goddamned mammoth-tuned stomp of a record no doubt just reading that Arthur Rizk was on staff for this record geared me up for something capably death metal attuned. He’ll typically bring some righteously blurred edges to metalpunk bands (see: Power Trip) and make some pocket-emphasizing tweaks yet nobody’d expect how much they’ve cranked the fuckin’ boom of it all up to nukes. Still, I’d been surprised how stupid heavy ‘Años en Infierno’ was when I’d first fired it up. “La Injusticia” hammers out heaviest of all and I remain stunned just how far they pushed the absolute attack of Xibalba‘s sound. The simpler rhythms of the band play well within the steel echo-chamber of it all but when it comes time to ease up on the chug-and-push, such as the ‘Against’-era Sepultura swells of “Saka”, Xibalba do not collapse under the weight of their sound. Getting down with the compositions here beyond style points shouldn’t feel entirely alien to established fans as ‘Años en Infierno’ is several steps beyond ‘Tierra y Libertad’ but not some fanatical leap into the unknown. “El Abismo I” will be a shocking thrill to some, I’m sure but I’d venture that they’ll pull in more death metal heads than they will lose any hardcore purist who didn’t already hit the eject button on the previous record. You’ll get what you want from a Xibalba record at the end of the day, the beatdowns are still to be had, though I’d say nothing comes plain or borrowed this time around and their blend of 90’s metallic hardcore and brutal sludged-out death/doom is remarkably full-range for a band dabbling in any of those suggested sub-genre niches.
‘Años en Infierno’ is an astonishing feat of death-attuned hardcore sound design, a sledging brutal enough that you might initially overlook the heaviness of the prose within to start. In my case those swings of nihilism, the awe of human suffering, and mass hopelessness eventually whipped back around and hit me hard enough to appreciate the penitent heart of the record as much as the cruel sock of its riffs. Brawn, brains, and some humanity amongst the molten destruction of ‘Años en Infierno’ earns a high recommendation of Xibalba‘s latest on my end.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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