PAN-AMERIKAN NATIVE FRONT – Little Turtle’s War (2021)REVIEW

There are myriad conversations to be had in reference to Mexican-American musician Kurator of War‘s Pan-Amerikan Native Front as most concerns lain toward the artist have either amounted to cursory paranoia or resolved as fine examples of extant bias ingrained into aging United States/Canada anti-indigenous educational materials. The fact that no Algonquin tribe claims the artist shouldn’t matter, to start, and the notion that this exploration of famous battles/campaigns of resistance indicates trading one form of nationalism for another is more than a little absurd. Accessing a broader spiritual identity to speak to the reality of United States history and its indigenous people is valid foil and his messaging hasn’t been expressly ‘ethnic nationalist’ in theme (unlike the curiously unfocused ideology of Ifernach), a war hero obsession to be sure but, perhaps for the sake of redirecting the point of view closer to Eva Marie Garroute‘s radical indigenism where we no longer study Native American and Mesoamerican culture as a smashed curio, swept under the rug and occasionally fawned over for its novel “What could’ve been” antiquity. The necessarily clarified intent of his second album, ‘Little Turtle’s War‘, finds Kurator of War positing this Pan-Amerikan Native Front as a reaction against the nationalist propagandized version of United States’ cruel “freedom justified” manifest destiny as they expanded U.S. territory at the cost of entire nations, languages, cultures and countless lives. The question yet remains, then, as to whether or not the influence of European paganistic and/or national socialist black metal’s pridefully stomping traditions exist as a matter of unsavory collusion when applied to a band calling for historical accuracy, the perspective of those fighting for land (rights, culture, etc.) and a proud spiritual identity at once? I’m not so sure, but the fellow surely crafts a fantastical and triumphant experience each time he acts under this name.

Though I am not sure how necessary it is in exploration of, well, the actual fucking music, I can say that folks who are leery of unclaimed “pretenders” representing themselves as “off-reservation” descendants of Native American tribes for the sake of claiming land and/or important indigenous heritage have well-founded suspicions. I’ve unfortunately some first-hand experience where an ancestor of mine claimed to be Shoshone to the point that some (hilariously stark white) successors believed this to the point of trying to obtain legal proof for decades. Needless to say that this is foul behavior that costs many (well-documented) family names and generational survivors of genocide a fair amount of irritation as a certain amount of white United States folks, particularly in the south, claim heritage that statistically couldn’t exist in any such numbers. My point? I’d only seek to justify why folks have directly asked if Kurator of War is specifically Algonquin, not to separate the Mesoamerican (read: Central American) indigenous population from the Midwest/Canadian tribal reach for a cursory reason but, to ensure that the focus upon the heroic feats of war via Shawnee chief Tecumseh and Miami war chief Mihšihkinaahkwa aren’t cultural misappropriations. It is all in the name though, right? Pan-Amerikan Native Front speaks for itself well enough as a unified umbrella of identity and resistance against Christian manifest destiny and thankfully the artist has thus far presented himself as respectful, earnest in spiritual intent, and actually quite intelligent within the scant text and audio interviews I’ve been able to dig up thus far.

Formed in 2015 and readied with a now infamously under-stocked debut full-length (‘Tecumseh’s War‘, 2016) soon after, Kurator of War‘s first album under this name wouldn’t fully begin to catch on until he’d begin to tour in the Midwest and Canada while groups like Maquahuitl and Volahn began to gain popularity with what was essentially indigenous nationalist black metal from the Mexica perspective, similarly themed with historical wars in mind but also some (implied, or assumed) element of racial tribalism. Of course folks wanted more of this but well, in any case a face mask and a curvy swastika is still… Uh, you might not want to go big with that angle, eh? It’d be a stretch to associate what Pan-Amerikan Native Front do musically with what the Black Twilight Circle does stylistically within groups like Blue Hummingbird on the Left but no doubt this notion that seeking one’s ancient identity could be spiritually powerful and a good source of artistic inspiration likely stemmed from exploring this sort of underground black metal at the time. ‘Tecumseh’s War’ was stylistically closer to now defunct but also Chicago-area borne black metal band Fin and no doubt elements of Finnish black metal had influenced that first album as the artist points to Archgoat and Sargeist among others for rhythm guitar interest. It was a fine uh, homebrewed debut with some clear sonic limitations but a triumphant release nonetheless; Unfortunately the scarcity of the physical release meant Kurator of War‘s early output largely ended up being remembered as a curio for its themes rather than its general focus on stoic black metal guitar work. No doubt folks were thrilled for this project’s return in 2020 for an under-pressed split (‘Native Amerikan Black Metal‘, 2020) with Ifernach as the drum levels were powerful but no longer peaking and the arrangements indicated a good 2-3 years of work on a more distinct and impressive sound. It is a shame that Discogs poachers might’ve made more money off the record than the bands themselves. This was the best indication of what style ‘Little Turtle’s War’ persists with but Pan-Amerikan Native Front yet push into more cinematic territory, an economy of notes that treads into simpler folkish black metal territory, driving straight toward key melodic statements in most every case.

History portrays Mihšihkinaahkwa, which is closer to terrapin or turtle rather than “little turtle” in direct translation, as a man of fearsome tactical intellect who’d been credited as the leader of something like seventeen oft decisive battles against the Union’s attempts to take as much northern land as possible before the British could cede the Midwest into Canada. With contempt for the opportunistic dealings of his fellow leadership he’d famously given up part of the land he represented (see: Treaty of Greenville) and stuck steadfast to a new treaty of peace even after the United States government later moved to take it all by force. ‘Little Turtle’s War’ largely describes this warrior period of his life before retiring into a less famous role as a diplomat who’d bring vital vaccinations, subsistence farming techniques, etc. to his people as ‘naturalization’ became inevitable. The core experience of the album relies upon descriptions of the formation of the Western Confederacy of tribes and seems to center around battles fought over American settlement-ceded lands but the bigger picture of this era saw Native Americans fighting against the French, for the British, against the United States, and eventually against the British depending on the territory. I insert this observation for the sake of additionally portraying these tribes as surrounded, debilitated by false treaties, yet industrious enough to take advantage of duplicitous and tiring United States forces after the Revolutionary War had culled considerable numbers from the fray. Depictions of these events unanimously recognize Little Turtle as a heroic figure and yes, that’d be my main point here within this heavy contextualization: The details of these events are inherently heroic (as would be his peacekeeping efforts) and it seems Pan-Amerikan Native Front have put some considerable effort into incorporating some light aspects of generalized Native American music that feels like an ode to the subject’s heroism at face value. Chants, percussion and even some punkish rhythmic melodies speak to a somewhat specific culture at war for their land. Though this doesn’t benefit from any particularly strong research into traditional Algonquin music it does lend Kurator of War‘s hand a bit of a tragedian, Kawir-esque touch where folkish yet heroic movements aren’t plainly ‘heavy metal’ but tinged with a reasonable implication of cultural artefact.

You can decide for yourself if the acoustic intermission within the extended closure of “nakaaniaki meehkweelimakinciki” invokes Native American sentiment or, Midwest indie rock melodrama but most of ‘Little Turtle’s War’ brings a distinctly protracted sense of cinematic value to the table. “Assemble of the Western Confederacy” immediately speaks the language of underground pagan black metal via a simple yet stoic guitar progression that develops into an equally rigid number, this is not progressive music but a largely intuitive characterization of events in keeping with the traditions of naturalist black metal. “Power of the Calumet Dance” reminds us of the signature sound inherent to any Pan-Amerikan Native Front release and I’d suggest folks hoping to “get” what so many feverish record collectors are in a tizzy over should look to that second piece for a small window into the unique blasting-yet-melodic phrases that Kurator of War brings to this musical spectrum. From my perspective some of the ensuing lead-driven peaks of the full listen may as well be half-speed Tragedy guitar melodies on some level but, of course context matters as the stamping nature of modern raw black metal in the United States bears some influence over the greater form here. “Michikiniqua’s Triumph” is probably my favorite moment on the record, not only for the jog-punk attack of its lo-fi scowling dirge but for the native vocalization that ends the piece. This doesn’t necessarily embody every strength of the entire recording but it should highlight the grand separation of each piece where different tonality, pacing, and types of movements ensure each part of ‘Little Turtle’s War’ not only feels narrative in its progression but never strikes upon a souring redundancy. The first song I’d mentioned, “nakaaniaki meehkweelimakinciki”, is yet the most triumphant bout of narrative (for its storming melodic black attack) and the most unusual cohesion of forms for its too-far extended acoustic section. I was totally there for the song but the composition could’ve clipped a minute or two from its interruptus.

‘Little Turtle’s War’ is only slightly inconsistent when appreciated as a valuable, much needed addition to the current United States black metal canon yet the completed listening experience manages to be Pan-Amerikan Native Front‘s more memorable work to date. The ambition inherent to this album as a whole trumps past works and the project appears that much closer to a unique (musical) identity that seems to be forming somewhat slower than their inspired themes. I will suggest that the folkish, theatrical side of the band begins to show here and I hope that this is the future direction of the project; As much as I love the blasting thump-a-thon that the first album brought these heavily melodic pieces help to depict the subject matter to great effect. I’d found the full spin moderately memorable to start and unforgettably arranged after some intensive listening, the rhythmic value of these pieces certainly becomes infectious when left to fill a room with their howling, hypnotic forces. My score might seem a bit conservative but consider it a bid of confidence to grow upon, I see greater potential freshly untapped. For now, we’ve gotten the near-peak of this early raw, war torn vision of the artist in the form of a thrilling black metal sojourn. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:PAN-AMERIKAN NATIVE FRONT
TITLE:Little Turtle’s War
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):Stygian Black Hand [Cassette]
RELEASE DATE:February 5th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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