It’s always refreshing when an established label takes a punt on some young up-and-comers, especially when they fall outside the usual parameters defined by the rest of the roster. However, the Greg Anderson-owned Southern Lord deals only in extremity, which is why they’ve just put out the second album by California brutalists Xibalba, whose apocalyptic, sludgey hardcore is the perfect addition to a very special metal family.
Named after the thoroughly unpleasant Mayan underworld, Xibalba set about making a truly ungodly racket for 51 minutes with their bludgeoning, hate-filled assault on the ears. Unafraid to mix styles and cherry-pick whatever sounds nasty enough to get the job done from metal’s myriad sub-genres, ‘Hasta La Muerte’, Spanish for ‘To the Death’ takes no prisoners in its quest to kick ass, crush skulls and maybe get you two-stepping in your living room if you’re not stuck to your sofa by the sheer density of the riffs.
Opening track ‘No Serenity’ sounds like Hatebreed fighting Crowbar with bricks in the ruins of a Mayan temple as each successive, suffocating breakdown turns up the oppression to a near unendurable level. ‘Soledad’ and ‘Stoneheart’ are sure to spark unimaginably violent circle pits when played live with their filthy Obituary cum-Roots era Sepultura low-end thump acting as an access all areas pass to the area of your brain that commands you to lose your shit with zero regard for consequence.
‘Burn’ recalls vintage Bloodlet with its surging, sea-sick hardcore straining at the seams with unfettered heaviness. Next track ‘Sentenced’ repeatedly pauses to survey the carnage wrought by its bitter, lurching onslaught of Kirk Windtstein worship with some head-caving percussion adding more damage to your already frayed nerves. The abrasive, crawling sludge of ‘The Flood’ suggests that Xibalba have been paying attention to their bosses’ brief stint in Thorr’s Hammer as they eschew vocals entirely for this track, preferring to let the music do the stalking. Anyone man enough to challenge them on that?
Vocalist Nate Rebolledo switches to his native tongue for the visceral title-track, making his hoarse exclamations even more threatening now that genre language convention can be ignored, if only for one track. The sweet female vocals that pop up on ‘Mala Mujer’ are unexpected, but fit perfectly over the churning dirge and clattering drums wreaking havoc underneath. The 8 minute plus ‘Lujuria’ comes coated with a filthy layer of Swedish death metal, ratcheting up the tension to near unbearable levels as you realise that this is how deathcore should sound, and that every other band of that ilk is worthy only of derision (but you knew that part already). All that’s left is the harrowing drone and monstrous d-tuned brutality of ‘Cold.’
Remorseless, crushing and thrillingly violent, ‘Hasta La Muerte’ is the full package with its crusty Taylor Young production and gloriously grim Dan Seagrave inked cover art leaving no stones unturned in announcing its arrival. A slightly predictable delivery is the only minor gripe, but Xibalba are packing far too much heat for this to matter, and they don’t sound like agreeable types.