Xibalba are not a band I’d heard of before receiving this, their third album, for review. Apparently splicing hardcore with death metal, ‘Tierra Y Libertad’ sees the Californians in their “most threatening form yet”. On top of assertions like this, the accompanying promotional material also makes clear the band’s mission to restore the breakdown to its rightful place as a respected pillar of quality extreme metal. A curious ambition at face value, unless of course we’re talking the type that Suffocation pioneered to monstrous effect on ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’… But from first impressions, the mission statement sounds fair enough – especially as it’s backed up by some typically plush Dan Seagrave artwork. Sonically too, it also rings true from the off.
‘Enemigo’ ruptures the air with a strained, guttural roar that leads into some very rumbly, bass heavy death metal. Naturally Bolt Thrower leaps to mind as a musical reference point, although once we get in the swing of things, some hardcore overtones become apparent in the chugging riffs. Blasts, infectious riffs and an aura of sonic destruction make it hard not to get enveloped by the opener. The aspect to Xibalba’s sound which takes the most acclimatising to is the vocals but they ultimately do the job. Whilst the first track makes a favourable impression in a death metal sense then, the band’s hardcore background proves more and more central to ‘Tierra Y Libertad’ as the record progresses. On ‘Guerilla’, we are confronted with death metal which doesn’t go very far musically – despite the distinctly ‘Domination’-era Morbid Angel influence – and which thematically expounds hatred towards the racism suffered by Hispanic folk in the USA. Whilst understandably relevant to the band members, and admirable in sentiment, I worship death metal precisely because it’s apolitical.
The greatest issue for me however is the music. ‘Mid-pace chug’ sums up the majority of tracks on offer – such as ‘Invierno’, which is formulaic aside from the odd absorbing passage and a tangential piece of Cannibal Corpse styled soloing. Likewise is ‘Tierra Y Libertad’ itself. With an all too familiar pace, the title track comes across as more lethargic than terrifying as it trundles along. ‘En Paz Descanse’ embodies the problem with Xibalba’s take on death metal best of all though. Again, a real ‘Domination’-era tone permeates the guitars to great effect yet the hardcore nature of much of the song fails to capitalise on this potentially devastating feature. And while the breakdown towards the end of the track might translate well live, it doesn’t inspire anything in these ears other than boredom in the context of the CD. The worst of all however is saved for last. Unbelievably, ‘El Vacío’ lasts for thirteen minutes(?!) of epic, forlorn and emotive reflection that underwhelms in each respect and is, indeed, the last thing in the world this mediocre album needed.
As an example of death metal, ‘Libertad Y Tierra’ obviously does very little for me. Where it displays some of the conventions of the genre – as well as a few other nice touches like isolated nods to Crowbar – Xibalba seem too heavily indebted to hardcore for it to work. And for all those points of promise (like the guitar tone, the solos, the Spanish vocals, and artwork) their formula too often comes across as muddled and bloated. Undoubtedly there’s an audience out there for it, but there are not enough dynamic shifts or engaging tracks for me to consider revisiting this record any time soon.