Ancient civilisations such as Mayans and Incas are fertile breeding ground for bands to explore and do something a bit different musically incorporating both traditional sounding elements and narrative into their music. Unsurprisingly there are no shortage of Aztecs either and the latest tribe of them to hit our stereo are Cemican, perhaps more authentic than some as they actually hail from Mexico. This lot are on their 3rd album now and although my first encounter with them they are obviously doing something right as they have already played at Hellfest and Wacken Open Air where they are confirmed to do so again in 2020. Looking at pictures of the band they must be interesting to watch too as they look the real deal dressed up in tribal regalia and paint, have names such as Tecuhtli, Xaman-ek and Yei Tochtli as well as song titles that tell a tale once translated. Examples of these are ‘The one that comes down from the stars,’ ‘When the dead sigh (Mihcailhuitl)’ and ‘Tzitzimime (Dance of the bones).’ The obvious question is how does this all translate musically?
Well after a massive cheer starts things up and what sounds like a tribal chief rousing his warriors, we get two worlds combined in one. Namely the backbone is hardy thrashing metal with thumping drums, flailing guitars and a groove laden bounce about it. The other is the more traditional parts and this is where you will either love what you are hearing or quickly have your fill of the band’s sound. The question really is do you like the sound of fluted pipes and wind instruments trilling all over the temple? If not, well they may well give you a reedy headache very quickly, if the call of the piper suits though you are on safe ground. Still whether you will last the journey depends very much if you consider things interesting throughout as this is a long album of 12 songs running just shy of the hour. I am not going to get the copy and paste machine out for all the song titles here as things flow fairly constantly and gel together well. There are slower moments with chants and pipes over what sounds like large timpani type drums, there are flamboyant guitar wig-outs and vocals range from growly rasps to clean croons with plenty of big backing parts augmenting these, crooning and bellowing along. I guess this one will appeal more to the fun seekers than those looking for something dead serious such as the Inca enthused blackness of Saqura’s Cult with their storming album at the beginning of the year. Yes, essentially this is “gimmick metal” and it is definitely designed to sit aside bands on stage such as Turisas, Equilibrium, Korpiklaani, Finntroll and any other goofball artist who doesn’t mind wielding an axe and playing dress up, but it is certainly enjoyable stuff.
Personally, some judicious pruning with this to a much more palatable 45 mins or so would have been more than welcome and sometimes the songs are a bit swamped with the unnecessary. There are times when the instrumental segments veer a bit too close to buskers outside shopping centres playing flutes ala Incantation (not that one) pop picker 1982 hit Catchapaya when you just want them to rage away rather than follow a misty path over the mountains. No doubt though it all puts people at festivals in whacky dance mode and perhaps live is the real place to encounter the band rather than on album, a bit like GWAR maybe. Also is that a bloody didgeridoo I hear before me on ‘Aztec Soy’? There’s plenty of jolliness to be found and some very metal guitar histrionics that the cheese metal fans will love and also some occasional female vocals that make a nice break from the chest-beating manliness of it all and there is plenty going on here to keep you occupied. Things do flag after a while 5-minute instrumental ‘Atemaxaque’ seems surplus to requirements although it is certainly atmospheric and sends you into the rainforest to stumble around looking for a way out. There’s also a really annoying clean crooned number that sounds like weak world music and that is one that I wince at every time and definitely a contender for the cutting room floor.
I think that about sums it up and I would definitely rather this had gone to another reviewer, obviously the description of it left them all playing dodge the bullet though and avoiding it like the veritable plague. Cemican definitely have some good ideas but unfortunately as far as I am concerned the novelty quickly wore thin. It’s the sort of music that plenty will enjoy and there’s no denying that Guadalajaran Aztec folk-metal is very much a thing. Now please enough of those pipes already!
(6.5/10 Pete Woods)