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Xibalba – Hasta La Muerte

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Historically speaking, there are two distinct versions of Southern Lord Records: the ambient, droned-out metal label of the late ’90s and the naughty aughts, and the newer hardcore-peddling label of the past few years. The two eras, it seems, have semi-independent fan bases. Nothing has turned Hatfield-McCoy yet, but it’s difficult to imagine those folks who looked to Greg Anderson for dreamy riffscapes going whole-hog for windmill-friendly mosh-fests such as Black Breath and Burning Love.

California’s Xibalba may widen the Venn Diagram’s center. Their 2012 album Hasta La Muerte sounds very much like a fictitious supergroup of death-and-doom musicians trying to write a minimal hardcore album. In truth the opposite happened: a bunch of guys who made a music video about throwing a block party recorded an old-school death metal album. The end result marries the unreasonable anger of a grind album and the seasick feeling of Morbid Angel’s “Where the Slime Live” or early Obituary. In fact, every aspect of the PR campaign surrounding Xibalba raises that comparison, from the full-page ad in Decibel to the Dan Seagrave artwork.

When I listen to Xibalba, though, more contemporary acts spring to mind. Gaza, Lord Mantis, and others are twisting hardcore and sludge together with an almost black metal level of misanthropy, and those thick stews of discontent are as modern as they are savage. Xibalba also dabble in that sound, although their take sacrifices subtlety for immediate impact. Aforementioned bands wallow in their misery; Xibalba use it as an excuse to break things, quite possibly in your apartment, while smoking a blunt.

Hasta La Muerte functions in simple terms—as a blunt instrument. They deliver lyrics about tough-guy fare—heartbreak, depression, being a Latino badass—in monotone barks. The guitar sounds thick, if a bit flat, and there is almost no melody to speak of.

Xibalba lives and dies by their drummer. He pushes and pulls the songs into protracted exercises in simulating impending disaster. The album’s centerpiece song both literally and figuratively, “The Flood,” showcases his command of drum tone and little else. The ghost of Southern Lord past really manifests during that song as well—it flows into the anemic roar of the title track and from there into the female vocal-tinged “Mala Mujer” in smooth fashion, like a single drawn-out tune separated into movements. In that sense, Hasta La Muerte functions as a running experience instead of a collection of individual songs.

At the end of the day, what I hear is an excellent sum of a few rather simple parts. Then again Southern Lord’s entire pedigree is built upon great art from rudimentary building blocks. In that sense, Hasta La Muerte might represent the archetypal Southern Lord release, in that it captures both eras of the label on a single disc. It’s not often I find myself recommending the top of any bell curve, but in this instance the median happens to be one hell of a sludgy, pissed-off hardcore record.

— Joseph Schafer

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Xibalba – “Sentenced”

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Southern Lord (CD, LP)

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