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I’m really glad to hear more bands like this one popping out of my homeland, México lindo y querido, in recent years. I’ve criticized my country’s metal scene in the past for being unoriginal and unmotivated, and I still believe around 90% of Mexican bands have to shake off those flaws yet and embrace more ambitious aspirations. Enter Acrania, a band belonging to that symbolic 10% of Aztec metal acts that have put their shit together and aim for an original sound and personality. They’re not 100% original in their sound (you tell me, fellow metal brother or sister, who the fuck is entirely original nowadays?), but they manage to produce compelling music influenced by works of several seminal metal bands while adding their own style.
Acrania plays a brand of progressive death/thrash metal that brings to memory the works of Atheist, in particular their third album, Elements. Acrania’s sophomore album carries a lot of the Floridians jazzy flavor, spiced up with more traditional Mexican folk and other Latin musical styles. Both bands share a preference for an unorthodox approach to metal and the incorporation of jazz structures. But Acrania further emphasizes the jazz elements by adding non-metal instrumentation in every song, such as Latin percussion and saxophone. In fact, some parts of their compositions are entire Latin jazz music passages, drawing from a lot of different genres, like cumbia, salsa, samba, son jarocho and others. The result might have been catastrophic or even laughable had lesser musicians been involved, but the Acrania guys are no newbie’s to the scene and their multi-genre concoction is done in an successfull and tasteful way, at least for the most part. They still have to perfect it.
Now, while Atheist certainly is the most recognizable influence here, and the more stylistically similar band I can think of, Acrania incorporates other sounds easily recognizable for the experienced metalhead. Most songs display straightforward 80’s/90’s styled deathrashing rhythms and riffage, as well as occasional flirts with melodeath aesthetics here and there. The solos are wild, jazz fusion-styled bursts of melody, not overtly long. There’s also a great deal of stellar participation by both the bass guitar and drums, and both are given multiple chances to shine in the spotlight. There are no blastbeats and no hyper speed segments like the tech death bands of late, and thankfully no annoying core breakdowns. However, song structures are varied, packing loads of crazy Latin percussion going on that reminds me of The Mars Volta first works. From time to time they shift 180 degrees from straight metal to Latin folk, though most of the time both intertwine in a rabid, fiery dance.
A noticeable downside to this album is the production. In general, it is raw, somehow unpolished and muddy. It wouldn’t be unsuitable for an obscure black metal band, however I don’t think it does justice to this type of metal, hindering some of the power Acrania conjures. The bass and the guitar have a decent sound, though it certainly could be much better. However, the most affected are the drums and the vocals, sounding almost demo-like in quality. It’s a shame, because both of the musicians behind them show talent here, J.C. Chávez fills being more intriguing when he’s doing fusion stuff, while Luis’ grunts reminding me of the deathrash style employed by King Fowley of Deceased or even Max Cavalera in his prime, somewhere between a death growl and a thrash shout. As for the Latin percussion and the saxophone, luckily for us listeners, they sound nice and clear.
For me, there aren’t strongly discernible highlights; most of the album’s songs deliver more or less the same amount of thrills and excitement. There are two short instrumentals I could probably do without, the 44-seconds “Revolutions & Tequila”, a percussive exercise that could be a metaphor of the unfortunate stomach symptoms of someone who drank too many shots of the titular alcoholic beverage, and “Vallarta Nights”, a soothing bossa nova number that doesn’t exactly recalls the Spring breaker-infested coastal city and its chaotic nocturnal lifestyle. However, you can’t be wrong picking up any of the first four tracks of this album, each and every one of them packing moments of both metallurgic intensity and quasi-danceable rhythms. In particular, third song “Now” has a pretty cool chorus and frantic soloing. “But Not Today” is one of the songs in which I feel the cohesion is somewhat loose at some points, but it’s still a solid track that has its share of awe-inspiring sections. On the other hand, closer “In My Land”, being the longest track, is intense and enthralling for its whole seven minutes, even during its slower parts.
Sort of a more extreme version of what Diablo Swing Orchestra has been doing so far and bearing a tasty Eliran Kantor cover artwork like on their debut, An Uncertain Collision is a fine addition to the international avant-garde/progressive metal palette and a strong contender for the Best Mexican Metal Album of the Year title. Those searching for something fresh, particularly among the Mexican metal scene, will surely find here a worthy investment in time, and hopefully, money. It isn’t overtly technical or crystal clear produced, so take that in mind. Otherwise, prepare to bang your head and go grab a partner of your sexual preference for the dance… at the same time.