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The flutes totally ruin it - 50%

Derigin, December 2nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Independent

Coming out of El Salvador, Tiltik Ujti's debut El Comienzo de Nuestra Etnia attempts to integrate folk and black metal with pre-Hispanic Indigenous folk music. Ultimately, though, it feels like a failure. The reason? It's the flutes. Oh, and also the fact that the instruments aren't played particularly well.

I don't want to hate on a band like this, though. The attempt is admirable, and honestly really should be tried. There's no reason heavy metal, let alone folk metal, must rely exclusively on European or Asian instruments, styles, and themes. Bands have proven that to be the case by acknowledging and showcasing the styles of their ancestors and of the people within the region in which they live. Indigenous flute music of the Americas also has a role to play in folk metal, and while it may not be for everyone (and in fact some people may think flutes don't belong at all in heavy metal music), it can work. It has worked before. Unfortunately, in the case of this album, that attempt fails at achieving a solid balance. I chalk that up to the way the flutes are used, and less the flutes or even other folk instruments in and of themselves.

There's a number of positives with this short EP. The rattles, whistles and spare use of what I can only assume is a quena (or its equivalent) throughout track intros and outros is neat. It sets a mood, and that mood highlights to me that yes, this is thematically focused on pre-Hispanic traditions, concepts and ideas. Another positive are the vocals. While their volume could be increased a tad, and made more front and centre, generally the vocalist is perfectly capable at producing effective harsh vocals for black metal growls; not too guttural, and not too raspy and high-pitched either. They're surprisingly clear and understandable. Likewise, the instrumentation with the guitars, bass, and drums are acceptable, though at times they are sloppy. That's more a matter of the band needing to rehearse more, and not so much that they lack the skills or the talent to excel at their chosen instrument.

The flutes, however, are just too overwhelming and in-your-face to really focus on the music otherwise. They're up front, mixed to be as clear as possible vis-à-vis the lower production quality of the rest of the music, and not played well. They're also insidious; they're everywhere. No track escapes it. A minute doesn't go by where there isn't some wind instrument trying to dominate. It's overkill. There's no reason to get rid of the flutes, but scale them back a bit. Don't let them be the focus of the album. Consider using them sparingly to drive the music, perhaps in interludes or bridges between transitions. Maybe have them feel distant. There's so much room for improvement here. Above all, ensure the rest of the music plays centre stage. There's no reason the vocalist should be shunted to the background, and that's how it appears listening to this.

Overall, I admire this attempt at trying to integrate pre-Hispanic Indigenous music with folk and black metal, but I question some of the choices in the way it's mixed and the way the band went about implementing them. For this reason, I can't really justifying giving this album a positive rating, but I'm also not inclined to give them a negative one either. It's a middle-of-the-road release; one that shows obvious potential but also much needed improvement.