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biggest hardcore record since Destroy the Machines - 99%

flexodus, December 8th, 2017

Death metal and hardcore weren't perfect strangers before this record; Xibalba aren't the first to combine them. Hell, an entire genre had developed a decade earlier, dedicated to doing something similar, but not quite the same. The -core in most early deathcore bands is somewhat diluted through generations of melodic metalcore and grind/mathcore influence, not to mention the overall "tech-ification" of mainstream death metal that seeped into many bands through the 2000s. But the best modern death/core hybrids skip all that bullshit and just go for the jugular: pure metallic hardcore retrofitted with blastbeats and dark, cavernous oldschool death metal atmosphere. These bands almost feel like a continuation of weird and forgotten groups that had attempted this style during the wave of 90s metalcore, but hit a brick wall and broke up: Abnegation, Day of Suffering, Fall Silent, etc.

Xibalba won't be the last to do it either, but by fucking god are they the best at it. I'm kind of shocked that they aren't more popular with metalheads than they currently are. They are one of those bands that just has the perfect sound: slow Morbid Angel songs + breakdowns. That's all it is! All it takes to make one of the greatest heavy albums of modern times. "God of Emptiness", "Nothing is Not", basically half the shit with Rutan from Domination and Gateways... throw in some beefy Hatebreed pit riffs (which were borrowed from Celtic Frost anyways) and you've made the sickest hardcore band to emerge from the West Coast. It's a deceptively simple formula that would get stale in the hands of a lesser band, but Hasta la Muerte offers some gracefully varied songwriting that makes it the stuff of legend.

You can basically divide this album into 8 mosh tracks and 3 "art" songs. The bulk of the music dedicated to crushing, sludgy hardcore with an utterly hopeless and miserable atmosphere, bordering on suicidal. "No Serenity" summarizes the Xibalba method: slow, ugly doom/sludge riffs alternating with the occasional uptempo hardcore passage, which are vicious and violent but not particularly fast. Halfway through, guitarist Brian Ortiz plays a harmonized fight riff that feels like falling down a flight of stairs, and when they bring the massive chorus back one last time it makes me want to hardcore dance directly into the fucking sun. As that statement might indicate, Hasta la Muerte is filled with some of the best breakdowns I've ever heard in any genre. The coming mosh danger in "Laid to Rest" is heralded by a creepy upstroke picking melody in the vein of Disembodied. "Sentenced" is the slowest among the mosh songs, based around a nasty Morbid Angel groove and vocalist Nate Rebolledo's pained growls and grunts. After a little atmo-sludge intro riff, the title track mirrors the "dramatic speech at the climax of a movie" vocal style that was so common in preachy (usually vegan) metalcore bands of the 90s, delivered with their own Hispanic twist, and finishing with another excellent and downright dangerous breakdown.

Beyond these heavy hitters, we're treated to three songs which are less violent, choosing to go for a slight post-metal vibe. "The Flood" features Greg Anderson from Sunn O on guitar contributing some droning sludge, perhaps repaying his debt to hardcore considering he played in awful youthcrew band called Brotherhood. This song also features a couple dudes from the Socal hardcore scene playing additional percussion; combined with Anderson's doomy melodies, this track best matches the immense ziggurat landscape depicted on the cover. "Mala Mujer" has some blissful female vocals, but the best of them all is the epic "Lujuria", which goes through many different emotions and styles of riffs. It's basically "The Flood" extended into a full song with vocals, and at 2:22 Brian drops the greatest sludge metal riff of all time. This album is worth getting for that alone.

The production and presentation of Hasta la Muerte is masterful as well. As is tradition with many closedcasketcore bands, recording, mixing, and mastering is handled by modern renaissance man Taylor Young, of Twitching Tongues and Nails. The guitars are tuned very low, so low the tone sounds like two goddamn cinderblocks slowly being ground against each other. I'm a sucker for loud and snappy snare tones, and this album has what I would consider a perfect drum sound. Like Obituary, the music here requires an impeccable sense of groove to work, and drummer Jason Brunes is truly on some Donald Tardy level shit. Any time the guitars drop out and the percussion takes the spotlight is a real treat.

Xibalba is mandatory listening for anybody mildly interested in the current death metal scene. All their material is excellent but Hasta la Muerte is their masterpiece, and also handily includes new versions of "Stoneheart" and "Cold", which were originally on splits. When this album dropped it completely reinvigorated my passion for heavy music; it felt like listening to Slowly We Rot for the first time all over again. It also coincided with a depressive period of my life where I did nothing but drink, fail college, cry over girls, and lift weights to the closedcasketcore trinity of Nails, Twitching Tongues, and Xibalba. Ironic that one of the worst periods of my life had the best soundtrack, but it was almost necessary to understand the hateful, hopeless music these bands play. I'd immediately recommend this to any metal fan as an easy introduction into hardcore.