The landscape looks bleak. Chaos engulfs a once-proud civilization, as nature tears down man made institutions left and right. It looks like hell on Earth, with no foreseeable end. This is our harsh state of existence in the year 2020, grappling with the mindboggling ramifications of COVID-19. As fate would have it, this also describes the album art for Xibalba’s fiery new record, Años en Infierno, out May 29 on Southern Lord. Volcanoes rip through ancient Mayan temples with the band’s logo sprawled above clouds of ash, and the album title, translated into English as Years in Hell, below, adjacent to a gaping river of lava.
For the record, the Xibalba crew did not set out to make Años en Infierno the most prescient album of 2020. For the last decade, Xibalba has been in the business of merging frenzied hardcore with pummeling death metal, not gazing into a crystal ball. Their last album, 2015’s Tierra Y Libertad, was a career highpoint for the Pomona, California-based wrecking crew. They began work on their follow-up album shortly after, before an onslaught of life’s responsibilities crept up on them.
basically in the process of writing our full length,” Xibalba guitarist and
musical mastermind Brain Ortiz explains. “I don’t want to use the term ‘taking
our time,’ because we weren’t lollygagging or whatever. It’s just, you know,
work schedules and availability come into play. We were slowly piecing this
album together, and before you know it, it’s been almost two years.”
Time flies when you put out killer metal records and have a growing fan base clamoring for new music. Luckily, the Xibalba lads put out a quick EP in 2017 to appease all the mosh fiends eagerly awaiting their next full length.
“We put out a three-song EP just to hold people over,” Ortiz says. “That was one of Nate’s [Rebolledo, vocals] ideas. He wanted to get something out so people don’t forget about us. We did it, we recorded that EP, and then we basically continued from there. When we recorded that EP, we were still writing stuff for this.”
Flash forward to 2020. Although some aspects of society are melting away before our eyes, Años en Infierno is finally here, and it’s safe to say the wait was definitely worth it. Produced by Arthur Rizk, the whiz behind Power Trip’s razor-sharp sonic edge, Xibalba’s new album sounds and feels like nothing else the band has released before. There’s absolutely bruising songs, like album opener “La Injusticia” and the titular track “Años en Infierno,” that are genetically designed to get skulls cracking. The heavy jams on this record sound like they were discovered in a time capsule of early ’90s death metal, they pack that much of a wallop. Then, there’s the new, head-scratching, heart-tugging, ‘where the hell has this been all my life’ sounds, explored on the album’s epic closing tracks, “El Abismo” parts one and two. These songs capture absolutely haunting guitar melodies and utilize clean vocals from both Rebolledo and Ortiz. They sound like an ancient funeral pyre, which, given the album’s cover art, kind of makes sense.
It’s amazing that such an old-school sounding record was largely made possible by the wonders of modern technology.
“Our schedules are so conflicting, it’s cool that we’re able to utilize GarageBand and stuff like that on our phones and send files back and forth,” Ortiz says of the band’s writing process for the album. “I’ll think of a riff and I’ll program drums to play along with and see how I like it. I’ll do it that way, and then I’ll send it over to our drummer, Jason [Brunes], and of course I’ll let him know ‘Hey this is just a stock drum. If you have any ideas or think a cooler beat should go there when we jam it out, just let me know.’ Sometimes Jason will say, ‘I’m just going to record me playing drums, and if you feel anything let me know.’ A lot of it is me and Jason bouncing ideas off of each other. Or us doing things on our own and cultivating ideas, and then when we meet up to jam, it might manifest into something completely different. Like, two of the riffs might be something that we wrote, but the rest of it is just jamming. I’d say a good 60 to 70 percent of the album came from jamming. Luckily, me and Jason have always had chemistry together. We’ve always been able to feed off each other, which is pretty cool.”
Of course, getting together and jamming has got a whole lot more difficult recently. The global pandemic has put a stop to pretty much all forms of close contact socializing, including concerts and even band practice. That definitely sucks for a band dropping a long-awaited new album.
“It’s a bummer, because like I said, due to our work schedules and stuff, even before the pandemic, when we would play shows, sometimes that would be the only time we could see each other and kick it,” Ortiz shares. “We definitely want to play for people, but it’s extra bumming because it’s also our time to hang out and party and travel. We all love playing shows, traveling, having fun outside of home. We had some shows planned for our album release and we never even got to announce those, because they’re not going to happen now, obviously. It sucks, but at the same time, you just gotta suck it up and ride the fucking wave and hope for the best. Hopefully next year we can go back to playing live. In the meantime, we’ll do what we can for people with regards to merch, keeping people engaged and interested. We’re doing what we can, but it’s kinda hard doing shit from your bedroom you know?”
Technology helped Xibalba facilitate the writing of Años en Infierno, so it’s only fitting that technology will help the masses hear the album – industry-stopping pandemic be damned. The album is available to order online through Southern Lord, and shall be blowing up streaming platforms and headphones everywhere. Just look for the record with the crazy, prophetic Dan Seagrave artwork, with the vengeful volcanos wreaking havoc.
“We just sent him [Seagrave] the title, Años en Infierno, which means ‘years in hell,’ and he came up with a couple of different concepts,” Ortiz shares. “He said he had this idea of the pyramids kind of decomposing with lava coming up, almost like this idea of nature taking things back. Like, ‘You guys fucked shit up way too much now, and here’s the cleansing.’ That one looked the coolest to us from the sketches, and that’s the one we all agreed on. It’s kind of weird looking back now.”
Pick up a copy of Años en Infierno here