RIYLSeven Sisters of Sleep
Tracklist1. No Serenity
3. Laid to Rest
6. The Flood
7. Hasta La Muerte
8. Mala Mujer
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Trying to pin a numeric grade on an album is an inexact science to say the least. Ask anyone who’s ever made a year-end list, and they’ll tell you about albums they were initially obsessed with that eventually tumbled out of their rotation, or about others that just picked up steam with every listen (to say nothing of the ones that were awesome first listen and always, or total shit, or aggressively mediocre, whatever). The point is, we can all point out records we severely over-valued, even if they are still good (my glowing reviews of Cruel Hand’s Lock & Key and Saigon’s Greatest Story are two that come to mind; initially so impressive, length and context, for opposite reasons, kept them from Decoy “immortality” for me), or ones we may have initially neglected that we somehow always find our way back to.
It is here that Xibalba enters our review picture. Lurking in the nether-regions of the blogosphere, Xibalba has quietly gained a level of feverish cult devotion that was thought to be extinct in today’s musical climate. Madre Mia Gracias Por Los Dias is the title designed by some polite young men who also happen to be named after the Mayan “Place of Fear.” Self-released in 2010 and re-released on vinyl the next year by A389 and other formats by Southern Lord (with bonus tracks), it, alas, was also not destined for the shortlist, but its raw savagery put it right in the thick of the conversation, as well as becoming a go-to selection when I was feeling particularly pissed off. At the very least it was the opening salvo of Pomonan fury, the set-up to what would be both a true mission statement and a dire warning born at the base of the sacrificial altar: Hasta La Muerte; more hardcore in name, even if the contents have ultimately proven less so.
This, of course, is not to say that the new record isn’t heavy—it’s fucking Jabba the Hutt. It has also, however, moved much closer to the SoLo doom hinted at on its predecessor. Things are slower. They burn deeper. They continue to sound like they were recorded in a dark pit with only rats for company. The production is at once punchier and bleaker, and the contents of the album cohere better.
Re-worked cut “Cold” is one example of Xibalba’s major step forward. In its first incarnation on the Earthquake split, the song was one of the highlights with its brute force and barely contained loathing. That same primal directive governs the song this go-around as well, but its entre is over two minutes of Sunn O)))-influenced drone (unsurprisingly Greg Anderson contributed to the track). Elsewhere the band employs doom-sludge instrumentals to supremely disquieting effect ( “The Flood”), clashes melody and sweet, albeit buried, vocals against the band’s harsh nihilism (“Mala Mujer”), and stretches their rage nearly to the breaking point (the eight minutes-plus “Lujuria”).
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my review process and trying to de-construct where certain biases may lie in order to be as impartial as possible when assessing the contents of an album. It is, of course, impossible to be fully objective as we all have distinct tastes, but I’ve really focused on trying to evolve along with an artist or album and to try and enter that space as inconspicuously as possible. While I have previously been swept up in initial impressions, I always listened to the album several times before even brain-storming for a review. Lately I’ve been trying to give the album more time to augment the volume, and I think here is where I can best try to evaluate what will nonetheless always be a moving target. That said, I can say with complete confidence that you will be seeing Hasta La Muerte again in my December Top Ten feature.