Listening to Xibalba’s sides of splits with World of Pain, Incendiary and Suburban Scum clarify the Pomona staple’s ownership of the phrase “None Heavier.” Elements of metallic hardcore, doom, and death metal push 2012’s Hasta La Muerte and 2015’s Tierra Y Libertad ahead of the crowd, capped off by the band’s reverence to its Prehispanic heritage. Xibalba has spent 13 years making nuanced refinements to its style. This fourth album stays the course, with a growing death metal component. Años En Infierno (Years In Hell) upholds Xibalba’s standard of unadulterated brutality, delivering an unmistakable brand of destructive metal.
Even looking past Dan Seagrave's artwork, lead single “En La Oscuridad” evokes Morbid Angel much more than This Is Hardcore’s usual suspects. Guitarist Brian Ortiz’s riffs remain firmly rooted in old-school death metal, while his enveloping tone goes toe to toe with the likes of Sunn O))). Likewise, Jason Brunes’ blast beats, double-kick rolls and backing growls have never sounded this visceral, and Nate Rebolledo’s voice has never sounded this monstrous. Through blitz-speed blasts or lumbering slam sections, Xibalba’s sheer velocity hits like a wrecking ball. To this effect, the title track brings a new level of tightness and dexterity with Suffocation-style brutal death and a Disembowelment-ish death-doom finish. In all of this ultra-heavy filth, Producer Arthur Rizk manages to conserve some clarity. In this way, the riffs can be properly heard as they obliterate everything in their path.
Xibalba’s doom influence manifests in milking an idea for all the emotion it’s worth. The two-minute “Corredor De La Muerte” actually centers on a single refrain, tipping a hat to the more soulful leads within Bolt Thrower's The 4th Crusade. Ortiz’s disgustingly guttural growls complete this beefy slab of downtempo death metal. “Saka” feeds a similar approach through the filter of '90s Sepultura, enhanced by tribal percussion and multi-layered grooves. Both tracks pack potent emotion and danceable rhythm to merit their lack of lyrics.
When the lyrics do come, Rebolledo has lost none of his fire. Anyone who has seen Xibalba live knows how much he values conscious wordplay. His delivery of the lyrics Brunes wrote for opener “La Injusticia” (one which Brunes also contributes backing vocals) gives the song a dose of harsh reality: “Families murdered, living nevermore/ Children left to fend for themselves/ Unsure what to do, they turn to evil.” In this way, Xibalba retains its hardcore ethos by building its music on a foundation of horrific grit. With a believable narrative at its core, the song’s electrifying guitar solo and unstoppable bottom end hit that much harder.
To be sure, there’s still plenty of morbid poetry to enjoy, like that of “Santa Muerte:” “Hear the cries of pain in the river of blood/ See them soak in pain/ Right or wrong, who will be the judge?” Though not particularly boundary-pushing, tracks like this distill Xibalba’s genre-jumping style. Those knock-out breakdowns will turn hardcore kids into madmen, while the hammering deathrash passages will send metalheads circle-pitting into a human whirlpool.
Xibalba more than one-ups Tierra Y Libertad's doom side with “El Abismo I" and "II." It’s here where Ortiz flexes his influence from the Japanese legends Corrupted. His cavernous growls round out the apocalyptic sludge/drone sections, but his baritone singing during the clean guitar-driven dreamscapes brings a completely new sound to Xibalba. Like Mongolian throat singing, his deep timbre guides the song’s sweeping crescendo to a devastating conclusion.
The track joins with “El Abismo II” for a 13-minute journey, pushing Xibalba’s songwriting to the limit. The band's signature ferocity seamlessly sinks into a four-and-a-half-minute melancholic dirge, as the band completes a profoundly dynamic and conceptual statement. Navigating angry tidal waves and churning oceans of melancholy, this final track effortlessly runs the gamut of Xibalba's sound.
Años En Infierno is a solid new chapter for Xibalba's ongoing quest to combine three distinct metal styles. Though a lot of this album arguably amounts to pure death metal, that classic adrenaline rush reinstates Xibalba as tyrant kings in the underground. Años En Infierno is a lesson in inexorable, hard-riffing violence for the current doom, death, and hardcore legions.