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TZOMPANTLI Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force

Tzompantli comes from a fairly well-documented line of metal bands showing reverence to pre-Hispanic history and culture, whether it’s Roots by Sepultura in Brazil or the Black Twilight Circle bands in California. The brainchild of one Brian Ortiz, AKA Bigg o))), Tzompantli gets its name from the “skull racks” used by the Aztecs used to display the remains of those they killed, whether in ritual sacrifice or war. It’s a mightily appropriate concept for a death doom band.

Now nine members strong (Slipknot jokes incoming), these guys have returned with Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force, a tour de force of skull-cracking metal and the traditions from pre-Hispanic Central Mexico. This makes Tzompantli folk metal, but the aesthetics and atmosphere ultimately serve to do what you can expect from a band sharing members with Xibalba, Our Place of Worship is Silence, and Civerous — H E A V Y.

Opening track “Tetzahuitl” immediately showcases Ortiz‘s ability to synthesize the vanguard of death/sludge tyrants like Primitive Man with the savage roots of old-school death metal. With a fervent “whoop” straight out of the ancient Aztec Empire, the band lays the grime thick on each chug, chord, and drum thud. There’s just enough heavy hardcore residue to keep giving the moody dissonance a healthy dose of primitive violence.

Having three guitarists doesn’t hurt either… even if they don’t all perform at once on the record, I’d certainly believe three layers of filth are at play as “Tlayohualli” cycles through driving, mid-tempo death metal to crushingly spooky funeral doom strains. Backdrops and inspirations aside, this is music for rumbling the depths of the soul.

The real rumbling soul quickly becomes that of an ancient warrior picking his teeth with his enemy’s bones, as the shamanic undertones of “Tlaloc Icuic” generate a foreboding, evocative aura of chantings, ethnic percussion, and protracted doom metal riffage. The crazier part becomes how well the ultra-heavy guitars fit into this archaic structure.

This would explain why it transitions so well into the brutal slammings of “Chichimecatlm.” Ortiz‘s deep, yet tough-as-nails vocal delivery gives the arrangement room to move from knuckle-dragging beatdowns to moody funeral doom and even some black metal vibes. But in the end, no amount of cultural underpinnings of stylistic crossover gets Tzompantli away from music made for smashing your head through a brick wall.

But when the traditional folk element lays on thick, as heard on the layered drums and ambient slow-burning of “Tetzaviztli,” it never comes off heavy-handed. Tzompantli isn’t trying to be “extreme metal with indigenous influence.” They simply are. Think of it like a death metal equivalent fellow Californians Arizmenda. These stage-setting numbers play more of a role in letting the metal get more abstract and experimental in its own right, harnessing the theatrics for songwriting instead of camp.

It’s also so satisfying to hear a band prove that if a musician knows what they’re doing, untethered bottom-string abuse can still sound inexplicably fresh. Even without the welcome blast beats, and forlorn dronings “Otlica Mictlan” is the work of someone who has spent years crafting a guitar tone for moving mountains. They don’t call him Big o))) for nothing, and the more people piling on the layers, the better.

Also unique to Tzompantli is melodicism which functions in tandem with harshness. In this way, the closing cut “Icnocuicatl” provides a great throwback to the sludge/doom legends Corrupted with the way it envelops the sonic space with distorted lament while leaving plenty of room for emotion and even memorable motifs.

If it was wall-to-wall chug-tastic knuckle sandwiches, the album would surely get boring—regardless of aesthetics and adornments. Tzompantli isn’t afraid to add a serenading guitar solo or a stripped-back clean section to the lumbering mayhem, which makes Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force all the more important to the growing legacy of an already unique band within the So-Cal underground.

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