Xibalba first made a name for themselves based on the sheer power of their particular blend of crushing hardcore and brutal death metal. Although few, if any, have matched the intensity of their output, the increasing crossover between the hardcore and death metal scenes, along with the (over-)saturation of the Entombed-core sound, has since rendered the Californians more of a curiosity than the scene-leaders they were once heralded as. Yet, just as they seemed destined to slip into irrelevance, Xibalba have returned with an album in Años En Infierno, which cements them as one of the most unique and innovative acts in modern hardcore.
The seeds of a doomier approach have been planted within Xibalba’s sound as far back as their debut, and dronier textures have continued to pervade their catalogue and really began to break through on tracks like “Suicide Note” (2014). It wasn’t until the final track on their previous record, “El Vacio”, however, that they fully embraced funeral doom as part of their sound. The band’s mastery over the sound was even more impressive than its novelty and it hinted toward a more distinct and expansive direction they might take in future. When the more straight-forward, intermittent EP Diablo, Con Amor… Adios (2017) rolled around it seemed like “El Vacio” might have simply ended up as a one-off curiosity within their catalogue, which was disappointing, to say the least. Thankfully, Años En Infierno continues to blend further elements of funeral doom into Xibalba’s sound—this time across an entire album, rather than a single song.
Años En Infierno begins in standard Xibalba fashion, with the stomping “La Injusticia”. However, it quickly changes tack to reveal the greater depth it contains. The rumbling wind-up of “Corredor De La Muerte” soon gives way to a mournful dirge and, while the band return to faster tempos for much of what follows, the funeral atmosphere continues to permeates their sound. Tracks like “Santa Muerte” lean closer toward the sludgier textures embraced by The Acacia Strain, on albums like Coma Witch (2014) and It Comes in Waves (2019). Nate Rebolledo’s drawn out vocal exhalations and the persistent dirge-like leads, however, maintain a mournful atmosphere not heard elsewhere among the ranks of ultra-heavy, beatdown hardcore. Rebolledo has said that the album – whose title translates as “Years in Hell” – embodies the “hardships and pain” incurred and inflicted across Xibalba’s decade of existence. The regretful, contemplative texture implied by its subject matter certainly comes through in Años En Infierno‘s sound – which is perfectly brought out by rising producer extraordinaire Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Code Orange) – and, Rebolledo’s advice to himself to “slow down and appreciate” is equally applicable to Xibalba as a whole.
Although the miserable atmosphere remains consistent across Años En Infierno, there’s still room for greater integration. The hardcore and doom sections of the record still feel very distinct, even if the transitions between the two sounds are exceptionally smooth. The title-track perhaps achieves the best blend of the two sounds, with Rebolledo maintaining a threatening bark across its downbeat climax, although even then it’s very much a track of two halves. Años En Infierno is most successful, however, when it fully embraces its funeral doom aspects. The sorrowful first half of the record’s closing duology, “El Abismo I”, is by far its standout moment, with the effect being somewhat (ahem) upset when part-two comes crashing in. Xibalba are a forceful hardcore act. However, they continue to show, time and time again, that their true mastery lies in their application of more restrained textures, and the sooner they fully embrace that side of their sound, the sooner they’re likely to achieve their full potential.
Reverence for Xibalba as scene innovators might seem like a bold claim, given the regressive primacy at the heart of their sound. Their blend of hardcore and full-blown funeral doom, however, is at least as original, and arguably more unprecedented*—given the genres are essentially polar opposites—than the addition of industrial and ’90s alternative that has everyone touting Code Orange as hardcore messiahs. There’s still plenty of refinement to be made, but if Años En Infierno is Xibalba’s Forever (2017), then I can’t wait for their Underneath (2020).
*Titan‘s 2012 album Burn is the closest thing I have found to a precursor to Xibalba’s blend of funeral doom and hardcore, although the doom it dabbles in seems more conventional and it never leans quite as far in either direction.
Años En Infierno drops May 29, through Southern Lord Records, and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.