Death Metal, Metal

Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli (Review)

Tzompantli - Tlazcaltiliztli
Bands: Tzompantli
Release: Tlazcaltiliztli
Genre: Death Metal, Death Doom
Country: USA, California
Release Date:6th of May, 2022
Released via20 Buck Spin
Cover ArtworkAVS Ravenheart

With their first offering Tlamanalli in 2019, Californian Death Doom duo Tzompantli already showcased their intentions. Keeping the fact in mind that vocalist Huey Itztekwanotl o)))  is none less than the guitarist of heaviness masters Xibalba (CA), it is obviously of utmost interest to find out what submerging this sound in the most shattering Death spheres would be like. Having stirred up the Death Metal scene with their demo, many were eager to find out what this sound might be like on a full-length. When it came out that 20 Buck Spin was going to be in charge to release this steamroller, it was clear that everything was set straight for something that is going to remain present in your mind when remembering 2022.

Only to make clear what you’re heading for before entering. A Tlazcaltilizli is a rack that was used to display human skulls, primarily of enemies or sacrifices. This practice found application in several Mesoamerican cultures. Going by the images now arising in your mind – you feel at the right spot imagining what sound this would seek? Good!

On this full-length, Tzompantli return with what they already promised on their demo. This massive synergy between indigenous sounds and downtempo Death Metal shows you that, if done right, extreme metal can be paired with genres you couldn’t even imagine. However, when taking a closer look at the fact of bringing together Mesoamerican indigenous sounds and Death Metal by listening into this album, it becomes clear that this does not feel like a mere “bringing together” – the mergence of these musical styles feels as natural as it can get in order to innovatively add dragging heaviness to the sound you love.

With the opening track “Yaohuehuetl” alone, it is immediately made clear that the indigenous features are again going to be a focal point in the sonical outbreaks of these Californians. This track opens up with ritualistic huehuetl drums and death whistles that only need a few seconds to drag you towards the perception of the intended framework of this release.

Shortly thereafter, the second track “Tlatzintilli” cuts this off and immediately breaks into an epic Death Doom sound that showcases the foundation of Tzompantli’s musical basis. It seems as if this band is at ease especially switching between different genres that are located in the slower spheres of Death Metal. Everything from Funeral Doom, Death Doom and Sludge can be found on this full-length and almost all of the tracks find an oscillation between several of those genres. However, this already clarifies one of the major upsides of this album.

The element that predominantly marks the shifts between those genres is coined by the drums that drastically showcase the capability of speeding up and slowing down, wading in the fields of Sludge as on “Tlazcaltiliztli”, crushing you with blast beats on “Ohtlatocopailcahualuztli” or opening with War Metal drum patterns and then fully slowing it down on “Tlamanalli”. Especially when taking the slowest of speeds on this album, the drums feed you with embellishments while partially almost fully taking it to a halt in order to uphold attention throughout the entire record.

The guitars on this release are similarly versatile, drastically adding to the intended atmosphere on the tracks. Especially on “Tlatzintilli” as well as “Yaotiacahuanetzli,” the chunky and dragging distorted riffs that mark the Death Doom sound of this release are nuanced with acoustic lead melodies on top, adding an intensely epic atmosphere that can be located somewhere between right in the middle of an endtime scenario or facing your final boss. When the speed of the tracks switches from Doom towards mid-tempo or blasting Death Metal, those dragging riffs are sped up and perfectly work at both paces.

We are right in the grimiest realms of Death Doom again, taking strong influence from the currently imprinting Old School Death Metal sound as well, which can especially be regarded when also taking the vocals into consideration that garnish this bulwark of a release. At the very lowest, this gurgling finds perfect appeal right next to label partners Witch Vomit or Tomb Mold. Although vocals in these genres might possibly be considered slightly narrow to a certain extent regarding their scope, I don’t really look for a wide range of vocal expression within these genres. Hence, Tzompantli’s primarily deep growls are a perfect fit for everything you encounter. Additionally, the occasional outbreak of vocals towards indigenous styles as well as forceful shouting delivers a sufficient variety.

Apart from all the features that were mentioned already, marking this release as one of the full-lengths you surely shouldn’t miss, its magnificence however derives from the underlying concept that coins the band itself as well. The deliberate combination of Death Doom and indigenous Mesoamerican native folk instrumentation works so perfectly well that it might even be possible to add way more of those elements to the sound. On this album, it often feels as if there is a cut in genre.

As for example on the opening track “Yaohuehuetl” that marks elements of indigenous percussion, whistles as well as chanting and then breaking into an epic Death Doom sound on the following track.  On “Eltequi” (translated: to cut the chest open and extract the heart as an offering), those elements are then also intertwined within the Death sound and you are left with the impression that this combination works so perfectly well that you crave for more of it to come. This layering feels so natural that it could be done even more frequently on the rest of the tracks.

The embedding of the entire theme of Mesoamerican civilizations on this album by choosing Nahuatl as a language – the lyrical content that draws inspiration from Mesoamerican rituals, ceremonies and history – dedicating the album to the indigenous peoples, nations and tribes of the American continents and even the specific choice of clothes of the band itself conveys such a holistic take on this subject that it becomes clear that it speaks from the heart of the musicians involved.

When 2022 began, I was not yet aware of how eagerly I should have been waiting for this release to come. Only regarding the Death Metal sound and versatility within several of its sub-genres that is showcased on this album already marks it as an AOTY contender. When taking the central Mesoamerican theme into consideration, though, it becomes clear how massive this album is. This output clearly frames an extremely characteristic style of Death Metal Tzompantli plays, which shows you that it cannot be recommended to leave this year without having listened to it.

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