Review of the Album: TZOMPANTLI Unleashing the Power of Ancestral Drums

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Tzompantli emerges from a well-documented lineage of metal bands that pay homage to pre-Hispanic history and culture, much like Roots by Sepultura in Brazil or the Black Twilight Circle groups in California. Conceived by one Brian Ortiz, famously known as Bigg o))), Tzompantli draws its name from the “skull racks” employed by the Aztecs to exhibit the remains of their victims, whether from ritual sacrifices or battles. It is a highly suitable theme for a death doom ensemble.

With a lineup now consisting of nine members (cue the Slipknot references), the band returns with Unleashing the Power of Ancestral Drums, a relentless display of skull-pounding metal rich with the heritage of pre-Hispanic Central Mexico. This labels Tzompantli as folk metal, yet the aesthetics and ambiance truly embody what you can anticipate from a group sharing members with Xibalba, Our Place of Worship is Silence, and Civerous — I N T E N S E.

The opening track “Tetzahuitl” immediately demonstrates Ortiz‘s talent in blending the cutting-edge sounds of death/sludge titans like Primitive Man with the raw essence of classic death metal. With a spirited “whoop” reminiscent of the ancient Aztec era, the band layers on the grime thickly with each riff, chord, and drumbeat. The touch of heavy hardcore elements adds a dose of primal aggression to the brooding dissonance.

The presence of three guitarists doesn’t go unnoticed… even though not all of them play simultaneously on the album, the composition offers a sense of three layers of intensity as “Tlayohualli” transitions from driving, mid-tempo death metal to crushingly eerie funeral doom notes. Irrespective of the influences and backgrounds, this music is designed to shake the very core of your being.

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The essence of an ancient warrior idly toying with his adversary’s bones soon engulfs the listener’s soul as the shamanic undertones of “Tlaloc Icuic” set up an ominous, evocative blend of chants, ethnic beats, and prolonged doom metal riffs. The remarkable aspect is how harmoniously the ultra-heavy guitars meld into this ancient framework.

This seamless transition leads to the brutal onslaught of “Chichimecatlm.” Ortiz‘s deep, yet formidable vocal delivery allows the composition to shift from bone-crushing beatdowns to somber funeral doom and even hints of black metal. However, at its core, no matter how much the band envelopes itself in cultural elements or stylistic variations, Tzompantli remains focused on producing music that begs for your head to break through a solid wall.

While the traditional folk element is prominent, exemplified by the layered drums and ambient slow burn of “Tetzaviztli,” it never comes across as overbearing. Tzompantli does not strive to be labeled as “extreme metal with indigenous influences.” They simply embody it. Think of them as the death metal equivalent of fellow musicians Arizmenda from California. These introductory compositions serve to set the stage, allowing the music to explore more abstract and experimental realms, using theatrics for musical innovation rather than mere showmanship.

It is immensely satisfying to witness a band showcase how adeptly a musician can harness the relentless power of bottom-string manipulation to create a strikingly fresh sound. Even without the intense blast beats or mournful drones, “Otlica Mictlan” showcases the craftsmanship of someone who has meticulously honed a guitar tone capable of moving mountains. They don’t dub him Big o)) for no reason, and the collaborative layering only amplifies the impact.

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Another distinctive trait of Tzompantli is their ability to merge melodicism with brutality. This balance is on full display in the concluding track “Icnocuicatl,” reminiscent of the sludge/doom legends Corrupted, enveloping the sonic space with distorted lament while leaving room for emotion and memorable motifs.

If the album were a constant barrage of chugging and punches, it would inevitably become monotonous, regardless of its style and embellishments. Tzompantli fearlessly incorporates soulful guitar solos and stripped-back clean sections into the massive chaos, making Unleashing the Power of Ancestral Drums an indispensable addition to the evolving legacy of this truly distinct band within the underground scene of Southern California.

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