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Ershetu - Xibalba review

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Band: Ershetu
Album: Xibalba
Release date: October 2023

01. Enter The Palace Of Masks
02. From Corn To Dust
03. The Place Of Fright
04. Cult Of The Snake God
05. Hollow Earth
06. Tunkuluchú

Kurokuma, Ch’ahom, Ershetu... Mesoamerican themes: so hot right now.

Now, most of the bands drawing inspiration from this historical region don’t have personal ties to said region, and most of them mostly confine the themes to their lyrical content, but Ershetu’s Xibalba (which came out 1 week before Ch’ahom’s Knots Of Abhorrence, an album that opens with the song “Xibalba”) is more than superficial in exploring Mayan concepts through its music. Formed in 2021, this project is new, but the people behind it aren’t novices; comprised of conceptualist/lyricist Void and composer Sacr, Ershetu’s debut comes courtesy of Debemur Morti Productions, mainly because Void founded Debemur Morti. The connections from his history in the metal scene have been invaluable to the creation of Xibalba, as the musicians recruited to bring this music to life include Vindsval (Blut Aus Nord, a band with close ties to Debemur Morti), Lars Nedland (aka Lazare) on vocals, and percussionist Intza Roca. After assembling such talent, Void and Sacr have provided them with suitably strong music.

The Mesoamerican theme doesn’t seem a permanent one, as the Bandcamp description mentions that each forthcoming album will explore conceptions of death in different civilization. If this is a one-off, Ershetu have committed strongly to it; while there are black and prog metal currents running throughout the album, there’s also a lot of folk instruments and arrangements inspired by this region featured. “Enter The Palace Of Masks” has pipes, flutes, horns, drones, processional drums and jangling percussion coalescing to set the scene nicely, all capped with Nedland’s vocals; apparently, Sacr has a background in soundtrack composition, which if true would explain how well arranged this opening track is.

These elements do persist onto subsequent songs, but unsurprisingly, as it’s being reviewed on Metal Storm, at some point they do take a back seat to something more metallic. Nedland is something of a wildcard on this album; given how strongly associated his voice is with Borknagar, it’s intriguing to hear it presented in a non-Nordic folk context. His delivery, however, feels less folksy and more reminiscent of Borknagar’s proggier material, with some quite elaborate, dramatic vocals that find an unusual yet effective companion in the aforementioned flute. Vindsval, unsurprisingly, brings black metal to the mix, and Nedland slips in some blackened shrieks alongside the impassioned cleans. These elements all come together on “From Corn To Dust”, which also finds time for a rousing symphonic climax later on.

With so many elements in their arsenal, Ershetu are by no means a one-trick pony, and further surprises continue to appear across the album. The black-heavy “The Place Of Fright” has some frantic horror-style strings midway through, “Cult Of The Snake God” dials the strings up even more for a fantastical and dramatic sound, and “Hollow Earth” turns in a more traditionally atmo-black direction, those flutes suddenly sounding more European within this context. Perhaps the crowning achievement is the final song, “Tunkuluchú”, on which everything comes together; the ambient folk soundtracking of the opening song returns to form a lengthy scene-setting introduction, before the song descends through prog black, symphonic and ultimately hellish black metal, ultimately concluding with a sinister flute motif repeated in accompaniment with jangling percussion until all fades to silence.

It will be fascinating to see how Void and Sacr’s compositional abilities translate to concepts inspired by other civilizations, as they’ve pulled off their first attempt in style. This is an ambitious and fascinating clash of sounds that are brought together very adeptly by the songwriting duo, and the musicians hired to render those musical ideas have fully delivered, particularly Nedland.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Production: 8

Written on 19.11.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 75 users
20.11.2023 - 05:05
It's been a long while since I listened to a new album before it was reviewed; I guess I got lucky. And I didn't even know who was involved in the project beforehand - I was just sure I recognized Nedland's voice when it appeared, and I never would have guessed Vindsval's involvement. I did no further research than that, so that interview is interesting.

I did feel at times that this was not as much of a full-tilt folk metal album as it could have been (and probably deserved to be, given how little there is of real solid, fully realized Mesoamerican folk metal, even considering all those BTC bands and similar outfits). I assume that's a consequence of the members, as far as we can tell, being foreigners to this material; it did sometimes come off to me as more affectation than a total embrace of the concept. Even so, it was a really strong album and at times gave me some "Wardruna but Mexica" vibes; if they're planning to hit new civilizations/concepts with every album, this could turn into a really interesting project.
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