Review by Fernando on June 20, 2019.
Xalpen is the new endeavor by Alvaro Lillo of Watain fame, and his debut EP shows that he and his band member J.P. Nunez have managed to fully mix the sound and style of raw Norwegian black metal with the culture and ancestry of Chile.
This EP is indeed a tribute to classic black metal, all the main elements are here; the blast beats, the shrieking vocals, the tremolo picking, you name it. But while there’s a respectable reverence to the genre Lillo and Nunez do manage to inject a dose of their own Chilean metal roots to make this EP a unique experience. The album has a lot of thrash and classic Chilean death metal DNA in the music, the vocals are shared by the two members in order to create a demonic and overwhelming atmosphere, Lillo’s shrieks are complemented by the echoing gutturals of Nunez in a way that will be pleasing for metal fans versed in the extreme side of metal and in a unique twist, the band also incorporate some choral effects to emphasize that demonic ritual vibe and the results are excellent, creating a completely demonic and menacing sound.
The music is equally punishing as the vocals and lyrics, there’s a strong emphasis on raw and frenetic speed, but without sacrificing melody and structure, the riffs are thick and forceful, they are complemented by Lillo’s outstanding bass work, not surprising that he would make sure the bass is as present as the guitars, all the songs (sans the piano-centric outro) have this explosive quality where all the instruments work in perfect unison to create that overpowering wall of sound that can only be achieved in black metal.
All in all this is an excellent show of Alvaro Lillo’s musical chops outside of Watain and his death metal projects. There’s a rich understanding of the genre and with enough variation in the thematic side to make it unique, however this EP does have a significant flaw and that is that the music is somewhat repetitive in certain places. While its widely accepted that black metal is simplistic from a musical perspective and that certainly has its advantages; you can do a lot with a simple blueprint it can get tiresome. The songs follow a very rigid formula of riffing, chorus and the occasional solo or bridge section, the music here is indeed good but on repeated listens you really notice how repetitive the music is. In trying to stay true to the spirit and let’s say aesthetic of black metal, Lillo and Nunez also inherited the genre’s shortcomings, which is the aforementioned formula of black metal albeit filtered through Chilean lyrical perspective. But it isn’t all doom and gloom, the music actually benefits from being an EP and not a full album, as a short package it delivers a brutal and chaotic experience with brevity. The flaw of it being formulaic and repetitive only becomes apparent on repeated listening, so my best recommendation of Xalpen’s debut EP is to listen in in small doses or as a pick me up of sorts.
Best tracks: "Devourer of Light", "Spirits of Darkness", "Psycholobe"
Rating: 8.5 out of 10