The Curse Of Kwányep
Review by Fernando on February 6, 2023.
While Alvaro Lillo is better known as the bassist of Watain, he’s also a veteran of the Chilean extreme metal scene, as he fronted acts like Undercroft and Execrator. However, today we’re talking about his black metal project Xalpen, and the band’s sophomore record, The Curse Of Kwányep, released by Black Lodge Records.
Xalpen (pronounced HAL-pen), was formed in 2014 by the aforementioned Alvarlo Lillo aka Tarem-Keláash, and Juan Pablo Nuñez aka Keykrók. The two are the band’s masterminds, songwriters and vocalists. They first made themselves known with 2 excellent EP’s before releasing their debut record Sawken Xo'on (Three Shamans) in 2020, which they remastered and re-released a year later through Black Lodge Records.
The band’s style of black metal is very interesting as it’s a blend of Chilean extreme metal and second wave black metal, which then coalesces together with the band’s ritualistic convictions, as they sing about Satanism and indigenous Shamanism. In practice, their style of black metal has a very vintage sound, death-thrash riffs and drumming, but with the cold and ominous melodicism and wailing vocals of classic black metal, which the band then enhances with Shamanic chanting and ritualistic atmospheres. And this is still the case for this record, however, unlike their EP’s which were a bit rough around the edges, and their debut which felt very uniform in execution, The Curse Of Kwányep is a significant improvement, while still staying true to the sound they crafted for themselves with their first recordings.
The production is one of the major improvements and while Xalpen never had the raw production of most black metal bands, it was somewhat inconsistent (the fact they remastered and re-released their debut is a good example). In The Curse Of Kwányep that's no longer the case, as all the instruments and vocals sound very clear and are properly mixed so that they work in unison and without overshadowing each other. Furthermore, the band’s songwriting has significantly improved, and they’ve never had bad songwriting to begin with. One of my issues with their previous efforts was how uniform they were, but on this new record the band successfully balance keeping things fresh and dynamic while maintaining sonic consistency from beginning to end, not to mention, each song is distinct while still feeling like a part of the whole album. Furthermore, this record is much more melodic than previous efforts, but it’s also darker and more intense. Keykrók’s riffs succeed in having that distinct Chilean death-thrash crunch and groove, while also displaying the more piercing and hypnotic cold melodies of black metal, which are then the natural foil to Tarem-Keláash’s overwhelming bass lines. All in all, a well crafted and balanced string section.
The band has had many members, and on this record the band has a new drummer, Claudio Muñoz aka Koch-Keul, who is not only an excellent drummer, but manages to fit the band like a glove. He displays the mandatory blast beats and brutality, but where he truly shines is in his tribal drumming (with the exception of the penultimate track ‘Moon-Woman’ where the drums are played by E. Forcas, also of Watain and Degial). So even if Xalpen is by and large Tarem-Keláash and Keykrók’s band, they certainly didn’t spared no expenses in getting a suitable drummer.
There’s really very little to complain about. The band succeeded in improving their shortcomings of their previous work, and are able to refine their own unique sound. The only minor gripe I have is with their cover of 'Diabolica' by Angeles Del Infierno, which is only featured on the CD version of the record so it’s a moot complaint. That being said, it does feel jarring to go from a very dark and intense black metal record, to a classic heavy metal track, but again, minor gripe and with a CD exclusive bonus track.
Best tracks: 'The Curse Of Kwányep (Kwányep Chenen)', 'Kash Wayèwèn Qèr (The Deep Speaking Of The Spirits)', 'Moon-Woman (Kre´-Naa)'
Rating: 8.7 out of 10705