Unearthing The Metal Underground: The Monterrey Mexico Metal Scene
Mexico is an enormous country just like our own, composed of 31 states and the Federal District. And like us, their music scene is exploding with bands and talent. Besides some of the bigger acts that have made a name for themselves over the years like Shub Niggurath, Cenotaph and Transmetal (a band once produced by Eric Greif) - not enough is heard with the requisite frequency about this active scene in Mexico. There are dozens of metropolitan areas all throughout this country that have metal bands, and there are several record labels that have been spawned to release this vast amount of groups. The interest in Mexican metal was no doubt piqued in American listeners years ago when such acts as LA's Brujeria showed what a winning combo death metal in Spanish could be. In focusing on one scene from our neighbors in Mexico, we will look at some of the interesting bands that have been coming out of the northern metropolis of Monterrey.
Living in the desert southwest where all of my Mexican neighbors come from Michoaca, Tamaulipas or Guanajuato, it is only natural I have wanted to discover more about this country and it's music. While I've travelled to my share of border towns, which have their own energy and club scene and bars that have pools where you can play volleyball, the only way to truly experience this country is to go deeper south and start seeing all the pueblos and cities that start to have a purer Mexican identity amidst the colorful landscape. I've been to Tijuana, Nogales and Mexicali countless times, been hustled off the street by guys paid to get you into their bar, and enjoyed plenty of drinks while listening to loud thrash metal. But in order to get a truer picture of what the country has to offer, it is vital to go further in and start seeing the true essence of it all. You pass through countless towns as you go deeper into Mexico - almost all having a cathedral, soccer field and a bar within the same block while the locals are listening to their ranchera music. But you know somewhere down the street are a bunch of guys with metal t-shirts on rocking out to heavy tunes on their home stereo. Metal is big down there.
A couple hours southwest of McAllen, Texas is the picturesque city of Monterrey. It is hard to believe that Mexico's third largest metropolitan area (ninth largest city) is this close to the U.S. Driving the desolate chaparral outback to get there is half the fun. Mexico has a system of free roads and toll roads - "carreteras de cuota" - throughout most of this northern area. If you can pay the toll you get to drive on the 4-lane highway. If not, you drive on the free road alongside a produce truck that's falling apart and emitting black smoke. As I watched a man trying to sell his hand tools so he could pay the toll, I couldn't help but be reminded of that song "Caseta de Cobro" by El Tri (about a toll booth operator who steals half the money he collects, buying pot and taking vacations.) I've been stopped by cops on roads like this, and a ten dollar bill usually gets me out of a ticket. Too bad it's not like this in the U.S. In Mexico, the laws of the frontier still prevail, which is sometimes a pleasant departure from regimentation and bureaucracy. You've got to love the rugged outback and a sense of adventure, and that's one of the reasons to head down to cities like Monterrey.
Digression aside, Monterrey is far enough inland to be uniquely Mexican but close enough to the U.S. to hear faded radio station signals. What strikes you about it is how incredibly big it is. As it's located in the border state of Nuevo Leon, this city of 4.5 million people often gets overlooked as being "too gringo" and not having enough true Mexican culture. It has twice the per capita income as other cities in Mexico, an educated workforce - but a lot of strife like many of the northern areas due to the Gulf and Zeta cartels fighting for control despite President Felipe Calderon's drug war. Politics aside, the people of Monterrey pass their day by listening to either tejano/nortena music or different forms of rock and roll - but usually not both. The city has, to me, a rugged beauty in that high desert plains way with it's statuesque palm trees and the jutting outcropping known as the Cerro de la Silla mountain. It's a large commercial and industrial hub with plenty of businesses that export a variety of products (several multinational companies have headquarters down there, such as Nokia, GE and Toyota among the many) and contains several colleges like La Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon within it's permiter. Universities mean youth, ideology and music - hence helping create the musical renaissance over a decade ago. Metal bands have been thrashing here since the 80's, mind you, but in the past ten years the scene has really taken on a whole new life of it's own.
Monterrey's proximity to the American border is easy to see in the shape of all the malls, billboards and retail chains. 7-11's are a common sight, but what is interesting is seeing them next to a street jewelry merchant and an open air market. There is still that nice campesino quality, although now the people partake in a more commercial way of life. Mexicans can go see live acts in the massive downtown stadium or the many clubs with no need to travel a few hours out. Recording studios litter the town, and U.S. producers get called down there frequently to engineer many up-and-coming local bands. Some artists who've been around for awhile, like locals Genitallica, blend "banda" music with that of light garage rock and have a derivative sound, while others like Evil Goat completely delve into black metal, Aethra go the power metal route or Toxodeth into 80's style thrash. Local favorites Maligno have been churning out music for the better part of a decade, and we've featured news and their music here on this site. They have a polished, powerful sound with some striking similarities to Soundgarden with their hard rocking style and vocals.
Monterrey's boom not only comes from it's sheer size and all the other mitigating factors, but from the way the media has overtaken the world. Satellite TV has given way to the internet and bands now have the means to express themselves via various musical blogspots and online streaming. In the past ten years, this has become increasingly evident in the incredible amount of Monterrey bands that have a Myspace page. The vital underground scene has gained even more momentum with the annual "Expo Tatuaje" - in which tattoo artists from all over the world mingle with the fans and metallic minions. The city had already been host to four Monterrey Metal Fests and made a name for itself in superceding Mexico City for awhile as a place for bands to emerge. There's a reason many locals dub the city "Monterrock." Unfortunately, there hasn't been another Metal Fest since 2009's opus with Samael, Amorphis and Atheist. Now, the popular festivals are occuring in Toluca edo (Metal in the Forest) and Cancun (Wild Metal Fest.) Many of the international acts that come play along with the local acts at such venues as the Ibex Rock Bar or the Cafe Iguana located in Barrio Antiguo. Earlier this year, the Cafe had to close for a couple of weeks due to the shooting deaths of two of their workers - Pablo (the security chief) and Enano (a waiter) which put a big damper on what should have been a stellar 20th anniversary celebration. Ah, random violence. It used to be a safest city in Mexico, but the cartel wars and other crime have cast a somber shadow over it. There is still a very electric nightlife, but events like this drive home a sense of one's own mortality in the people. Rock on, good people - and we hope the rest of the year treats the city better.
Today we will explore a few underground bands that have been paying their dues in the trenches of this industrial mecca. There are so many active groups there playing all different styles of metal, so I chose three groups that showcase distinct styles.
Argentum started out in 1989 under the moniker Burial and have built up a vast fan base. This group is nothing short of sheer class. They have an old school style of funeral doom/black metal that is both complex and sophisticated. In their two decades together, they have released two demos along with 1996's "Ad Inheritum Funebrarum" and 2001's "Stigma Mortuorum." Added to their mystique is their penchant for Latin poetry and band member names and descriptions that evoke a dark, medieval feel. Their vocalist Khabee is unreal, sounding like a prophet of the great pestilence.This band is currently active, but long overdue for a new album. They have been writing new songs and promise all their fans on their Facebook page that it won't be long, since they get hundreds of communiques demanding new tour dates, shirts and especially some new tracks. They're keeping everyone in the dark, issuing cryptic messages on their wall saying "New material has been postponed due to the sheer violence in making the CD." Check out these Monterrey legends below.
Flagrum Taxillatum are an unsigned black metal act who have been around since 2007 and released their first EP "Natus Ante Luciferum" last year. In Spanish, they describe themselves as being created one harsh winter as a project to experiment with occult magic by way of the most extreme metal possible. They go on to say they are the product of Lexoz's (vocalist - ex Visceral Pain) twisted mind. When their first guitarist left, Angekok Daemonethia came in "through the seventh hell" to join along with the other members. Their music is certainly as dark and sick as they describe it, so much so that you could fully picture this band being the soundtrack to a cartel death squad. Here are a few tracks from them, and you can listen to more of their music on their Myspace page.
One of the more interesting and hard to characterize Monterrey bands comes in the way of a very young group by the name of Shival-Vah. Original members Tommy (guitar) and Felipot (bass) left their respective bands in high school to form this group a few years back. A couple of years later they rounded out the band with two more members and started opening for bands such as Cannibal Corpse and performing in several towns such as Nuevo Laredo and even the capital city. On their PureVolume page, they state that they were slated to enter a contest to be the opening act for Morbid Angel and Dying Fetus, but the drummer couldn't be there on time. That drummer and another member eventually ended up quitting to pursue other interests, leaving them in a state of temporary hiatus after they released their debut CD "Decay of our Nation" a few years back. They have a history of stopping and resuming, though. Current guitarist Jorge Omar Hernandez Vela Saldivar recently spoke to me about how the band hopes to resume practicing with some new members. In the meantime, he is busy with the recording studio he co-owns and produces at (Shival Studios) in Monterrey, and has quite a big roster of metal and non-metal bands that he engineers. Shival-Vah's sound is a fusion of jazz, death metal and experimental rock that gets even more eclectic as time goes on, so many hope they quickly round out the band and deliver some new material. Their more recent compositions ellict comparisons to artists such as Watchtower, and here are a few tracks from the band from different time periods.
Mexico has as much as we do (they even unveiled their first sports car this year - the Mastretta), and there is so much vitality in this nation in terms of arts and commerce.The sheer variety and wealth of bands in the northern city of Monterrey makes you realize just how much of a scene this large metropolis has - and it is staggering when you think of it as just one corner of the country. Certain record labels in Mexico, such as Chaos Records from Tabasco to name one, are now being promoted and distributed in the U.S. (the aforementioned by Topeka-based Clawhammer PR) as this overlooked scene starts getting the exposure it deserves. To dig even deeper into Mexican metal, check out this very comprehensive look at many bands throughout Mexico's metal journey as seen through the eyes of some of the most renowned groups' band members here at the Death Metal blogspot. Join us every Monday when we unearth the Metal Underground in another deserving scene.
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