Xibalba - Emerging From Hell
After nearly 15 years, Xibalba has arrived at a crossroads. The miles traveled up until this point have produced four albums, a road-tested disposition, and a community of fans that grows more passionate with every move the band makes. However, on the heels of their latest release, Años En Infierno, the mood is more contemplative than celebratory. With reviews almost unanimously touting the record as the band’s most evolved effort of their career, the future for Xibalba seems more ambivalent than auspicious. As the band enjoys the accolades earned from Años, the embrace from an even broader audience is offset with the realities of spending more than a decade as working class musicians. The long nights, the excess, the distance and destruction - Xibalba once reveled in the hell and chaos that comes with life on the road. After more than a decade of regular touring cycles, XIbalba is now reevaluating how best to proceed, if at all.
From the onset of the Infierno recording sessions, the band had already began to enact some significant changes. For the first time in their career, Xibalba made the decision to not record with longtime producer Taylor Young (Nails/Twitching Tongues). “We have always considered Taylor as a member of the band. Just about everything we have ever done as a band has been recorded with him. We had just reached a point where it was time for something different.” Opting to record with Arthur Rizk, the can’t miss producer has been the go to for the likes of Power Trip, Ghostemane, and Calavera Conspiracy. “It was the first time we actually had to go anywhere to record. We had to actually stay onsite for a week and record. We we’re really nervous but It forced us to focus and work without distractions,” explained Rebolledo.
Xibalba prepared prime conditions to deliver the kind of hardcore, death metal amalgamation that the band was always on the verge of. “We’ve never been your standard hardcore band. We wrote our songs with the intention of not fitting into any certain category,” explained Rebolledo. “The natural progression for us this time around turned out in the record being much more death metal.” The evolution of Xibalba meant that Infierno would offer a more nuanced showcase of style, a skill that the band had earned over the course of four records. Throughout their career, Xibalba have unapologetically worn their influences on their sleeve. So much in fact that Rebolledo jokingly referred to the band’s earliest work as “Disembodied rip-off.” However, the latest offering armed the Pomona powerhouse with a product that didn’t need to make such obvious stylistic references to their predecessors. The balance of jarring death metal with the combustion of hardcore is a lane that Xibalba could always comfortably travel in; with Años En Infierno, Xibalba is asserts a lane all their own.
Yet despite the era of change that seems to mark this chapter of the band’s narrative, their are a few constants that were never up for compromise. The ethos of Xibalba was such that the band has always made it a point to prominently display their heritage. The bilingual catalog often set Xibalba apart from the pack and Rebolledo explains that it was deliberate. “At the end of the day it’s about pride. We are and have always been proud of culture.” The frontman went on to explain that as the band ventured further and further away from home to perform, that sense of pride in their identity only grew stronger. “Getting the chance to play around the world, it was really clear that we were the minority,” said Rebolledo. “That’s why it always been important for us to represent our culture.”
Xibalba’s growth as artists would understandably segue into their growth as humans. The kind of perspective afforded to a musician that has toured the world can be both a blessing and curse. For Xibalba, the balance of pursuing their passion spills over in their ability to maintain real life stability. While the band of brothers is seemingly hitting their stride creativity, they are also taking a step back, as counter-intuitive as it may seem. The explanation why is as brutally honest as the band’s sound. “I hate to admit it but we have robbed grocery stores across this country to eat,” confides Rebolledo. The less than glamorous admission brings into focus the degree of sacrifice that comes as almost a prerequisite. “Being in this band has taken it’s toll on all of us. It’s taken it’s toll on our families and relationships.” Citing realities like mortgages and familial obligations, Rebelledo punctuates the state of the band with the following, “If we continue to live our lives out on the road we were probably going to end up dead or in jail. That’s the truth.”
Though it remains to be seen if Años En Infierno will be Xibalba’s swan song, there is no denying it would be a hell of an exit. Every song on the record reiterates the progression of the band; an eight-track victory lap. While it sounds like the band probably won’t be done for good, just much more selective with when and if they play, there is something admirable about being able to exit at a peak rather than a valley. Though fans would miss Xibalba’s brand of blackened hardcore, the lore packaged with this kind of quality finale would ensure that the boys from Pomona, if nothing else, went out at the top of their game.
Años En Infierno is available now via Southern Lord Records.