Look, I love big, important, seriovs heavy metal as much as the next jagoff. Heavy metal with fiery polemics, off-kilter discord, svpremely intellectval paeans to the twelfth sub-level of Satan’s savory succotash, whatever, great. That’s all fine. It’s fine. But that can’t be the whole story. Maybe you feel some countercultural obligation to maintain heavy metal’s perception in the eyes of outsiders as obscure magick for esteemed adepts exclusively. (Nobody actually has that perception, by the way, but again… whatever.) At some point, though, in your limitless hours of funneling the dourest of hymns directly into your brainpan, you’re just a fucking dork with boring taste.
Here’s where all of this is going: it is a very good and excellent thing to smile.
And hey! Conveniently for you, the entire premise of this review you are currently reading is that Impureza’s second album La Caída de Tonatiuh is purely pleasurable death metal of the sort that nearly everyone should welcome into his or her life with grateful, loving arms. Impureza plays busy, shreddy, modern death metal that never quite veers into outright technical territory. As good as their death metal is – and it really is quite good – Impureza set themselves apart from other practitioners of the style through a thorough integration of flamenco music.
Now, if you imagined an extremely mid-90s sitcom-styled needle-being-dragged-across-a-record noise at reading that last sentence, please A) get out of my head, and B) relax. All is well. What elevates Impureza above “death metal + flamenco” gimmickry is that the flamenco elements are actually interwoven with the death metal, rather than segregated only to interludes or acoustic breaks. “Leyenda Negra” is perhaps the best example of this, as Lionel Muñoz’s acoustic guitars lead the way for a full-band breakdown and high-fret lead. The title track also has a wonderful late-song breakdown that pairs castanets or some other hand-percussion with virtuoso acoustic guitar.
Although Impureza’s fusion of styles is fully realized, it is certainly not without precedent. At times La Caída de Tonatiuh is reminiscent of both Gorod’s A Perfect Absolution and Krisiun’s The Great Execution, but truthfully my mind also wandered back to other attempts to merge Latin and native Western Hemispheric styles with heavy music, including Sepultura, Puya, and even Rodrigo y Gabriela. Impureza doesn’t exactly sound like any of these groups, but they often sound animated by a similar desire to identify the overlapping core of highly percussive and technically demanding that heavy metal shares with other much older styles. It also doesn’t hurt to remind oneself that the flamenco is a dance, and as such, Impureza’s tasteful use of the style imbues their death metal with a grace often lacking in such intentionally brutish and regressive music.
Esteban Martin’s vocals are of the same blast-furnace intensity as drummer Guilhem Auge’s frequent blanketing of double-bass, with his hoarse (and frequently double-tracked) bark sometimes coming across like a slightly lower-register Nergal. Florian Saillard’s fretless bass is the closest Impureza really gets to progressive death metal, but the rounded tone and bent notes occasionally give off a toned-down Obscura vibe. But of course, the real spotlight is almost always on the truly wonderful interplay between Muñoz’s lead flourishes and Olivier Hanoulle’s taut, muscular rhythm work. If you had to peg Impureza’s death metal to a single overriding influence, you could do worse than making a case for Nile, as both bands often pair their extremely busy riffwork with drum patterns that help sharpen the edges of the riffs for the listener.
La Caída de Tonatiuh is an absolute blast to listen to, and I am happy to recommend it without reservation. The funny thing is, though, that this band still has a ton of room to grow. There’s a better than average chance that Impureza is skating by cleanly in large part because of the relative novelty of their style. What would really propel Impureza over the top is if they can begin to craft discrete songs that are memorable and distinguishable – as it is, there are plenty of great riffs (the extremely Nile-ish opening of “Otumba, 1520” is a great example) and scads of just downright pleasurable moments throughout, but those moments are all just kind of distributed across interchangeable song skeletons. “El Nuevo Reino de los Ahorcados” is a frankly miraculous display of Impureza’s many strengths, but the flamenco and breakdown-peppered chorus never quite finishes the sale. And yeah, at fifty minutes, this gets to be a bit much (even with the judicious use of acoustic breaks and interludes).
But you know what? That’s really fine. It’s great! These guys have put together one of those albums whose faults only seem to exist by virtue of the band’s sheer exuberance. Not every idea turns out to be a perfect one, but that mindset where you want every one of your ideas to be the coolest fucking thing ever?
That is a very good and excellent reason to smile.