Part I: The End Of The World
Chile is nestled between giants. Towering in the east are the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. To the west, the colossal mystery of the Pacific stretches to infinity. Directly south—the body of water between Chile’s southernmost point (the Tierra del Fuego / Land Of Fire) and the icy wastelands of Antartica—lies the Drake Passage, known as “the most powerful convergence of seas,” and notorious for its unbridled currents, waves of up to forty feet, and for being one of the most treacherous passages to cross on the planet. While the sobriquet of Chile as “The End Of The World” is generally attributed to its status as the southernmost nation in the planet, the vastness of the land itself almost begs for the moniker.
It was between these extremities that the Inca Empire first took root in the 12th century, around what would become their capital city of Cusco in modern-day southern Peru, just above the northern Chilean border. The Inca expanded along a significant length of the Andes, both conquering and diplomatically absorbing tribes as their ideology and political control spread across the western half of the continent. Before the Inca were conquered by Spanish invaders in the 16th century, their civilization was the largest in pre-Colombian South America. They created marvelous advanced aqueducts and irrigation techniques, utilized architecture built into the mountains masterfully crafted by their stoneworkers, developed an extremely efficient roadway system that improved communications and held the empire together, and, of course, were the peoples behind Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru – a complex constructed in such harmony with the Earth, the Sun, and the Cosmos that it is now seen as one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World. What makes it even more impressive is they did all of this without the invention of the wheel, a written language, or currency.
As the Inca expanded and assimilated smaller cultures into the fold, their polytheistic mythos expanded. Their own brand of mummification deified their fallen, preserving their power and giving the dead considerable agency over the affairs of the living. Their rituals did include animal, human, and even child sacrifice in an attempt to appease the gods that controlled volcanos, earthquakes, drought, famine, and the every-seven-year threat of El Niño in the beautiful yet deadly lands in which from which they forged their existence.
Much like the rest of the Americas, everything changed in the region when worlds collided. European conquistadors brought with them war, disease, and the extinction of a culture that was only just realizing its potential. The Inca were wiped out, either through death or assimilation—both largely in the form of disease. While smallpox claimed countless lives, the ideology of the region became infected with a plague that has been known to wipe the very history of countless cultures across the globe from the pages of existence: The Catholic Church. Before Atahuallpa’s body was even cold from the deception at the hands of conquistador Francisco Pizarro that led to the fall of Cusco, cathedrals were being erected upon the sites where Inca temples once stood.
The war between the Inca and their conquerors became a spiritual one. Even under Spanish Catholic rule, rebellion against their oppressors boiled beneath the surface. Consider the rendition of The Last Supper by Peruvian artist Marcos Zapata. Completed in the 16th century, the painting re-imagines the iconic DiVinci piece with elements indigenous to the region, such as the guinea pig as the main dish and the communal way in which the disciples are seated in a circle. (Or, you know, like normal fucking people… Who the hell gets a table for twenty-six so thirteen of you can all sit on one side?) Note, however, that his crown isn’t made of thorns—it’s gold, a metal sacred to the Inca. Additionally, while Jesus’ fingers are making the typical baptismal configuration, rather than facing outward, as is custom, they are turned inward towards his chest in a subtle yet spiritually profound opposition to the Catholic Church.
For the indigenous peoples of Chile, there were other more material forms resistance as well. When the Spaniards successfully conquered the Inca, which dominated the northern portion of Chile, they failed to do so when it came to the Mapuche in the southern region. During the span of time in which the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was occurring, the Mapuche were incorporating other indigenous tribes into their fold, clinging to their traditions under a unified front. When Chile won their independence from Spain in 1818, the Mapuche were fated to became much like the indigenous tribes of North America—a people without a country and locked in an eternal struggle for sovereign identity in their own land that unfortunately continues to this day.
Part II: The Forge
Fast forward to the 20th century. Chile has had a few territorial adjustments, resulting in conflict with their neighbors. As the countries of the region find some semblance of stability between one another, political conflict turns inward. Chile goes from being one of the most democratic nations in the continent to a somewhat shaky and controversial attempt at socialism under the contested election of Salvador Allende in 1970. The nation succumbed to a military junta almost overnight on September 11th, 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet took control of the country. Once in power, Pinochet ruled with an iron fist, along with some assistance from the C.I.A. as a part of Operation Condor—the United States program with the principle goal of gaining control the political climate of South America (see also: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, etc). While, by the numbers at least, the country did achieve some artificial economic stability that it lacked under the contested election of Allende, it came at the cost of human rights violations and a series of other horrid atrocities. With a body count exceeding 40,000, the regime ruthlessly assassinated and tortured political opponents, including artists such as internationally renowned poet-singer Victor Jara, of whom the Chilean national stadium, the Jara, is now named after.
However, by the 1980s, Pinochet’s grip began to loosen. Chile’s economy collapsed in 1982, and civil unrest began to boil over. The government relieved a bit of their previously unyielding control on both industrial and societal fronts. Meanwhile, similar socio-political atmospheres were reaching critical mass across South America, spelling an official end to Operation Condor by 1985. More assembly and more expression was permitted. Simultaneously, worldwide, heavy metal was blossoming. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal—the genre’s Big Bang—was in full swing, and metal was evolving and expanding as the Winds Of Mayhem spread its seed across the globe. Much like what would occur just a few years later in Eastern Europe as the U.S.S.R.’s hold on the Eastern Bloc slipped, a handful of South American youths finally saw a sliver of an outlet to make themselves heard via this music, and they seized every bit of that opportunity.
It cannot be overstated how much influence South America has had on heavy metal. Of course, most reading are likely familiar with the Brazilian staples such as Sepultura and Sarcófago—both instrumental in the metamorphic phase where thrash bridged the upper limits of traditional heavy metal and coupled it with the raw energy of punk, thereby contributing significantly to the advancement of thrash that led to the basis of extreme metal. An even deeper dive results in more bands tied to Cogumelo Records and the Brazilian scene: groups such as Holocausto, Vulcano, Mutilator, or Sextrash. Yet while heavy metal was popping up all across the continent, only a sliver of it outside of Brazil reached anything resembling a global audience. Demos and scratch recordings surfaced in Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and, of course, Chile, and while a few circulated the deeper trenches of the underground and became cult classics, they never gained the international traction or even retrospective cult legacy in the way of some of their Brazilian peers. It’s almost criminal in retrospect, considering how fertile the soil of a country like Chile is for synthesizing aggressive, spiritually adversarial heavy metal.
Part III: Witching Metal
Perhaps it’s this lack of attention from the outside world that has created such an intricate underground network in South America. Much in the way the Inca carved a web of interconnected roadways across the Andes, los metaleros have constructed an interlocking network of bands, labels, distros, and zines over the years. Some releases can be difficult to track down, and, in the modern age, may just throw you to someone’s personal Instagram account who just paid to have 100 copies of a 7″ pressed. It may seem frustrating to an outsider, but it’s good to keep in mind that we are just visiting. And besides, isn’t it nice to haggle and exchange information with an actual human rather than simply punching in your PayPal information? The metal of the Southern Cone of South America has carved out its own scene and kept it alive through the decades, and, in this author’s opinion, this is something to be celebrated rather than bitched about in the name of convenience.
That being said, this article is not a complete list, nor is it meant to be any sort of definitive history—that’s a tale that needs be revealed with complete clarity from the inside, especially with how, as we will soon see, so many of the formative bands from the late 80’s remain active or have reformed with newfound inspiration. Staple acts such as Dorso, Rust, Cancerbero, Death Yell, and Massakre (to name but a few) all have their place in shaping the steel of Chile, but today we are just looking at a small selection of the scene, beginning with the debut from Pentagram Chile. Arriving after a twenty-eight year wait from their inception, The Malefice is a bit of a watershed moment that seemed to send sparks of inspiration to new and old bands alike across the country.
Furthermore, Chile has a highly diverse metal scene spanning most genres and styles. This article focuses on bands that build from the traditional thrash starting point and go forward from there; if anything, this is a testament to just how creative the Chileans can get, because there is no singular “Chilean thrash” sound as there might be when describing the Teutonic scene or the Bay Area or the Norwegian thrash revival. However, there are a few reoccurrences that pop up across most of these records worthy of note:
- Apparently, Chileans are born shredders. Guitar, bass drums, whatever—they’re going to tear it up.
2. They know how to write a fucking bridge, and they love tempo changes.
3. Unafraid to experiment, yet they still hold fiercely to the metal spirit of the 80s and early 90s.
4. Absolutely bitchin’ cover art.
5. Legacy bands that do comeback records have a much, much higher track record of success than similar bands from other regions of the world.
666. Always aggressive, always evil. There’s so much influence from the birth of extreme metal, and it’s almost as if it has its own evolutionary path where the witching thrash of the early days of Sodom, Destruction, Possessed, Morbid Angel, Niefelheim, Mayhem, Sabbat and… perhaps even Voivod all took seed in those fertile soils of Chile. There’s something for every taste should the curious dig deep enough. And while there isn’t a specific sound to Chilean metal, there is most certainly an indescribable heart, conviction, and spirit that dwells within it all: Forever in conflict, forever in opposition, forever evil, forever the opposer. Forever heavy metal.
Part IV: Thirteen Spells
Spell I: Pentagram Chile – The Malefice
It would be nigh-impossible to have any discussion about the extreme metal scene of Chile without mentioning Pentagram (now known as ‘Pentagram Chile’ for reasons that can probably be easily assumed). Formed in 1985, the band were circulating a rehearsal tape and a studio demo by 1987, the latter of which was re-recorded as an EP the same year. Now regarded as first wave extreme metal gems, these few tracks were not far behind the cutting edge of extremity in metal with the likes of Celtic Frost and Sodom—simply the influence of Venom, Slayer, Possessed, and Kreator being hammered out in the forge by some kids in Santiago. Examining the three songs in retrospect, they could all equally be seen as precursors to death or black metal in the same way the early Brazilian works of Sepultura and Sarcófago are viewed today.
While Pentagram certainly weren’t the first thrash band in their home country (Massakre were kicking around under the name Sepulcro as early as ’82, as soon as Pinochet’s reign began to loosen), they spawned at a crux point in South American thrash where things were happening that would go on to cement the region’s place in the halls of heavy metal forever. The Brazilian scene that centered around Cogumelo was gaining ground, releasing unfathomably influential records that would help foster extreme metal worldwide, but despite a solid relationship between Pentagram axeman / vocalist Anton Reisenegger and the Cavalera brothers, there just wasn’t enough scene infrastructure in Chile or outside label interest to sustain the band and, with little traction gained, they understandably dissolved. With the explosion of the internet age at the turn of the millennium, Pentagram’s material began to be reissued, and, after a few hiccups, the band fully reformed again in 2009. Four years later, they at long last released their debut album, The Malefice.
It’s interesting to consider how a band’s sound might turn out after years of inactivity, especially when so little was offered at the beginning. In a hypothetical world where they had carried on, Pentagram could have taken any number of directions in the extreme metal spectrum. Instead, the ideas brewed over the years, incubating until proper release on 2013’s The Malefice. The incubation period seemed to have swung Pentagram Chile a hair further to the death metal side, the result being something not entirely dissimilar to Malleus Maleficarum and Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence. Still, the dark sneer of evil remains, be it within the conviction of Reisenegger’s vocals, the lurking bridges of tracks like “The Apparition,” or the sinister tones in the rapid fire riff changes. There’s still plenty of black metal to be found: “La Fiura” sounds evil’er than hell, and good goddamn that strut sinks into a groove thicker than blood. In another comparison of what-if’s, it’s not hard to imagine the sound that Pentagram are bringing to the table being a reflection (of the solstice) of how Goatlord may have evolved had they learned their instruments instead of breaking up. Reisenegger’s dry bark from the demo days has festered beautifully; his tone now drips wet with malice and blasphemy, really drawing it out on the pained gnashing of “Sacrophobia.”
To put it bluntly, the bands that ride the legacy of demos for years and years only to re-emerge with new material that not only lives up to the original releases, but surpasses them are few and far between. Pentagram, amongst a few others reactivated from the Pinochet days, set a precedent in a way: Sometimes it may take a while, but when it’s ready, it’s guaranteed to be worth the wait.
Spell II: Atomic Aggressor – Sights Of Suffering
To describe Santiago’s Atomic Aggressor as Chile’s answer to Morbid Angel almost feels like a disservice. While the comparisons abound, the Chilean death metal stalwarts most certainly aren’t a clone act. As far back as 1989’s cult classic Bloody Ceremonial demo, Atomic Aggressor have been nailing death metal to the fucking cross. Their sound hits that sweet spot between barbaric brutality and refined evil, a la Altars Of Madness or Vader’s The Ultimate Incantation. Following three demos, the band’s promise fizzled out around ’92. However, in 2008, the year before Pentagram’s reformation, Atomic Aggressor reconvened, first releasing a compilation of their classic material. Following a pair of splits, they at long last released a full-length debut album of new material in late 2014 by the title of Sights Of Suffering.
Much as with Pentagram, Sights of Suffering not only refused to lean on the crux of simply re-recording older material, it unleashed a full ten tracks of new ideas that expanded on the promise long held captive in time with the demo material. The band’s return sounds fantastic; while the recording techniques are modern, they sacrifice little of the energy of the original band from the demo tapes. The new songs are even more frantic, and it’s clear the members from the original lineup spent time in the interim sharpening their axes. Vocalist Alejandro Díaz spews molten, volcanic death growls, backed up with some serious low end and a thunderous and inspired drum performance from A. Arkmar.
I won’t go too deep into detail, as Dan already did a wonderful job reviewing Sights Of Suffering here, but I would like to note that the way the riffs whiplash around the nuclear divebombs on the title track is particularly enthralling. Atomic Aggressor have since followed up Sights Of Suffering with 2019’s Invoking The Primal Chaos EP, so here’s to hoping they’ve got another full-length in the works in the not-too-distant future.
Spell III: Ripper – Experiment Of Existence
Given that Chile has such a virile crop of talented players and ambitious songwriters, let alone the country’s stylistic adoration with on-a-dime tempo changes, it’s almost surprising there aren’t more technical bands littering the thrash-and-adjacent circles. Then again, when you’ve got a band as good as Ripper (or Parkcrest, who we’ll get to a little further down the line), maybe that’s all you need. Formed in 2007 and releasing a trifecta of demos in the following years, Ripper started as a solid, if somewhat more straightforward, South American death/thrash act with a flair for technicality that gradually expanded their sound by the time they released the Raising The Corpse in 2014.
Their sophomore effort, however, is a more cohesive work. Experiment Of Existence feels composed as a whole, as opposed to the compilation of mostly re-recorded demo tracks on Raising The Corpse. This pays off in spades, and the band’s technical flair flourishes in the more progressive mindset. Just give a listen to “Anthropophagic Life”—the bass comes alive (if a bit buried), plucking at the thickly wound metal strings and working the fingers up and down the neck in a beautiful marriage of percussion and melody. Given that Mr. Bass Man Pablo Cortés is also credited as the principle songwriter, I kind of see why it’s buried: If it were a little more clear it’d be at risk of stealing the whole show at times! Cortés humbly slaughters the bass guitar across the album in the background, and it’s almost tragic how much of it gets lost in the mix along the way.
This isn’t to say the Spalinger / Poblñete guitar duo at the forefront of the mix isn’t bringing some serious heat; in “Anthropophagic Life” alone there must be over a dozen different riffs, all woven together by the interplay between the two guitarists. Their work bounces off one another, throwing variation and crafting a whirlwind that escalates into to a full tornado by the concluding solo. The greatest proof of this cohesiveness is revealed on the instrumental, “Anatomy Of The Galaxies.” The string section power one another up to create a triangle that remains in constant motion, perpetuated by the relentless drumming of Nicolás Villanueva. The heart of the band beats around an irregular 1500 kph but never loses the tempo or downbeat. “The Alpha Orions,” for example, sounds like an endurance test—a marathon’s worth of drumming delivered in a five-minute sprint.
Another (albeit subjective) observation when examining the Chilean scene is that bands almost never blow their whole load early on. If an album starts strong, it’s almost guaranteed to get better. “Rotten Dreams” is a loud highlight on Experiment Of Existence, falling into the track listening just a bit beyond the halfway point. If the screaming pinch harmonic at the beginning grabs the attention, the finger tapping that scorches across the brainwaves shortly thereafter locks it down. The band burn through some fairly complicated riffing, tossing every bit of flair in when they can. Though, as “Neuronal Unity” proves, Ripper are still more than capable of writing a more straightforward…well, ripper. Between the vocal delivery and stop-starts from the rhythm filled with guitar flourishes, Ripper almost come off like Nocturnus sans synths.
Ripper is a band composed of some truly talented musicians and quite a skillful songwriter. However, while Experiment Of Existence is a realization of the potential of the band, it falls a little short in the production department. Everything is so loud that it loses a crucial component of dynamics. The bass solo of “Chromatic Fantasy” alone proves Cortés understands dynamics, he just needs someone to properly sculpt his musical ideas in post-production. If Ripper can figure out how to fully harness the sound they’re working with here, their third album surely stands to be their best yet. They’ve a surplus of talent, and Experiment Of Existence proves they know how to utilize the instruments in their toolbox to craft death/thrash of monumental proportions.
Spell IV: Mayhemic – Mortuary Feast Of Skeletons
While they may have only formed in 2018, the sound of Santiago’s Mayhemic is straight out of 1987. The band’s debut EP captures the primal energy that flowed through Sodom’s Obsessed By Cruelty and Mayhem’s iconic Deathcrush and unleash it on Mortuary Feast Of Skeletons for one hell of a blood-soaked coming out party. Still, a few trademark clues to its Chilean source can be found. The breakneck solos on “Shattered Ground,” and “Mayhemic” with its abundance of hammer-ons and dive-bombs-a’plenty, are well outside the scope of Destructor or Euronymous, only further supporting the theory that everyone from Chile is born with the ability to fuckin’ shred.
As Mortuary Feast Of Skeletons kicks off, the guitar presence cauterizes the senses, and everything feels responsive, alive, and coiled and ready to strike. While it’s easy to fall in love as “Shaken Ground” and “Mortuary Feast Of Skeletons” hack and lacerate their way through the speakers with barbaric abandon, the real highlights of the record are found on the back half of the EP. “Death Spawn” shifts from a galloping riff to a death metal breakdown to machine-gunned blasts as vocalist Demian drops mortars of “Death Spawn! Death Spawn!” over the razor-sharp guitars—peak witching fucking metal! The eponymous “Mayhemic” serves as a proof-of-concept, throwing every ounce of nonstop energy and violent, vile incantations over hefty, high-octane palm mutes that purr like a hellfire engine, letting up on the gas only briefly to drift wildly around the corners. As the song feels like it’s about to fall apart, it kicks right back in, course-correcting and driving off to Hades in a blaze of searing soloing.
Since the EP’s release, Mayhemic have followed up with a handful of splits and singles, so pick up Mortuary Feast Of Skeletons and keep an eye on these guys if you want your metal fast, primal, and most of all eeeeeeviiiiiiillllllll.
Spell V: Necroripper – Amulepe Taiñ Weichan
One of the qualities that’s impossible to detach when examining the Chilean scene overall is how many bands are devoted to evolving their sound. Even groups sharing many of the same members quickly diverge down their own paths to establishing a unique aural identity. Yet they still cling to the fiery thrash heart—even the bands that err more on the death side or venture for more technical or progressive pastures retain this evil, blackened heart at their core. The most interesting examples are the bands willing to try new combinations of weapons and armor. Take, for instance, Valparaíso’s Necroripper.
Formed in 2008 (the same year as Sick Violence, another Valparaíso band that, along with the patron saints of the region in Apostasy, we’ll get to in a bit), Necroripper started by mixing that unforgiving core of extreme thrash with flurrying, top-speed melodic lead work and a bit of spooky, atmospheric organ. Following a slew of demos, Necroripper released a self-titled debut in April of 2012 and the From Darkness EP in 2014, and it’s clear that the band went through a period of revelation working through those releases and over the course of the next five years, because 2019’s Amulepe Taiñ Weichan emerged as a black pearl incubated in the oyster of the Chilean extreme thrash scene.
Amulepe Taiñ Weichan is drawn from much more esoteric wells than the somewhat campy themes of the preceding Necrometal. Actively utilizing the aboriginal roots of the Mapuche, the music accurately reflects this new gnosis. While the melodic hooks and the adrenaline-pumping drums stay at the core of the band, it feels as though they are flirting with the boundaries of second-wave black metal, pushing the thrash sensibilities to the chaotic levels of Tormentor. This comparison is made with much credit to the evolution of Morbid Van Necroripper’s vocals; they’re primal and animalistic, almost spat out over the music rather than delivered with it. The pseudo throat-singing found on “Amulepe Taiñ Weichan” reeks of Attila’s inhuman / reptilian performance on Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, only to be quickly juxtaposed against the mad barking of, “Builders of total destruction, slavery mass architects!” With Van Necroripper’s accent attacking the hell out of the battle cry, the song kicks back like a S.A.W. on full auto as it unleashes a total blaze of machine-gunned South American THRASH. That willingness to utilize fresh weapons and tactics is found across the track as Necroripper hit the bridge, throwing backtracked sound effects over a double-kick accentuated incantation. The bass is a bit buried in the mix, but it carries with it some seriously heavy weight as it walks in sinister half-steps outside the song, lurking in the shadows like a serpent waiting to strike.
There’s a reason there’s so much focus on the title track. While the songs leading up to it are curious twists on the band’s previous approach, the back half of the album opens up as though “Amulepe Taiñ Weichan” itself was the key to unlocking the fully realized potential of the band. The way the solo emerges out of the blasting, palm-muted fury of “Pewma” is delivered with ultra confidence—fingers fluttering across the frets as though possessed by the powers of ancient spirits. Prior to this midway tipping point, the album is littered with hyper-aggressive thrashing madness. Note how the early primal fury of Sodom morphs into a flamenco-styled solo tradeoff between the bass and guitar at the climax of “Pewma.” The rest of the album is rife with such transformative permutations—a shining beacon for pushing the strength of their country’s iron-forged thrash into fresh, creative, and imaginative heights, all while keeping the Mapuche flame burning centuries after the arrival of their oppressors. True warriors of steel, indeed.
Spell VI: Storm Death – Ancient Premonitions Of The Gods
One of the ways in which Chile has become a metaphorical powder keg of inspiration is the freedom in the music—it’s so pure and unconcerned with genre classification, all while primarily relying on classic blueprints for the core sound. It’s like rebuilding a classic car from scratch, all while adding custom upgrades and tweaks to the original design to create an altogether fresh beast. Case in point: Storm Death, another band hailing from the capital city of Santiago, whose Ancient Premonitions Of The Gods pieces together a mean machine that’s powered by a Pleasure To Kill-era Kreator engine, coupled to a Gateways To Annihilation-era Morbid Angel drivetrain, encased in a body of epic war chants that bear more than just a bit of resemblance to the latter-era Hellenic black metal scene a la Rotting Christ and Macabre Omen.
Digging even deeper into the ancient past, Storm Death mine their esoteric inspiration from Sumerian gods. The liberal use of the Phrygian scale and massive atmosphere is enough to make any Nile fan whip their head around as “Ancient Premonitions Of The Gods In The Supremacy Of The Winds Of The End” emerges from the opening incantation. The riffs hammer at mid-tempo grooves, echoing as though played off heavy stone walls. The backing vocals slam their chest into the speakers, and it’s clear Storm Death are going for as big a sound as possible. The track softens a bit across the bridge, building up to a climactic ending—an excellent start to this, their debut album.
There’s a driving pace to Ancient Premonitions Of The Gods. Even when the tempo slows, or a song takes generous time to build, there’s always a layer of tension and excitement cooking. While describing the band’s sound as similar to Hammerheart-era Bathory or DoomSword wouldn’t be correct, they employ a lot of the “less is more, then hit when it counts and with gratuitous reverb” method as seen on the mighty “Damned Voices From Another Self.” Storm Death are going for the big, dynamic Metal Of Death typical of The Chasm, Nile, Infernal Conjuration, and Runemagick and doing it on their own terms. The 2019 debut was eight years in the making, proving further that it’s always worth the wait when it comes to Chile… And I’ll gladly wait another eight to see what they do next.
Spell VII: Parkcrest – …And That Blue Will Turn To Red
Also formed in 2011, Parkcrest have a storied history under their belts. Following a pair of demos and a split, their 2016 debut Hallucinative Minds was a decent effort in technical death/thrash that flashed a lot of good ideas, but there was a lack of flow, and it fell a little flat in the delivery of the full package. Following the album’s release, the band recruited Diego Armijo (guitar) and Nicolás Villanueva (drums) from fellow Santiago tech thrashers Ripper, and that move made all the difference in the world for the sophomore album, …And That Blue Will Turn To Red.
Armijo’s leads, coupled with the engine swap of Villanueva on drums, served as the serious conductor and battery upgrade that sole original member Javier Salgado needed to reach a much more cohesive approach with …And That Blue Will Turn To Red. The twin guitars align right out of the gates on “Impossible To Hide” before the song really digs its heels in, and the riffs shift with the frequency found on Hallucinative Minds, but a more intelligent progression dominates. The songwriting is more logical and fluid, allowing the aggression to drive the machine, rather than feeling like a disorganized riff salad.
Parkcrest’s strong core helps some of the more ambitious ideas on …And That Blood Will Turn To Red soar, such as locking into the galloping groove on “Midnight Chasm.” They slam the gas beneath the hammer-ons and sweeps of the solo, then bring it back under control with a gallop, albeit with a fresh twist in the riff. The vocals aren’t even missed on “Dwelling Of The Moonlights,” as something is always happening—be it changes, fills, or swift licks—and it all works through a series of miniature movements to a notable crescendo that nearly matches a melodic death metal takeaway at the song’s peak that hints at Skydancer / The Gallery-era Dark Tranquility. “Hatred ’til Die” (great song title) brings it back down to Earth with some good old Sepultura-inspired thrash, albeit with Parkcrest’s tech twists in the form of unusual chords, bass flourishes, and, of course, the Almighty Guitar Solo.
What’s so different about the technical death/thrash approach of Parkcrest as opposed to that of Ripper is how rooted it all remains in terrestrial thrash. While Ripper’s goals fall more in line with contemporary progressive thrash acts like Vektor or Droid, aiming for cosmic or astral loftiness, Parkcrest owe much more to the comparatively obscure tech thrash of Eastern Europe—Wolf Spider from Poland, or Аспид from Russia, for example. Yet still, that uncompromising commitment to ferocity, evil, and keeping the blood boiling that’s come to be expected from South American warriors remains paramount, so Parkcrest still retain that visceral, primal brutality from their more extreme side, twisting it to their more tech-minded will. Considering that one of Javier Salgado’s other acts is the bestial Mayhemic, it’s no wonder Parkcrest sit at such a magnificent nexus of differing ideologies—the best of both worlds fused into one.
Spell VIII: Orion – Mysterivm Cosmographicvm
Okay, enough with the tech-thrash and whirly-doos—it’s time to get back to basics. Hailing from San Javier in the Maule district (about a three hour drive south of Santiago), Orion’s roots go back as far as 2001. After two demos from the mid-2000s and a handful of lineup changes, the band’s debut, Mysterivm Cosmographicvm, materialized late last year. And, as has been shown time and again is tradition with Chile, it was well worth the wait.
If one were to throw Possessed’s Seven Churches, Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales, Master’s Master, and Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing into a meat grinder and mash the bloody chunks together, only to gargle them down in an attempt to gain cosmic enlightenment and supreme power over death, then one would have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Mystericvm Cosmographicvm. Orion’s approach isn’t particularly flashy on the surface, but it’s delivered with total conviction. Much in the way in which the stoneworkers of Chile’s past constructed these vast monuments that withstood the test of time, Orion construct an impenetrable temple carved from these giant blocks of ancient extreme metal.
Trying to break the album down into pieces is difficult, for it all flows so well. The punky d-beat attack of “Soul Possession” and “Unreasonaed Perceptions” and the weighted doom sections on “The Way Of Truth” stand as a testament to the timelessness of the Hellhammer scriptures. The more razor-honed thrash sections of album opener “Of Being And Becoming” and “Uttermost Absence” set the Master and Possessed stones atop Orion’s cairn. The sparing use of atmospheric synth on album highlight “Epinomis” summon the blackness of early Rotting Christ or Varathron. The slow, drawn out solo that emerges from the doom and gloom rears its head like an enraged serpent flexing its power before the song dives back into the chaos.
The production job on Mystericvm Cosmographicvm is rich without sacrificing any bit of the filth and aggression in the music. The subtle touches like the aforementioned synths or the acoustic intro that bleeds into album closer “Witchery War” are placed perfectly. The guitars and drums all sound loud as hell, but with plenty of room to breathe warmly without succumbing to overcompression. The bass is a bit tucked away at times, but it does get a few moments in the spotlight, particularly at the climax of “Witchery War.” Despite the album’s brutish affront on the surface, it is masterfully thought out and crafted, grabbing the attention with unbridled energy and holding it throughout the songs with quick changes that push the songs forward with supreme urgency.
Spell IX: Demoniac – So It Goes
Chile has a history in experimental thrash. By the time one of its earliest players in the scene, Massakre, released their debut album, Massacre, in 1989, they had already evolved their thrash roots into some sort of cosmic, synth-rich space metal. Seriously, I can’t think of anyone else doing anything quite like this worldwide in ’89, so definitely give it a listen if you aren’t already familiar with this little gem. While Valparaíso (home to the best black thrash in Chile—see Apostasy, Necroripper, and Sick Violence) natives Demoniac have an entirely different sound, the absolute balls they have on their sophomore album, So It Goes, reflects the spirit of Massakre in seeing just how far this thrash road can be stretched.
Five songs stretch across 42 minutes, yet from the onslaught of “RSV – Fool Coincidence – Testigo,” Demoniac (the name perhaps being a nod to Pentagram’s classic “Demoniac Possession”) are smashing the accelerator like they’re blazing through a twelve minute EP. That Chilean shredding comes out right at the forefront over blitzkrieg riffs. On-a-dime tempo changes, wandering bass, and finger tapping leads abound as Demoniac rip through their opening numbers. Even the lyrics shift from English to Spanish as the blazing heat of So It Goes erupts in passion. Already, Demoniac is bringing black thrash that sits well above the watermark, and taking it even further with these idiosyncratic, unorthodox approaches to songwriting across the three movements that always fits within the context of the music. Even on the shortest song on the album, littered with a seriously impressive bit of lead work, Demoniac is taking progressive paths. However, they appear to be doing so with an inspired take on the common tongue of metal. That is, until it gets really weird.
The third track on the album, “Extravido,” takes things into new stratospheres. Dominated by the whims of a sultry clarinet, the rest of the band takes a back seat while the woodwind wanders across the apocalyptic hellscape created in the previous tracks. The guitars, bass, and drums serve only to accentuate the more dramatic parts of the clarinet’s journey. At this point, Demoniac are not only displaying a massive set of cojones, but they swing ’em hard, slapping the listener in the face with some absolute riff wizardry on the following track, “Equilibrio Fatal.” While the rhythm section locks into an unrelenting forward energy, it allows the guitars full reign to play in the chaos. Concluding with an absolutely brilliant solo over subtle synths and dynamic percussion, the song mirrors the melancholic beauty of “Extravido” with flaming guitar aggression.
The album’s final track is the 20-minute eponymous opus of “So It Goes.” Emerging from a soft acoustic passage, the clarinet and synths drift softly in the background, and then the guitars come in, ripping through the fabric of the atmosphere in a unified front. Following a blistering thrash assault, the bass takes the lead around the 5-minute mark. As the guitars and drums hammer out the framework, the bass takes a passionate monologue for a full minute before the drums start rebuilding the tension until…. THRASH! And, well, so it goes, with Demoniac hammering out every twist and turn they can throw into the song. With as many ideas being thrown into the pit on this album, the cohesiveness of So It Goes becomes all the more impressive, and it’s a trait that we’ll find continues on the next few albums.
Spell X: Fuego Eterno – El Arte De Lo Oculto
Seeing as how El Arte De Lo Oculto was already reviewed in full by yours truly here, we won’t dwell too long on Fuego Eterno. However, we can at least take a moment to place the band’s debut full-length in the context of the scene unfolding around them. While this is the first release under the name Fuego Eterno, the band have been kicking around under the name Renegades since 2010, placing their earliest roots right there in that hotspot of the late 2000s / early 2010s that also featured the aforementioned Ripper, Necroripper, Storm Death, and Sick Violence. This is notable in that the formations of these bands all occurred after the Pentagram Chile reunion, but before the release of Pentagram Chile’s The Malefice in 2013. As we cross into the late 2010s / early 2020s, these same groups that first showed promise at the onset of the past decade have now grown into something more. They evolve and experiment, yet always hold true to some principles just outside of precise definition. To put it in laymen’s terms, the bands experiment, but they stay true as fuck.
El Arte De Lo Oculto is a perfect alignment of all that is great about Chilean thrash metal right now. The record flirts with psychedelic and stoner elements, yet the aggressive devotion to Possessed, Master, and Sepultura remains. Fuego Eterno strike hard with this simultaneous fixation on melodicisim and song structure that makes them South America’s hermetic answer to Deceased. But, you know, on mushrooms.
Spell XI: Sick Violence – Hegemonía De La Decadencia Humana
Hailing from the central city of Valparaíso, Sick Violence take a different approach to blackened thrash compared to their contemporary municipal mates in Necroripper. And for a band that, henceforth and including their debut 2008 demo …En Pos Del Exterminio, utterly worships playing fast as all hell, Sick Violence certainly take their time with releases. This year’s Hegemonía De La Decadencia Humana marks but the second full length from the band, coming in hot eleven years after their first album, 2010’s furious Metal Bitch. One can only guess what Sick Violence has been up to in the interim since demoing two songs for this record back in 2015, however, upon listening to Hegemonía De La Decadencia Humana, let’s assume a bizarre series of events that included electricity of a gratuitous voltage and a spiked metal codpiece at the crux of some mad experiment isn’t entirely out of the question.
Emerging from the cackling Tesla coils of “Desintegracio,” Sick Violence’s tradition of kicking off the album with a burner of an instrumental, handled with the reckless abandon of Razor’s “Nowhere Fast,” pump the already absurd levels of energetic black thrash fit for comparison to Japan’s legendary scene with a radiant melodicism. While the prior works of the band certainly had moments of hooky melodies in the leads (not dissimilar to their Finnish contemporaries in Bonehunter), they are bursting with a newfound vigor here.
“En Resistencia” throws up a lightning rod of a riff intro, and the full band’s energy kicks in for the meat of the album. The vocals bark out in a strained thunder over the lightning flurry of the tremolo leads that strike at a mind-obliterating, blitzkrieg speed. When it’s time for a bridge, rather than going the lazy route with some sort of simplified breakdown, Sick Violence slam the gas to the floor, doubling down on the whirlwind melody with twin guitar interplay and bass shredding, particularly on the impressively constructed “Recalcitrante Ilusión” and album highlight “Quimeras De Libertad.”
The vocals on the title track layer on the insanity, and Sick Violence’s decision to embrace their native Spanish for Hegemonía De La Decadencia Humana adds a certain veracity to the album. It feels more personal… More genuine. The band truly do seem to have found new inspiration in what was already a winning formula, and it carries relentlessly across the succinct twenty-nine minute runtime. Another easy favorite in a scene full of excellence and a year chock-full of thrashy delights.
Spell XII: Hallux Valgus – Reflections Of Distant Dreams
It’s probably been said ad nauseam at this point, but while Chilean extreme metal holds tradition very tightly to the chest, it still finds little nooks and crannies between the hammer and the anvil to experiment and evolve, and perhaps no other band in Chile is stretching this philosophy as hard as Hallux Valgus.
Hailing from Puerto Montt, the capital city of the Los Lagos region in the deep southwest of the country, Hallux Valgus are a far throw from the central metropolis of Santiago, and just a bit closer to the end of the world. Perhaps it’s merely speculation, but I’m willing to bet it’s their distance from the pulsing heart of the country that has allowed the band to evolve their own dialect of heavy metal. After all, isolation does tend to breed certain strains of creativity as it tugs on the threads of sanity.
Where to even start…
The very first notes of Reflections Of Distant Dreams fit the title of the opening “Ghastly Fascination” to a tee. The reverb drenched echoes of the opening chords call out from the ether, as though summoning spirits for a bizarre night of haunting. The song kicks into full Obituary by way of Celtic Frost groove, with the vocals sounding way more John Tardy than Tom G. Warrior. Yet while the grit and aggression is still present, it still retains that spectral atmosphere hinted at in the introduction. In fact, it doubles down on the outro, hitting a twin lead lick that bears resemblance to NWOBHM legends Satan, but all drenched in a mystic reverb and production that’s just thin and fuzzy enough to bring to mind the witching first wave black metal of Mortuary Drape.
“Murderous Instinct” hits some primitive Repulsion / Impetigo riffing, occasionally throwing in chimes across the neck of the guitar for flavor, as though spirits are rusting wind chimes just outside a screen door. The leads on the chorus dart around like a poltergeist over the brutish death riffing, harassing and tormenting the listener before taking their exit out the window to the slow crawl of doom.
“Senseless Vanity” instantly contrasts the downtrodden exit of the previous song by hitting a build fitting for a Tygers Of Pan Tang tune. It effortlessly drops into some of that gruesome Obituary death just before the chorus, which is followed by some delectably primitive thrash riffing. The real surprise arrives smack-dab in the middle of the song, when the drums shift to a brilliant hi-hat shuffle. Then that pesky specter of the lead guitar returns, teasing and dancing its way around the rhythms. When the build begins working its way up under the escalation of the drum roll, it really starts setting in just how special Reflections Of Distant Dreams truly is.
The only re-recorded track from the band’s 2018 Death Will Prevail EP, the deliciously titled “Hot Puke,” brings that grossness of Repulsion back in full upchucking force. The straining of the blasts, and the driving of the d-beat reveal the true force Hallux Valgus utilize beneath the hood. The song drops to a sinister doom midway before arising again in the triumph of death, succumbing to an all-out frenzy of violence.
“Morbid Ways” doubles down and lives up to its namesake. Spectre’s rapid, sinister Spanish brings the track to life, utilizing the full force of the language to make the lyrics simultaneously violent and beautiful. The solo that erupts following the drum and bass breakdown in the final minute of the song rips open an easy stigmata with which to drive that “Chileans can fucking shred” nail right on home.
Then, in an entirely unexpected twist, Hallux Valgus go for the post-punk throat. The macabre death rock of “From The Echoes Of A Deadly Chest” is perhaps the greatest surprise of the album. Still, as juxtaposed as it is against the music around it, everything fits; the band have done such a good job of subtly bending the listener’s expectations that by the time they throw a total curveball, it doesn’t even seem all that weird. So, of course, by the time we get to visions of Dracula surfing on a sea of blood in the Drake Passage while giving the garage rock Telecaster treatment to some lead work on “Atlas, The Hunt,” our brains are somehow ready for it. Or, as yet another example, when Hallux Valgus manage to touch on virtually all the points they’ve hit thus far on a single track with the album’s closer.
The band’s curious name is in reference to a condition in which the big toe bends outward against its neighboring toe, resulting in inflammation, and that’s precisely what the band finds a way to accomplish: twisting and bending the supporting structure of metal over itself… And boy do they feed off the inflammation.
Hallux Valgus represent all that is great about the future of Chilean metal—finding ways to truly Enter The Pandemonium and push things forward without ever losing track of what makes this music so great in the first place.
Spell XIII: Apostasy – Death Return
It seems only fitting to conclude with an ode to the past, especially when the album in question is titled Death Return. The blistering black/thrash of the aforementioned Necroripper, Demoniac, and Sick Violence is certainly not without precedence, as Valparaíso’s Apostasy have been kicking around since the twilight years of Pinochet’s reign. Debuting as Damn Soul in 1987 and reforming as Apostasy the following year, the band have been performing unholy thrash since the beginning. Unlike Pentagram Chile or Atomic Aggressor, however, Apostasy managed to get a full-length album in before their eventual dissolution in 1996.
1991’s Sunset Of The End still stands as a gem of sacrilegious metal delivered with the atomic thrash payload of Vio-lence, Nuclear Assault, Dark Angel, and Rigor Mortis, all but lost to time and a handful of relentless diehards. The record landed a bit too late in the global scene, too: By ’91, death metal was in full swing, and already the reactionary nature of black metal was reaching to the underground of the mid-80s for refreshed inspiration. Much like the Spaniards forcibly assimilated the Inca, the mainstream moves by Metallica and Megadeath, in addition to the emergence of grunge, were eating up the attention of the mainstream crowd. Metal responded like the Mapuche, consolidating and moving underground. The game changed and metal became a mad dash to separate itself from the mainstream by doubling down on the extremity. And who could blame the fans when metal was evolving at such a rapid pace?
In a way, and I’m sure the musicians may disagree with me, Chile’s premiere acts missing out on the clusterfuck of the 90s and early 00s was a blessing in disguise. All the ideas that these musicians sat on for their initial projects, even when working on other musical endeavors, kept alight through the years—it became almost like a time capsule. Things paused, then resumed when the time was right (see Archgoat’s philosophy). For their part, Apostasy timed it just right, returning in 2013, then releasing their first demo of new material, Blackened By Darkness, the following year (the same year Atomic Aggressor released Sights Of Suffering). With 2018’s The Sign Of Darkness, the cultos metaleros of Apostasy made their proper re-emergence, so, much like Pentagram and Atomic Aggressor, the Valparaíso lads seemed to have been stewing on their ideas in the time of separation, only to re-emerge with a more coherent and focused sound.
Just this past May, Apostasy returned once again with their third studio album, Death Return. Slamming the point home that the sinister reign of Chilean metal is only just realizing its full power, the album is arguably the band’s best material to date. “Jus Primae Noctis” is a blood-boiling adrenaline rush of callus-worn fretting hands and fingers blistered with the smooth wood of the drumsticks. As is almost tradition at this point, the bass is buried like a secret weapon, keeping up with the insane pulse of the guitar beneath the shadows of the noise. As soon as it emerges, the sound is quickly distracted with the screaming solos from the guitar. While the band’s style is way more in the evil vein of Niefelheim or Aura Noir than the war-obsessed Sodom or even their fellow countrymen in Critical Defiance, it’s hard to escape the feeling of being in the trenches with all the bombshells dropping left and right.
While the majority of the Chilean bands here display a masterful control of the mood via tempo, Apostasy show the younger cats how its done with album centerpiece, “The Great Apostasy – The Night.” The ominous build throughout the beginning of the track plays like a countdown to a nuclear holocaust, fully delivered as the Vio-lence style thrash beneath the blackened exterior expose themselves. The snotty vocals are spat over wrist-cramping guitar riffs syncopated into a flurry of 32nd notes. The band sounds tighter than ever from breakdown to bridge, linking up in a nuclear fusion of riffs. The vocals sound like they’re gargling glass and vomiting blood as they spew with heretical might.
Death Return stands as a testament to what has been brewing in the forges of Chile since the beginning. The shredding solos, the blackened blasphemies, the stench of death and destruction permitting its every corner. The ADHD approach to songwriting that serves thrash so well. The unrestrained energy of the percussion, and even the tragically understated bass work – it’s all there. The chimes ring out across the four minute mark of closing track “Obey The Antichrist;” it’s as though a horned crown is lowered upon the heads of these progdigal princes of Chilean metal as the moon eclipses in blood. Banished are the petty squabbles of posers on what is “death” or “black” or “thrash.” This is witching fucking metal, bitch. Welcome to Chile.
With such a slew of new talent talent arising from seeds long planted in the earthen past, it’s surprising so few of these releases have been picked up by international labels. Sure, there are a few Metal Blade, Hells Headbangers, Dark Descent, or Unspeakable Axe catalogue ID’s, but a lot of this material had to initially be self-released or handled via independent label. This begs the question: Why isn’t Chilean thrash brought up more when speaking of reigning champs? It certainly isn’t given the same attention as the Teutonic-worshiping Norwegians, or the crossover re-revival currently happening in America right now. Yet the Chileans are bringing more diversity and just as much (if not more) thrashing madness to their sound than any of their contemporary heavyweight scenes.
Perhaps Chile is overlooked for not having the “legendary” pedigree or the festival-headlining names of Brazil, Germany, Canada, or the United States (there are exceptions – Pentagram Chile are slated to play 2022’s California Deathfest), leaving them facing uneven odds against some form of metal nepotism? Is it some sort of elitist, “true heads only” mentality? Or is it that Chile isn’t that interested in the world that overlooked Pentagram for almost thirty years and have no qualms about making everyone else wait for the treasure trove of steel they so lovingly craft within their forge? The romantic side of me likes to believe that the X-factor of Chile is pride in their scene, along with a harnessing of the ambition for the glory days of extreme metal when everything was a new frontier. Either way, it doesn’t really matter; the country is doing just fine on its own. It is clear in the music that the heart of metal is not only surviving but thriving in Chile, regardless of what the rest of the world is focused on.
While the initial meat of metal certainly wasn’t created at the End Of The World, its denizens certainly have become one of its premiere butchers, selecting and slicing only the premiere cuts of flesh from the metal beast and dressing them up for a proper barbecue like the guinea pig in Zapata’s final feast, roasting the scrumptious sacrament over the flames of Hell itself. In the words of Fuego Eterno: “Dios hizo la carne, pero el diablo al carnicero.”
Gracis, Chile. Que sus corazones sangren por siempre fuego negro y acero.
Acknowledgements And Further Exploration
- Extreme Chilean Metal is the resource for keeping up with the country’s extreme metal underground. There were so many bands considered for this article, and Extreme Metal Chile covers all of them and more. Check out their website and subscribe to their YouTube channel.
- To explore the past of Chile’s metal scene, check out Archivo Metal Chileano.
- For a Very Brief History Of Punk In Chile, check out A Very Brief History Of Punk In Chile.
- To learn more about the Mapuche Nation and their struggle that continues to this day, start at the Mapuche International Link.
- We haven’t even started on their speed metal…