8 Kalacas – Fronteras Review

Dear brothers and sisters, dear enemies and friends, here is a hard truth: nobody really gives a shit about your record collection. This is a particularly bitter pill for those of us who end up writing for or reading at a place such as this, because even if we haven’t worked at a record store, we have certainly been mistaken for someone working at a record store on account of the number of items in our grubby hands and the obsessiveness with which we pore through the racks. It is wonderful to be rooted in musical history when listening to a brand-new album, but ultimately, if you can’t engage with the music on its own merits, it hardly matters how many influences you can spit out.

But boyyyyyyyy if it ain’t hard for this particular knucklehead to run into the fantastic new record from California’s 8 Kalacas without thinking about the seemingly tailormade way that it hits on my personal music journey. 8 Kalacas plays a wildly energetic mix of musical styles that incorporates chunky, aggro metal riffing, hardcore, ska, and Mexican styles like mariachi. It’s an undeniably heavy record, but it is both politically incendiary AND * gasp * a hell of a lot of fun. But to the point about your record collection that I’m trying to pretend I don’t care about, what this means in practice is that Fronteras might remind you of a bunch of things in your past, or it might sound like absolutely nothing else you’ve heard.

The most prominent sense I get from this whiplash-tight record is of Sepultura circa Chaos A.D. and Roots colliding with the ska punk of the Voodoo Glow Skulls, but you might also hear echoes of early System of a Down, Choking Victim, Puya’s Fundamental, the Suicide Machines, early Slipknot at their most punk, Discharge, and the Living End. But hey, if none of those touchpoints hits home for you – or maybe even more importantly, if any of those names gives you “ouch, what about my cred” chills – the good news is that Fronteras has its own entirely unique story to tell.

The ska influence is all over the album, not only because of the horn section (trombone and trumpet), but also because of the high-speed guitar strumming on the upbeat. Still, the greatest thing about the album is how seamlessly 8 Kalacas flits between rhythms and styles. The drumming occasionally slips into a d-beat style twostep, but also into flailing, Joey Jordison-style rolls and fills, and “Pudrete” even slinks into a Middle Eastern sounding groove around the 2:30 mark. Sometimes they drop into a hugely satisfying melodic groove, as on the hypnotic midsection of “R2rito,” whereas “Gato” is bouncy and danceable in a way somewhat similar to Brownout’s horn-led Latin cover versions of Black Sabbath.

“Garras” is one of the heaviest songs of the bunch, leaning hard into the Sepultura, but with some extra-fleet riffing that sounds a little like Gojira. The bass often slips into a walking blues pattern, which gives the songs a punk-infused rockabilly flavor, whereas the trumpet fanfare and rhythms on “Pudrete” demonstrate the mariachi influence most clearly. Despite the stylistic diversity, though, everything hangs together as a cohesive whole, and it is frankly impossible to listen to this joyous album without just having a great goddamned time.

Even with all of that, you might find yourself asking, “Okay, but is it really a metal album?” And the answer is: yes, no, and also who the hell cares. One of my greatest joys in being a music obsessive is tracing out the possible lineage of new sounds, so in this case 8 Kalacas tickles the memory center of my brain into flashing through the time I spent as a teen diving into the catalogs of Asian Man, Epitaph, and Hellcat Records in addition to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings and Roadrunner (not to mention the time I spent playing trombone in a ska-punk band). But the joy that I hope we can all agree on – pedantic record collection considerations aside – is that it is a blessing to hear something new, find what you love about it, and follow it to wherever the hell it might go.

8 Kalacas is a tremendously talented and self-assured band that knows exactly what they want to do, but if you let it, Fronteras is the kind of album that might take you places you never imagined.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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