Tzompantli are ready for war on Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force, a death-doom opus that channels the rage of entire Indigenous cultures to great effect

Release date: May 17, 2024 | 20 Buck Spin | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Bandcamp

Man, look… I have an innate attraction to death-doom metal. Heavy, slow/mid-tempo, AND catchy? That’s me. Right here. I’m also somewhere around half-Mexican, born in northern Sinaloa to a native father and European-American mother, so you know I’m all about showing out for my Mexican, Chicano, and general Latin pals in any regard I can even if I’m very white passing. Even cooler when it has to do with Mezoamerican and Indigenous people who I may or may not share ancestral connections with. Bottom line is, it didn’t take much to sell me on the concept of Tzompantli when I heard their debut LP, Tlazcaltiliztli.

The band, who at the time were just two dudes with Xibalba‘s Brian Ortiz masterminding it, were really in touch with how to make great death-doom. No horseshit, just riffs, weight, and a sundering atmosphere with an Aztec culture aesthetic (not to mention the Nahuatl language they use for album and song titles) and folk instrumentation. Now, the band has EXPLODED in membership totaling eleven (11) people including members of Teeth, Civerous, Dead Heat, and another from Xibalba, making Tzompantli a veritable war party that would’ve made Hernán Cortés shit his entire colonizing ass on their new album, Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force.

Maybe it’s the reinforcements of musicians or just time doing its thing, but one thing that strikes with immediacy on Beating The Drums of Ancestral Force is how much more diverse and dialed in it is. “Chichimecatl” and “Tlayohualli” hold the line with prime catchiness driven by venomous riffs and a relentless tempo and sonic profile that’s constantly slamming you into the ground back and forth like a Tom & Jerry cartoon. “Chichimecatl” specifically has a burning opening riff that just gets bolstered, bulwarked, and buffed with the most heinous drums on the album that go lockstep with the melody. And the howling at the end of the first verse? Endlessly imitable.

For as interesting of a distillation of the album’s themes the heavier tracks are, they never leave the roots far behind. One of the most poignant and captivating moments on the album is “Tlaloc Icuic”, the folky interlude that many of these sorts of albums have, but Tzompantli aren’t ones to do things by the books. The openness of the soundscape really calls to mind the spread-eagle valleys of pre-Hispanic Mexico, the vast, fertile spaces between the green hills where the Indigenous prospered and acted as one with the earth and the celestial bodies above. I guess what I’m trying to say is, in the most ominous way, “Tlaloc Icuic” feels like the strongest ancestral callback, almost spiritually linked to the land and its people with its chanting, but in a way that seeks to inspire fear in those who would seek to undo it all. When all you have for hindsight is violence and genocidal loss across centuries of time, it tends to imbue your music with either a great sense of sadness or revenge – Tzompantli clearly chose the latter.

But hey, they can do the more straightforward doom thing as well. “Icnocuicatl” is the album closer and longest track the band have produced yet, playing closest to doom’s slow and low traditions, but Tzompantli still made it interesting. There’s some cleaner, hushed vocals in the beginning that channel more of a destitute, forlorn aspect of doom, but they quickly relinquish control to a gurgled, pained yell that sustains much of the rest of the track alongside the quieter tones. Drums are once again an MVP, really setting the pace of the song while just sounding particularly crisp and pummeling with the double bass. “Icnocuicatl” cuts deep and hard, definitely a top track from Beating The Drums of Ancestral Force and shows a wonderfully multifaceted side of Tzompantli – I definitely wouldn’t turn down more of this from them in the future.

Listening through this album over and over, it made me realize that Tzompantli are probably the first band since Nile that have made me feel really invested in a centuries’ gone culture. Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to erase the existence of modern Indigenous peoples still fighting and living in Mexico and Latin America as a whole, and certainly greater Mezoamerican cultures and peoples existed much closer to today than Nile‘s ancient Egyptian cultures did, but it’s no secret the empires of these people are no more thanks to rampaging Spanish conquest and imperialism. Still, it’s precisely all of these points that make Tzompantli‘s existence a point of pride not to mention something different. It’s not often you see a band like this breakthrough and out into the larger underground scene stateside, but that’s exactly what they have achieved between a stellar debut and now a war clubbing, skull harvesting, human sacrificing sophomore album that carries the legacy onward.

Maybe this’ll get more people interested and researching these cultures more. Music’s always been a great spark of information and thirst for knowledge for me and many others – I hope Tzompantli inspire a deeper dive after they enjoy the more metal aspects of Mezoamerican people that lend themselves greatly to the brutality of the music. But even if it’s just for the music, surely Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force delivers on just about every front you can hope for from a death-doom metal album. It grooves, it garrotes, it gangs up on you, menacingly stalking through the jungles until you feel that blow gun dart sting your neck and your faculties melt away like the doomy instrumentation on “Tlayohualli”. Anyway, free Palestine and all Native and Indigenous peoples oppressed by colonizers the world over.

Band photo by Luckee Ngin

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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