Tliltic Tlapoyauak: black metal allied with Aztec culture and heritage

Various Black Twilight Circle artists, Tliltic Tlapoyauak, The Ajna Offensive, 2 x CD / 3 x LP (2014)

Since the original rise of black metal in Norway in the 1980s, centred in a small group of musicians and friends who knew one another in Oslo, Bergen and across other parts of the country, and who had ideas, beliefs and backgrounds in common, the notion of a small exclusive musical elite with a similar network of ideals has never gone away and still holds considerable magnetic appeal. In the 1990s, the formation of the French Black Legions across France, with several member bands based in western France (Brittany and surrounding areas) and southern France, drew on dreams of the lost cultures and values of a France not yet dominated by the politics and social institutions of Paris. In other parts of the world, others have created similar small black metal scenes. In recent years a small group of Los Angeles bands, some of which share members, formed the Black Twilight Circle collective which emphasises pride in the members’ Mexican-American backgrounds and their Aztec heritage. These bands have released work on cassettes through various labels and their own Crepusculo Negro and Rhinocervs imprints but this music, mostly a fusion of black metal and psychedelia, has yet to circulate very widely. This compilation of songs by various bands and projects in the collective may go some way to increasing public knowledge of these groups and individuals.

On this double CD compilation, there are 16 acts with one song each but as mentioned before, several bands and projects share members (in particular one Eduardo Ramirez who goes by the name of Volahn; he appears to be the leader of the entire network but that is only my impression so readers should not set too much store by my view) so I don’t think listeners need to worry too much about which band is doing what if they think every act here seems to have the same style of music and singing. The music is a mix of black metal, death, doom and psychedelia with the occasional indigenous Mexican folk influences. Disc 1 hosts the most BM-dominated work though the bands’ own definition of BM is not at all straightforward. Very strong acid psychedelic elements pervade the bands’ music in the middle tracks (tracks 4 and 5) in the sheer level of textural sound excess, its mind-numbing reverberating and echoing qualities, and the wildness of the melodies and riffing. Atmosphere on several tracks has a bleached, glaring sheen suggestive of hot blinding rays of sun bouncing off intensely white surfaces such as might be found on tropical beaches or atop the sacrificial altars of Aztec pyramids. The only really predictable thing about Disc 1 is that the music becomes ever more delirious and mesmerising with just about everything infused with a blackened death sensibility: super-fast speeds, deranged and often anguished and pained vocals, and a strong sense that humanity is charging headlong towards a deep and bottomless chasm and nothing we can do can avert this disaster due to its size, force and the speed at which it is escalating as it approaches its doom. A few tracks have a very lo-fi and primitive sound and delivery but the same sense of fatalism is present to some degree.

Disc 2 seems a slightly more varied collection (if slightly lesser in quality and consistency) but this may be more because the music here is slower and more easily assimilated by listeners. Kampilan’s “Universe of Constant Ages and in the Mist of Creativity” (sic), clocking in at 12 minutes, proves a real Gothic doom metal drama along with the typically frantic and demented BTC black metal psychedelic maximalist overkill. Later tracks may have a more overtly BM style but reveal unexpected and intense sadness and despair. In addition to Kampilan’s effort, the stand-out tracks here are Shataan’s “Born to the Earth, return through the Body”, a mix of folk, post-metal and some clean singing in a track featuring some of the most affective lyrics about the life cycle and the transmigration of the soul that I have ever heard; and Blood Play’s “Screams Transcends” (sic) which features a terrifying vocal performance. The final track on this compilation, Axeman’s “Ride into the Night”, is a melodic thrash piece that in some of its style and soaring vocal delivery might owe a large debt to Judas Priest.

This compilation repays repeated listening: the density of the music and the extremes that it goes to guarantee that you’ll miss a great deal the first few spins and you need to sink your head and mind deeply into this music repeatedly to absorb it all. After two hours with the Black Twilight Circle, you’ll still find yourself physically in the same spot where you started but your head will feel it’s been taken on a wild trip from one end of the universe to the other. While not all the music is of a very high standard, I am prepared to say this compilation will be a very significant BM release for 2014, not least because it throws a spotlight on an unusual scene and trend within black metal that takes the music far from its original Eurocentric trappings and concerns and makes it a true global cultural force: the music is allying itself with the repressed native peoples and cultures of Latin America.

Contact: The Ajna Offensive