Ershetu – Xibalba (Debemur Morti Productions)

Wednesday, 29th November 2023
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Music with an authentic cultural direction is always of interest to these ears. Projects such as Blackbraid and Alien Weaponry are notable acts who have roots in their respective cultures, to which are integral parts of their music that make their compositions stand out with a unique identity. Similar in building on a specific historical theme is Ershetu, with a heavy focus on Mayan folklore via lyricist/concept creator Void and primary songwriter/composer Sacr. More specifically, exploring the historical text Popol Vuh; a document of the history of the Guatemalan K’iche’ people. The approach is more of a cinematic one than the previously mentioned groups, and Ershetu is fleshed out with an impressive lineup of musicians, highlighted by Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval on bass/guitars and Lazare (Lars A. Nedland) of Borknagar/Solefald providing the vocals.

This collaboration comes together to metastasize on the debut full-length Xibalba – an album that’s a vivid, theatrical, and unrelenting piece of music that isn’t easily measurable against much else. Unquestionably a profound achievement that is difficult to attain in these modern times of a saturation of bands, especially of the black metal variety. The scene is set via progressively intensifying chant-driven atmospheres of the introductory track “Enter the Palace of Masks,” giving a sense of authenticity and mystery. “From Corn to Dust” maintains the Mayan aesthetic with flutes and rhythmic vocal mantras, thickly layered with a fiercely urgent blackened attack. The guitar work is divine, with an abundance of impactful riffage, accompanied by blood curdling shrieks and screams.

Pounding ritualistic drums and tremolos aurally conjure a near hypnotic sound profile, especially with the mixture of haunting clean vocalizations being a specific standout element within “The Place of Fright,” while “Hollow Earth” is one of the denser tracks, filled to the brim with cloudy instrumentation and a bombastic orchestral score. The most visceral and personal favorite entry is no doubt is “Cult of the Snake God,” boasting exquisite vocals via Lazare that set an epic feeling of foreboding, while the song composition wondrously slithers between moments of reflection and unbridled intensity. This is suffocating black metal at the core, but the Mayan inspired cinematic elements give an incomparable sense of purpose and place.

It can’t be said enough that such a focus on a specific piece of fascinating Mayan culture alone makes this album a work unto itself. Adding the keen attention to detail in crafting Xibalba, the listener is given such a vivid and filmic piece of cultural music of which is a direction that isn’t taken often to this degree. This is further accented within the mix, which brings the inspired orchestrations and vocalizations to the forefront, with the black metal elements forming the skeleton that holds everything together structurally.

What’s glaringly obvious is that one won’t come across an album that is this intentionally different often, and the creative risks taken most certainly pay off. There’s plenty to digest within Xibalba – from the folk characteristics, various vocal cadences, and film score level vivacity, to the downright nasty and direct black metal onslaughts. This won’t hit with everyone, as it’s most definitely geared towards the open minded and adventurous types of music connoisseur. For those looking to be transported into the fascinating stories of one of the world’s most intriguing civilizations via a musical composition unlike any other, Ershetu is the band for you, with Xibalba being a most necessary experience.

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