It’s all too common for bands to struggle with their identity as they try and fail at combining varied influences into something they can call their own. Given how conservative the metal scene tends to be, copycat acts and blazing shoulder-patches dominate the underground, either playing it safe by aping their heroes or drafting stylistic ransom notes from so many cut-and-pasted previous works. Well, nihil sub sole novum be damned—Acrania will have no part in this. These Mexican metalheads have snuck past our star’s watchful eye and drawn for themselves the most spatio-temporally vast watershed extreme metal has ever seen—and it’s been storming in the mountains.
A sumptuous turducken of all that is good, Fearless is not just an album but a deluge of the last century of popular music in the new world, spreading out as far as Rio De Janiero, Miami, Montreal and San Fransisco. Acrania are far beyond fusion, brewing up a focused, voltaic liquor of progressive and entirely human songs that cover more ground than a monsoon and with twice the fury. They’re scrappy enough to pull all of this genre-bending off with barely a lick of pretense but serious enough to follow through with their ideas, blending relentless polyrhythmic percussion with adventurous riffing and a liberal use of wind instruments towards an end like no other.
Simply put, Fearless is a tour de force of nearly everything I love in music. It has the intensity and intelligence of Death and Cynic, the rhythmic tomfoolery of Meshuggah, the adventurousness of The Mars Volta, incisive lyrics of Gaza or Gojira, and heaps of Latin flavor that I grew up playing in so many school jazz bands. It’s so fresh it makes Genghis Tron look like Bloodbath and so fun it makes Revocation look like the National Society of Accountants.
Take for instance “Hypocritical Conflict.” Drawn in by wailing winds and indecipherable drumming, it immediately switches gears into catchy grind-thrash riffing with big-band horn hits before a samba bassline ushers in its next movement. More of this stop-and-go madness, along with some of the album’s most brilliant dynamic contrast can be found in the bridge of “Poverty Is in the Soul,” whose anti-capitalist lyrics get shouted out with passion and a Beardfish-ian disregard for syllable count. “I Was Never Dead” flies through four minutes on a wave of Santeria drumming, d-beats and even a brief foray into foxtrot. The rapid rhythmic turnover and at times unconventional song structures make for a taxing listen on paper, but instead absolutely invigorate due to the band’s energy and clever use of repetition. Not once across the album’s 38 minutes do the band glimpse at their navels or stare at their reflection, muddied as they are by the uncontrollable flood of their own creativity.
Every moment of Fearless brings in a new tone, a new rhythm, or a new feeling, yet it feels remarkably cohesive in part due to its brevity, but also because each song paints from the same palette. “People of the Blaze” establishes the album’s personality in just the first few seconds after the yell of “Un, dos, tres, qua!” and not a moment fails to live up to it. Produced by Acrania‘s drummer J.C. Chavez and guitarist/vocalist Luis Oropeza and mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima, Fearless sounds loose and live, bucking yet another trend as it waves a gigantic middle finger at modern over-production. The album’s density is achieved by rhythm and tone rather than loudness, which allows huge amounts of dynamic contrast. Don’t let the DR score of 5ish turn you away: Fearless sounds far less brickwalled than its contemporaries, and I’d compare its mastering favorably with that of Origin‘s Omnipresent.
Fearless is a work of endless ends, each terminus flowing into the infinite confluence of style and genre that soaks anything in its path, frothing out and spilling into every nook and cranny of your little ear canals. From the trumpet’s cheeky plundering of “Tequila” that plays out “People of the Blaze” to the extended take on Victor Frankl’s existentialist philosophy in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” there’s simultaneously nothing beyond Acrania‘s grasp yet nothing beneath their level. No other band in the world sounds like Acrania. Like Fair to Midland or Genghis Tron, their music is so steeped in individuality and character that the very idea of it mesmerizes, its identity so clear and so strong. Fearless not only succeeds in its mixture of genres, its excellent songs, and its scope, but on a much deeper level; it feels whole.
Tracks to check: “Poverty is in the Soul,” “Hypocritical Conflict,” “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and “People of the Blaze”