Blue Hummingbird on the Left – Atl Tlachinolli Review

Well that’s a helluva odd name for a black metal band, isn’t it? But I know at least one of you cretins recognizes it; for those uninitiated in Aztec mythology, Blue Hummingbird on the Left is one way of translating1 the name of the primary Aztec war god, patron of Tenochtitlán, and legendarily bloodthirsty first sun god, Huitzlilopochtli. Not so odd now, is it? Blue Hummingbird is a quartet of musicians billing themselves as the War Chapter (natch) of LA music collective Black Twilight Circle, a darling bunch of indigenous-blooded Hispanic musicians dedicated to speaking evil truth to power, in this case the colonialism that so decimated their ancestors’ cultures. Fucking shit up along the way is obviously a plus. However, where other members of BTC have released albums, Blue Hummingbird have released only an EP and contributions to splits over a near-decade career, all to substantial buzz. This changes with their debut full-length Atl Tlachinolli (“burning water,” a symbol of war and devastation). Is all the prior hype deserved, or did this fire put itself out?

I am happy to report that this record relentlessly conquers all it sees before it. Building from a focused, measured rhythmic foundation, Atl Tlachinolli evolves with winding tremolo melodic progressions, always galloping onward to new, fresh musical territory with nary a note wasted and not a concept overstayed. Opener “Sun/War Club” demonstrates this capably, flitting rapidly from the introductory flute-provided eagle call into a rabid, swarming number stuffed to the brim with tremolo hooks that recall the riffcraft of Inquisition in substance if not style. Not to be outdone, the rest of the album also slays; special standouts include the sinister, rumbling “Precious Death;” the soaring triumphs of “Hail Huitzilopochtli” and “Rain Campaign;” and the groovetastic cavalry charge of “Life Death Rebirth.”

The consistently extraordinary songwriting and riffcraft, in concert with a trim 35-minute runtime, result in a total package that’s stunningly tight and eminently listenable. If anything, the album is perhaps a bit too short, leaving the listener far from satisfied even after the deluge of quality material. A complaint could be lodged regarding most of the lyrics being in English, but at least some seem to be in Nahuatl (namely on “Sun/War Club”), so I’m more than willing to overlook it.

Analysis of the production proves more complex, as while it’s also very good on the whole, it does stumble in places, with the master bearing the brunt of the issues as usual. The instrument tracks aggregate to a warm feel; wholly organic drums and thick, oppressive bass contrast with a guitar tone at the intersection of SweDeath buzzsaw, beehive, and classic OSDM tone. Befitting the album name and general style, fire is the order of the day, not ice. The catch is the vocals, occupying a liminal space between classic Entombed and first-three-albums Bathory, and all drenched with reverb and echo to maximize the cavernous texture. However, this at times may verge on melodramatic for listeners, considering how clear this lets the very direct lyrics be. The mix is marvelous, with all instruments clearly delineated from drums at the bottom to vocals at the apex. The only issue to be had is that the drums are perhaps excessively low; while never completely buried, they could stand to be a bit louder given the apparent total lack of processing. The master, conversely, is… not good. While not enough to seriously harm the record given the wizardry done on the mix, it’s notably squashed-sounding, and that’s egregiously unnecessary regardless of intent. More room to breathe would massively elevate this already-excellent release. As one final note, it’s worth mention that all flute work (the primary but not sole folk instrument on record) is credited to vocalist Tlacaelel, while Yayauhqui bears the unusual responsibility of both rhythm guitar and drums. As mentioned, all three instruments contribute heavily to the feel of the record, so kudos all around.

All told, Atl Tlachinolli is a record I cannot recommend enough, regardless of a prospective reader’s tastes. Like war metal? Great, this should be right in your lane. Don’t generally like the war metal slice of the BM scene? Cool, me neither! Don’t generally like BM? Cool, this is really not standard stuff anyway, so give it a shot. Tight writing, tight performances, and excellent production despite an unfortunately compressed master all combine to give a highly admirable debut album for Blue Hummingbird on the Left.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Labels: Crepúsculo Negro | Nuclear War Now! Productions | Iron Bonehead Productions2
Website: Too kvlt for the interwebs
Releases Worldwide: February 8th, 2019

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Skipping past the extensive linguistic debate on where the actual morpheme boundaries are, there’s also the issue of Nahuatl using body parts as locative references, which makes “south” as accurate as “left.”
  2. Yes, this looks like a mess, but there’s no funny business here. CN is just BTC themselves; they’ve partnered with NWN and IB for CD and LP distribution.
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