My interest piqued when I read that Tunjum, a Peruvian band releasing their first full length LP, plays “ancestral metal from the land of the Incas!” I checked out their Metal Archives page, and found that they write about “ancient Muchik culture.” I took to Wikipedia to investigate “ancient Muchik culture,” and discovered that researchers believe that human sacrifices and ritual cannibalism were common religious practices of the Moche,1 which seemed like a pretty ample source of inspiration. I admit, I didn’t know anything about the band, but I reasoned like this: good source material? Check. Good artwork? Well, I like it. Illegible logo? Very much. So, I gave it a chance.
Tunjum plays a kind of raw, minimalist death metal that has a lot more in common with orthodox black metal than riff-based, groove-driven death metal. The songs circulate around one or two riffs, chromatic tremolo picking, and simple time signatures. The drums blast on eighth-notes, rarely varying their feel, except to drop down to simple quarter-note rhythms. Deidades del Inframundo features two guitars—played by Saj (who also plays bass) and Evil Avatar—but they rarely play harmonies or even differentiated parts. At their most adventurous, simple leads are laid over rhythm chords for a couple bars before the guitars revert to playing in unison. This means that that unlike Impureza‘s La Caída de Tonatiuh or Yaotl Mictlan‘s Dentro del Manto Gris de Chaac, there’s very little musical variation arising from the cultural theme aside from the lyrics,2 which are not only in Spanish but also impossible to decipher from the monotonous gutturals of Tunjum‘s drummer Kultarr.
Such a strong commitment to making the most orthodox of death metals results in a bloodless, uninteresting album. While songs sport moments of interest—some quarter-note grooves in “Rebelíon del Inframundo,” for example, or genuine doom chops in “Difunta Señora Soberana”—these inevitably give way to the pale riffs which make up the heart of each song. In fact, the band is inexplicably dedicated to playing the same chromatic, simplistic, and predictable riffs. This isn’t hyperbole. Tunjum‘s riffs are nearly all crafted with the exact same structure—”ABAB” or “ABAC”—which follows this pattern:
- A. Riff or theme
- B. Variation
- A. Riff or theme
- C. Variation two
The variations fall in patterns of two or four—or eight or twelve, but always in groupings of two—before introducing another riff structured precisely in the same way and reverting back to the original riff. While this isn’t terribly uncommon in metal—I’m sure if you broke down a lot of bands’ riffs, it would work exactly the same way—these are, unfortunately, the album’s best riffs and most interesting moments. When given room to do so, Tunjum simply repeats ABAB, or even just AA (“La Venganza de la Bestia” and “Demonios de la Tierra”).
Guttural vocals, devoid of dynamics and low in the mix, exacerbate the repetitiveness and monotony. Growler Kultarr has a uniform approach and, despite being the band’s drummer, she uses very little rhythmic variation. In addition, the songs are almost uniformly in 4/4 at 120 beats per minute,3 meaning three or four minutes of every song sounds exactly the same. Only a handful of variations save this bleak listening experience from being white noise. “Retorno al Orígen”—the album’s closer and best song—features a gripping doom build and a 6/8 break at the end, closing the album on a high note. Similarly, “Difunta Señora Soberana,” has a doomy build—and though the song stumbles over a rough bridge, it explodes into a blast beat vigorously. In these moments, Tunjum is feral; reminiscent of early black metal. Lastly, “Antiguo Dios de la Noche” has a vibrant—if still ABAB—riff that exudes the same raw energy. The song even features a haunting guitar lead that stands out from Deidades del Inframundo‘s otherwise unremarkable guitar performances.
Even with the highlights, though, Deidades del Inframundo is a disappointing effort. The theme didn’t add anything to the album but cool artwork, and the music blends into a haze after the fourth song. If you’re super into raw, minimalist death or black metal, this could be for you. Tunjum’s music certainly sports a brow ridge worthy of australopithecus, and there are moments that I do really enjoy—particularly on “Retorno al Orígen,” “Difunta Señora Soberana,” and “Antiguo Dios de la Noche.” But unless you’re a metal spartan, this won’t float your boat. In fact, I disembarked from mine post haste.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kB/s CBR mp3
Label: Dunkelheit Productions
Website: Kvlt. Az. Fvck.
Release Date: July 23, 2018
Written By: Mark Z.
There I was, picking my nose and listening to The Receiving End of Sirens or some shit, when suddenly an immense shadow loomed over me. “MARK Z!!!!” boomed a voice. I looked up and there he was, our Angry Overlord himself. “Get your shit in on time! Also, tell me what you think of this Tunjum record.” As the resident Hells Headbangers fanboy, rarely am I sought after for such consulting duties, and it wasn’t long before the Overlord and I came to the realization that our assessment of this Peruvian trio’s debut diverged considerably. Thus, you’re left with me to tell you why AMG has been wrong this whole time and some music is fine without 18 minute jazz solos, damnit.
Formed in 2007, Tunjum sound distinctly South American. Not unlike Atomic Aggressor or Mortem, they’re the type of band that worships at the altar of old school (typically American) death metal, and then throws in that barbaric edge typical of their continent (see Sarcófago). More than anything else, there’s also an obvious Incantation influence, though Tunjum are more bestial. Likewise the sporadic bits of melody are more evocative and less malicious than one would expect from typical Incantation-core, but beyond that there aren’t too many surprises. Vocals consist of monstrous roars that sound like a hungry tyrannosaur, rhythms shift between blastbeats and doomy lurches, and riffs pull freely from all manner of classic bands without ever sounding too familiar.
In fact, it’s these riffs that are Deidades’s strongest suit. Unlike the cavernous murk so many underground bands find themselves content to wallow in, Tunjum make it a point to actually write coherent songs with distinct ideas. After its requisite atmospheric intro, opener “La Venganza De La Bestia” kicks in with tremolos that could have been pulled straight from Morbid Angel’s Covenant, building off them for a few minutes before hitting a stringy melody that’s then transformed into its own mammoth riff. Even at over 6 minutes in length, the track is wholly entertaining all the way through. “Antiguo Dios De La Noche” is equally enjoyable, opening with a punky Autopsy riff before delivering a devilishly catchy progression that conjures the ritualistic feel of Throneum. Songs like “Difunta Señora Soberana” and “Rebelión Del Inframundo” even evoke classic Death, the former doing so after its lumbering opening, the latter breaking right in with a riff that reeks of Leprosy.
Through it all, the shifts between the massive doom portions and byzantine blasting typically keep things engaging, though there are exceptions. In general the first half of Deidades is better than the second, with songs like “Destino De Los Cautivos” sounding like rote Incantation-core and aforementioned “Rebelión” sounding less developed than its brethren. It’s also a shame there are no guitar solos, yet by far the biggest flaw has to be the vocals. While Ms. Kultarr’s roars are quite powerful and unearthly, it only takes a few songs before her unwavering inflection and vocal patterns become monotonous. It is interesting, however, that a few songs feature what sounds like a sharp inhalation through the nostrils, which is a unique touch that grants these 41 minutes something of a raw DIY edge.
For further positives, it’s also commendable that one can actually hear the creaky bass groaning below everything, and I love it when the beefy guitars give way to delightfully thick humming during the tremolos. My favorite example comes in the final minutes of closer “Retorno Al Orígen,” when a huge primordial riff emerges that evokes the vastness of Nar Mattaru. In fact, fans of them, along with aforementioned Atomic Aggressor or even Unaussprechlichen Kulten, are sure to find something to like here. While Tunjum are hardly leading a death metal renaissance, they’re a promising young band in their own right, burning with their cultural heritage and remaining steadfast in their worship of the Almighty Riff. Trust me when I say this is far from bottom of the barrel, even if the ol’ Overlord claims otherwise.