Tzompantli – Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force


Tzompantli arrived on the scene in 2019 with their debut EP and signed to 20 Buck Spin in time for their 2022 album, Tlazcaltiliztli. Their music is death-doom, but their art concentrates on the pre-Hispanic civilisations of Mesoamerica. Now, ready to present their sophomore effort, Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force grabs you with its stunning cover painting of an indigenous warrior astride a temple under a blood-red sky. Imagine the possibilities for experimentation when the primary focus is to anchor extreme metal in the rituals of human slaughter and blood offerings to the gods.

The blood lust is evident from the first note of opener, ‘Tetzahuitl’. The band go straight into the chase with vicious throat ululations and a sludgy death metal attack led by blast beats. Then it settles into a slower doom metal tempo with barbarian growls. Your imagination might gravitate towards Mel Gibson’s 2006 film, Apocalypto, where the main hunter falls into the hands of a Mayan tribe that would like to cut his heart out in a blood sacrifice. On a musical level, try to compute Obituary playing a Suffocation song – it shouldn’t be too difficult. The tremolo rhythms are lethal, and the palm-muted open notes are just as dangerous. Those that remember the impact of Paradise Lost’s first two albums will enjoy this music.

It becomes apparent early on that the main weakness of this record is the monotone guttural voice that borrows from the least interesting aspects of death metal. The vocals in ‘Tlayohualli’ need more imagination rather than exhaling the grunts like an intake of hot soup. Tzompantli rely on their low-tuned guitars to deliver a crushing sonic experience, and they do it with great competency. The high register moments on the fretboard are some of the most memorable because they offer an escape from the ubiquitous claustrophobia. The first sign of melody arrives here in a brief passage of harmonising guitars at the three-minute mark. Fortunately, they offer a welcome change of vocals to a throat-based anguish of words at the end. They should do this more often.

To be fair, the structuring of this record is considerate of the listener’s needs. It’s a wise decision to use track three (see ‘Tlaloc Icuic’) as a moment for calm reflection, yet the mood of this song is still an apprehensive one. Clean guitar strokes, whistling birds and tom drums set the scene for a hunting excursion in the jungle. The vocals aim for a ritual summoning of ancient powers and use a guttural technique as part of the ceremony. Listen how ringing power chords vibrate like open sores of the flesh.

Adding primitive metal riffs to the ceremonial beats offers abundant room for exploration. So, why do the group minimise the indigenous musical elements and stick to a standard death-doom package for most of these forty-two minutes? The guitars in ‘Chichimecatl’ are as ugly as the aftermath of a Mayan sacrifice of Spanish missionaries in the sixteenth century. There’s a disproportionate focus on the low-end frequencies in this album. Eight minutes ought to be excessive for a song like ‘Tetzaviztli’, but the presence of a sinister jungle species in the background leaves you with more questions than answers. At no point does this song evolve from its morbid tempo, which is a problem when the inhumane vocals are one dimensional. There’s nothing to distinguish the main riff in ‘Otlica Mictlan’ from its predecessor, but a second guitar acts like a monotone brass instrument in the moment before the drummer get his hands and arms into gear for the blast beats. The ritual elements of this music are repetitive, but rituals are supposed to be repetitive.

Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force promises to excite your imagination but then leaves you wondering at one point it will express a unique identity. It doesn’t. This is standard death-doom in a harsh environment that wants to turn you into compost. It needs more of the indigenous musical textures to warrant a second listen.


Verdict


Release Date: 17/05/2024

Record Label: 20 Buck Spin

Standout tracks: Tetzahuitl, Tlaloc Icuic, Otlica Mictlan

Suggested Further Listening: Static Abyss – Aborted from Reality (2023), Cult Burial – Reverie of the Malignant (2023), Azell – Death Control (2024)