Thursday 17 January 2019

Curare - Portales de los Andes (2019)

Country: Ecuador
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 4 Jan 2019
Sites: Facebook | Reverb Nation

Now this is an interesting sound! Curare tend to be labelled as a folk metal band from Ecuador, and that's kind of true but not how you might expect.

For a start, the band veer from rock to metal and back and there's as much here that stems from Primus or the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the likes of Finntroll or Skyclad. The closest metal band for comparison might be Sepultura because of the rhythms used but I should emphasise that Curare don't sound at all like Sepultura, even in heavier moments like on Guambrita or Kayawé.

For another, folk metal bands tend to be labelled as such because of instrumentation with a lot less variation apparent in the vocals, but Curare's singers don't sound folk metal in the slightest. The band could be called heavy folk funk as easily as folk metal, but there's a hardcore influence too and ethnic sounds that aren't rooted in the Andes, like a section in Machalí reminiscent of a Jacques Tati soundtrack.

By the time this album reached Machalí, a fascinating track halfway that includes the Andean flute as a lead instrument, it became clear that Curare should not be defined by their many varied influences and can only be described by what sort of bill they'd fit best on. Even though there's metal underpinning a lot of their sound, I wouldn't see them as out of place on a bill with gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and the similarly patchwork Spanish musician Manu Chao. I listen to Super Taranta and Próxima Estación: Esperanza often and could easily see adding Portales de los Andes to that habit.

It's an interesting album from the outset and every track delivers, but once you've heard just how interesting it gets, the first four tracks start to feel conventional. Given that Tihuanaco begins with flute and maracas over playful bass and guitar and continues in heavier style with chanting hardcore vocals, it's only by contrast to what's still to come that it's conventional.

Inga o Mandinga starts out funky but turns into prog rock. Caranqui - Conchasquí is the most consistently metal song on the album, at least for four minutes until the flute starts to float over the rhythmic pounding that closes out the track. Les Tambours du Bronx could have guested here without seeming at all out of place. Viaje Astral adds more of that flute/drum combo in the middle of what is much more of a progressive track, but the ethnic feel comes as much from the vocals as the flute; at points it almost enters ritual territory.

It's Machalí that first highlights what this band can really do, though. Kicking off with Jew's harp and a guitar that sounds like a carillon and intricate drum patterns, it adds that reedy flute before venturing into progressive territory that starts out metal but becomes jazz. Then we get accordion in the French style and we suddenly find ourselves listening to this folk prog jazz metal world group in a Parisian café. This is fascinating stuff and it ends with flute, hardcore lead vocal and a sort of choral backing. Wow.

Nothing else touches Machalí for sheer uniqueness, though Guambrita comes close. The rest of the album doesn't fade away though, as there's much more to discover and each track is completely different. If anything, the second half is more imaginative than the first and more rooted in Andean melodies. The third standout track is the final one, Puntiatzil, which is an oddly laid back way to wrap up but a good one.

I'm not finding much about Curare in English, but Google Translate tells me that this is their fifth album since their founding in 2001. I'm highly interested in finding the others.

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