Style: Folk Metal
Release Date: 27 Aug 2019
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My previous pair of reviews were of melodic death metal and symphonic metal. In some ways, this Mexican album from Canada is a surprising combination of the two. The band were founded in Toluca, just west of Mexico City, back in 2012 but they're based nowadays in Calgary, Alberta, an odd choice given how overtly Mexican they are. Apparently, they played the Metalocalypstick Festival in Lone Butte, BC in 2017 and loved the place so much they moved north. By the way, I love that festival name!
Cabrakaän sing about Mesoamerican myth and folklore, include instrumentation from pre-Hispanic times and use imagery from that era as well. Just look at the hummingbird on the album cover. The Mayans saw the hummingbird as the animal that transported wishes and thoughts, the Aztecs saw it as immortal and the Zapotecs put it in charge of drinking sacrificial blood. I believe the band are referencing it as the Aztec god of war and protector of all warriors. A song on the album, Huitzilin, is the Náhuatl name of this god.
I've seen the band described in a number of ways, but folk metal is the one that rings truest, because there are a lot of sounds here and some songs are quite clearly based on folk melodies. I don't know if the melody on La Bruja is a traditional one or a new one written by the band, but it sounds like it could be hundreds of years old. There are a few languages used here, English and Spanish being but two. Cem Anahuac in the album's title is Náhuatl for "land surrounded by water" and it's what the Aztecs named their land in pre-Hispanic times.
Songs like the title track start out folk metal, but they evolve. The vocals are generally clean, courtesy of versatile lead singer Pat Cuikäni, but they are often accompanied by harsh vocals from drummer Marko Cipäktli, often but not always in sections where the guitars ramp up to a death metal level. It has to be said that, even when they do, they're lower in the mix than either the keyboards or a variety of instruments that wouldn't be usually expected to sit above the guitars, like maracas.
The symphonic side comes from Cuikäni being so versatile. She's generally in a pretty standard rock mode, but she shifts whenever the song needs it. On a song like Burning Flame, her vocal is the traditional part, sounding like an early eighties heavy metal singer, at least until the end. On La Bruja, she moves to folk mode, as if she's a travelling minstrel. On Huitzilin, she's a symphonic metal singer and, on the title track, a few sections see her shift into outright operatic style.
Cuikäni is the most obvious reason to pick this up, but it's worth listening to for other reasons, especially the variety, which is often on display even within individual songs. I'm not sure what instruments I'm listening to as The Eagle and the Snake begins, but it's very western. It's very cinematic too and I could almost follow the journey south, as if it started in desert territory and ended up in the mountains. A lot of this is cinematic and it's fair to say that I saw almost as much of this album as I heard.
I'm fascinated to discover just what the Canadians way up there in the frozen wastes of the north are making of their local Mexican transplants. As far as I can tell, they're having a blast up there and finding new fans at each new gig. I'd call myself a fan too, though more of the folkier material than the more traditional songs. Calm in My Storm is done as well as La Bruja, but it would be the latter for me every time.