I’ll admit to being a little shallow when it comes to choosing review albums. Sometimes it’s genre-based, sometimes it’s because they’re on a specific label, and sometimes it’s as simple as taking a shine to their name, which is how I happened across Argentinian act Banda de la Muerte. The name translates from Spanish as ‘band of death’, immediately prompting thoughts of “ooh, goody, this sounds like it could be pretty evil!” Add to that their biography’s claim that the band are part of the South American sludge movement, which had me rubbing my hands together in anticipation of an earful of obnoxious EHG-style noise. Indeed, their influences span luminaries from Sabbath and Black Flag to the Melvins; rather large names to drop in any circle!
How very disappointed I was, then, when the first spin of Pulso de una mente maldita revealed nothing more than pretty pedestrian, stoner-flavoured rock. First track ‘Te estás dejando mentir’ gets off to a promising start, with angular riffing and insistent percussion getting your skull nodding immediately before shoving you face-to-face with the gravelly drawl of vocalist Xon. And that chorus! Anthemic isn’t the word, my metal petals – if your grasp of Spanish will allow you to interpret the lyrics, then you‘ll find it pretty hard to resist singing along. The use of walloping great choruses is a common theme within this album, punctuating each track with great explosions of melody and heaviness. The discordant ‘El miedo’, which crashes in like one of Mastodon’s less complex out-takes, is interspersed by a beauty of a chorus which shows where Banda de la Muerte’s strengths lie.
That’s not to say that big choruses and melody make the album, however; ‘Tiempo Muerto’ begins delicately, hushed vocals over picked guitar strings before exploding into a huge, grim verse that unfortunately is reminiscent of those early ‘00s American hard-rock acts that still pepper the music channels today. You get the impression that, had Xon not been singing, some whinging rich boy like Puddle of Mudd’s Wes Scantlin would be. On the subject of vocals, they do wear very thin very quickly, the drawl that initially complemented the grooves eventually sounding slightly half-arsed and flat. I don’t believe that rock/metal vocals should solely involve screaming until your eyes bleed (indeed, it’s refreshing to come across an album that doesn’t feature ‘extreme’ vocals) but future recordings could benefit from a slightly less one-dimensional performance, especially if they have the perfect production that this album enjoys. That said, the 55-second punk-metal salvo ‘El sol salió del sur’ injects some aggression into proceedings, akin to acts like Zeke or The Dwarves but with a little more growl behind them. The balls-out gallop of ‘Hombre muerto caminando’ and the dogged ‘Espíritu en paz’ are also worthy of note; Foresi’s bass ramped up in the mix during the former so it sounds like an instrument in its own right, and the squirming guitar work of the latter underpinning a grim verse and a lamenting chorus with a faint air of Reload-era Metallica.
Unfortunately, instead of continuing the momentum to the end, Banda de la Muerte go out with a hiss rather than a bang. The closing title track is a slow-burner that just begs to be juxtaposed with slo-mo video footage of live performances and lots of wistful staring out of tourbus windows, its verses chugging dully and a couple of soaring choruses breaking the monotony before an overlong squall of feedback ends the album.
I feel a little bad for not believing the hype surrounding Banda de la Muerte, but to be brutally honest Pulsa de una mente maldita doesn’t really justify it. It’s not a bad album – the production is fantastic and there are one or two standout tracks – but when you claim to channel influences like Black Flag’s attitude and the Melvins’ heaviness, a hard rock album with a tiny lick of stoner isn’t going to satisfy. And sludge it definitely ain’t.