It’s been sixteen long years since we last got a full length from Brujeria, but with presidential candidate/racist fruit loop Donald Trump threatening to build a wall between Mexico and the good ol’ U-S-of-A, there’s no time like the present for everyone’s favorite south of the border Satanic drug lords to come out of hiding.
The title of the band’s new album Pocho Aztlan, refers to both the legendary paradise of the Aztec people (Aztlan) and to a pejorative term used to describe Mexican Americans (Pocho), which seems extremely apropos for the current political and social climate; immigration and illegal border crossing have been hot button topics for the past several years, with the innocent people trying to come to the US to make a better life for the themselves and their families caught in the crossfire.
Brujeria’s lyrical stance is often tongue-in-cheek, but just as often they perfectly capture the North American zeitgeist. “Plata o Plomo” (“Silver or Lead”) deals with the very real dangers of the drug trade, as illustrated by its extremely graphic accompanying music video (embedded at the end of this review), while the title track addresses the plight of Mexican Americans who feel unwelcome in the US while at the same time are looked down upon by native Mexicans. “Angel de la Frontera” appears to be sung from the perspective of a narco praying for protection as he prepares to cross the border, while a Spanish language cover of the the Dead Kennedy’s classic “California Uber Alles” is recast as “California Uber Aztlan” and imagines Brujeria front man Juan Brujo waging war against former California governor Pete Wilson (known for unsuccessfully attempting to enact Proposition 187).
Musically, Brujeria haven’t changed much since 2000’s Brujerizmo, tracks such as Bruja (“Witch”), “Isla de la Fantasia” (Fantasy Island) and the aforementioned “Plata o Plomo” deliver fat grooves that remind somewhat of Fear Factory minus the industrial elements, as well as a pummeling low-end heft that recalls more recent Napalm Death. The band has completely shed the under-produced grindcore elements of their early work in favor of a more modernized sound, but they remain brutally heavy. They’re also surprisingly catchy; even those that don’t speak Spanish are going to have a hard time getting “Mexico Campeon” (“Mexico Champion”) or “No Acceptan Imitaciones” (“Accept No Imitations”) out of their heads.
Pocho Aztlan was engineered by Chris Paccou; though information on any previous engineering/production credits for the man is scarce, he has managed to make Brujeria’s patented death/groove metal hybrid sound extra-bulldozing for their highly anticipated comeback. It’s clear, heavy and loud, and you really can’t ask for much more than that from a metal album. This is easily the best sounding Brujeria album to date, and to be perfectly blunt, it pretty much crushes everything else this year in terms of sheer quality and clarity of recording.
Although it has taken Brujeria over a decade-and-a-half to resharpen their machetes, Pocho Aztlan proves that they haven’t lost a step during their time away. At times silly, at times deadly serious and oftentimes somewhere in-between (but always heavy as hell), this is one of those rare return albums from a veteran act that shouldn’t be missed.
[NOTE: My translations / interpretations of the songs discussed above are based on poorly remembered high school Spanish classes and help from Google Translator. If I got something wrong, please feel free to call me out on it in the comments.]