Fifteen years ago, a Latin metal band from New Jersey took over the air waves. Fifteen years ago, my twelve-year-old life was forever changed. Fifteen years later and the boys in Ill Nino are celebrating Revoluton/Revolucion’s (Roadrunner Records) quinceanera by playing the album in its entirety and I just happened to be lucky enough to have two of those tour dates nearby.
They always play a good chunk of songs off of this record in general but there was still an air of excitement and anticipation at both locations as many of us weren’t quite sure what to expect. Now, when I say that Revolution/Revolucion was played in its entirety, I mean, every single song. Yes, even that one, the last track and possibly the only one your mother likes; ‘With You’. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much and part of me believed that, with the rest of the set list being so much heavier, that ‘With You’ would be forgotten and left out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Did I cry? Like a giant, metal baby.
I would have loved to have seen ‘Fallen’ for the first time, maybe next time. For those of you playing at home, it’s a bonus track on the fancy red edition of Rev. As in the past, we were also treated to some favorites off of Confession (Roadrunner Records) with ‘Te Amo…I Hate You’, ‘Cleansing’, and ‘How Can I Live’, plus ‘This is War’ from One Nation Underground (Roadrunner Records). Still waiting on getting my Spanish renditions of ‘How Can I Live’ and ‘What Comes Around’…Someday…
All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I think anyone else who has been able to catch the boys on this 15 Years of Revolution tour will agree. The crowd sang along to every word of every song and we truly were a family.
A lot has happened since I picked up Revolution/Revolucion back in 2001. Ill Nino has remained close to my heart both as a band and as people and they have allowed me to form some incredible, life long friendships with fellow fans from around the country and even the world. I don’t think there will ever be an Ill Nino show where I am not immediately transformed back into that weird twelve-year-old girl, just starting middle school, and I’m okay with that because it just means that I get to hold onto that thrill and adoration for a little bit longer. Here’s hoping we get another special tour for when Confession hits fifteen in 2018.
Latin metal band Ill Ill Niño have had a lot on their plate with the release of their seventh studio album, Till Death, La Familia (Victory Records), a spot on 2014’s Mayhem Festival, and a tour in Russia, all while finding balance between their lives as musicians and as men with growing families. With about a decade and a half with the band under his belt, vocalist Cristian Machadogave us some insight as to how the creative process has changed over time as their lives have progressed
“We’re trying to be more mature songwriters and in different ways, not every album has the same approach. It’s just like you put it, every album has a very different flavor going on even though it can all be interpreted as Ill Nino, it’s got the very traditional Ill Nino signature rhythm and tones, but, I think every album is from a completely different point of view. On this album, I think we wanted to get back to our own instinctual place. I think we wanted to write more from a fan’s point of view and just ourselves in general, from the point of view of a fan, a music fan, and what we want to hear in Ill Nino’s sound. I know, personally, doing albums when you’re self producing an album, it can psychologically be this maze where you can get into the over-contemplation of a lot of parts, and different creative ideas, and things like that. We do try to get everything to flow very naturally, vocally. I was given some really awesome songs by Ahrue Luster, Laz Pina, Diego Verduco, and Dave Chavarri. I definitely wasn’t sure on any musical inspiration. I just wanted to come from the gut a little bit more; things that feel good. From a melody side, sound refreshing to my ear and tones that suit the songs as much as possible. As far as words and themes, I think that a darker side of me came out after going through the birth of my daughter and starting to realize that the world is really screwed up and full of violent images and has a very angry media presence. I think my defensive, protective, father side came out and perhaps it translates a little violently onto the lyrics but it’s really trying to do the opposite. I’m actually trying to not glorify criminality and try to make sense of the world a little bit more while still hoping for a better future. I think that a lot of that was just instinctual, you go as an individual and, hopefully, within a band, you grow as a musician and as friends. A lot of trust went into this new album, we looked up to each other very much and there was this very big, open creative space and there weren’t these huge battles about parts and I think that’s what music is supposed to be at the end of the day. When five or six people form a band, and they have a hugely successful first album, the fans can read into the creative decision making when a band feels comfortable and it will translate to them and they can relate to the music. We wanted to write as cool as we could write right now and take into consideration everything that we’ve done in the past, the grooves we’ve used, the bilinguality of the band, and the duality of our sound, but we wanted to be more refreshing, to feel more grown, and to, obviously, continue to grow and expand as musicians and song writers.”
You mentioned that you’ve noticed a change in yourself coming from a producing standpoint. When working on material now, do you actively see yourself switching into that producer mindset and then switching back into the musician?
On the two records prior to Till Death, La Familia, we were self producing and not really working with anyone outside of the band, and I think that was growth that we needed to experience ourselves before getting to present where we worked with Eddie Wohl who’s an amazing and very talented producer. Even though there really wasn’t this huge change to anything that I was bringing into the studio, there was the sense of relaxation, that I’m working with someone great, and that I trusted. On past records, I did have a battle within my own mind; where do I draw the line between recording the album with the band and getting down to where I need to do which is to write vocals and tell a story? On this album I was able to do that, I was able to focus on what I wanted to say and the tone that I wanted to bring to the band. At the end of the day, I wanted to compliment the songs that Ahrue, Laz, Diego, and Dave had written as much as possible. I was lucky, I’m very lucky and I wouldn’t want to go back to doing it the other way where we’re just self producing albums. For me, it was easier than Ahrue who wrote a lot of music and did a lot of arranging without having to record himself. Vocally, I was blessed this time around and I look forward to doing things this way where I can just focus on the creative element and not have to worry about too many other things. I think it definitely gets in the way of myself as a musician. In order for me to expand and grow as a song writer, I have to commit to that first and foremost. I’m very grateful for the way I was able to do this album. I have to give a lot of credit to the guys in the band and to Eddie Wohl.
Speaking of the guys in the band…You’re no strangers to lineup changes but you’ve had a solid core team for a number of years up until Daniel Couto’s decision to leave the group; what has the band dynamic been like with Oscar Santiago carrying Danny’s torch after his departure?
“Having Oscar in the band is a blessing, he’s probably the origin Latin percussion player in metal. He’s somebody that we’ve looked up to for years and Puya, his band that he’s played with for so many years has been a huge influence on us so having him in the band definitely changes the dynamic in that we want to start moving more towards his rhythmic direction. On this album it was difficult to incorporate everything that we wanted to but I think that having him in the band now is truly a blessing and we’re going to be able to move, rhythmically, closer to territory where we used to be while still keeping in mind the things that we’ve expanded upon. As a band with a fifteen year career, at our level, it’s very tough, it’s not like any of us are making a bunch of money. At a Metallica level, where a band is universally famous, there’s a lot of money to be made and it’s easier to stay in a band where you can support your family and have them travel with you. In our case, where we’re at that medium theater to large theater touring circuit, every penny matters and we leave our families at home a lot. Some of the people in the band felt it was necessary to have more time at home. The older we get, the more we realize why they left and we can’t really tour just to tour. It has to be something extremely worthwhile to the fans and it has to be worthwhile to us as well because we have to leave our families behind. As far as changing band members, Danny, who played percussion before Oscar, he’s staying home with family and recently had a baby. Jardel Paisante has a family as well. Besides that, we changed a couple of band members after the first album but that was a creative and personal difference more than anything else.”
I’ve been to some pretty spectacular shows this year, but I don’t think I looked forward to them anywhere near as much as I looked forward to finally seeing my hometown heroes in Puya. I don’t mean to get sentimental, but it’s not every day that my Puerto Rican heritage and love of metal come together.
The first act to take the stage was a local group known as Zombie Frogs. They played a few instrumental numbers that were saturated in keyboards. I personally have a very low tolerance for that sort of thing but apart from keyboard overkill, the music was pretty good and they have the potential to make some interesting songs.
Another local band, Bloodline Theory, was up next. Their sound was reminiscent of nu-metal at the turn of the new millennium. Twelve year old me would have loved them and, to be honest, they weren’t half bad. One of the highlights of their set was a cover of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ simply because of how unexpected it was. However, the true peak of their performance was when the guitarist’s fly went down and our own Keefy got an eyeful of another man’s junk. That’s just one of the hazards that come with the job.
Headlining band Puya opened their set with fan favorite ‘Ride’ and had the entire room singing along. I was pleasantly surprised with how heavy they are live, even the lighter parts of songs still had a good kick behind them. Vocalist Sergio Curbelo loved showing off his inner salsero and occasionally assisted percussionist Oscar Santiago with a number of different instruments. Ramon Ortiz’s versatile guitar playing shone through all of the Latin, jazz, funk, and metal influences present in the band’s music. That being said, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love a good bassist so you can bet that I was firmly parked in front of Harold Hopkins Miranda in the front row and he did not disappoint. I had expected a set that focused more on their heavier music but there was a fantastic mix of everything. Puya is a perfect example of Latin metal and Latin fusion done right. It was easy and natural to jump from something like ‘Solo’ to ‘Tirale’ without batting an eyelash. The Latin fusion juggernaut wrapped their performance with an encore of one of their most well-known and well-loved tracks, ‘Oasis’.
Puya was every bit as incredible as I had hoped they would be. I can cross them off of my bucket list for the time being but I’ll be waiting for them to come back to town. Come to think of it, heading back to the homeland to see one of my favorite bands sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Check out their impressive set list below.
“This is the Puya comin’ straight to ya! This is the Puya comin’ straight to ya!” Puerto Rico based Latin metallers Puya have returned from their dormancy to embark on a brief tour of the USA. They hit a bunch of East Coast dates, landed at Sirius XM studios in New York City and and appeared with Jose Mangin on Liquid Metal, and more. The band is revving up their engines again on their way to participate in the Patria Grande Festival in Cuba this November. Hopefully more tours and new music are on the horizon for the ground-breaking act that combined Latin Jazz, hardcore metal, funk and Nu Metal. Check out our photo set from their recent Boston show at The Middle East Downstairs. A full review is coming soon.
Chances are if you’ve followed mainstream metal in the past 15 years or so that you will have seen many a band come, many a band go and many stick around trying to re-create their previous success. Back in the early 2000’s Latin metallers Ill Nino were a regular feature of the scene, their first album Revolution Revolucion (Roadrunner) garnering them more than a few fans. Cut to the present day and Ill Nino are still alive and kicking, although their latest album isn’t quite as alive or kicking as the band themselves as Till Death, La Familia (Victory) leaves a feeling of indifference.
Starting with ‘Live Like There’s No Tomorrow,’ the song doesn’t give off the sense of urgency the title suggests it should have, the cries of “live like there’s no tomorrow” falling flat. After this, things do improve but only sporadically, with tracks such as the aggressively melodic ‘Not Alive In my Nightmare’ standing alongside such bland affairs as ‘Blood Is Thicker Than Water.’ It’s a running theme throughout the album with the good songs only really turning up in the middle section of the LP, which may be a bit too late for some listeners. ‘Pray I Don’t Find You,’ a slow starting but ultimately menacing track is one of the pick of the bunch, as its quick instrumental work and hostile shouts combine to create something very much worth listening to. Following number ‘World So Cold’ keeps up the angry entertainment, while ‘Dead Friends’ is yet another contender.
The problem, however, is that Till Death, La Familia doesn’t have enough of the above types of songs. Dull in some places and great in not many others, the results are an album that gives no real reason to listeners to draw them to keep coming back. Of course, there are a few tracks that you should hear but even these aren’t strong enough to warrant purchasing this album as for all but the most ardent of Ill Nino fans Till Death, La Familia is far from being a must have in your music collection.