On Ankla's Steep Trails, the band takes some major cues from Sepultura's Roots. The guitars ride through that murky, downtuned area between nu metal and thrash some call "groove." The lyrics dwell on political topics. There are death metal vocals and touches of Latin American music.
What sets Ankla apart - and makes this record unique and exciting - is that those Latin American "roots" are quite different. Sepultura's 1996 work dug into the region's indigenous culture, even featuring a song recorded with a Brazilian tribe.
Steep Trails, by contrast, draws on the music brought by Spanish conquistadors, with festive-sounding acoustic guitars and melodies. It's ironic, given the band's anti-oppression lyrical stance, but it makes for great listening. Think Korn meets The Mars Volta, with some Pantera thrown in.
At their best, the members of Ankla transition seamlessly between modern metal aggression and Spanish guitar atmosphere. "Deceit" is by far the record's masterpiece, with angry thrash running headlong into fiesta-time melodies. Somehow it works, even with a shredding metal solo over exotic percussion.
Another standout is "Boqueron," for some reason not given its own track number. An acoustic guitar instrumental, it shows the amazing melody, sophistication and proficiency the band is capable of. And "Scattered Existence" even manages to work in an Indian (as in "from India") vibe.
Ankla also give themselves "we're not just ripping off Sepultura" credit by singing occasionally to complement the hoarse screaming. This works well in the title track, "Seasons Never Change," "Glimpse" and "Still Alive," but it can't save "Suelta el Ankla" and "Your Grace Makes Me Sick" from boneheaded nu metal riffs.
The main problem with the record, though, is that not all the tracks incorporate non-metal elements. "Step Ahead" works well, but nothing really sets it off from Roots or, for that matter, most other downtuned metal. Same for "Generacion Mutante," a too-fast thrash song sung in Spanish. And the chorus to the uninventive "Flush" ("It's all gone / It's all gone / It's all f-ing gone," times four) is nothing short of annoying.
Steep Trails is far from perfect, but as a debut it shows immense promise. The members are talented genre-mutators, and hopefully they'll further explore these abilities on future releases.
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com) is an apprentice editor at The National Interest and an antiMusic contributor.